Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Thaddeus Davids of Davids Island Off the Shores of Pelham and New Rochelle

Davids Island is a 78-acre island in Long Island Sound adjacent to Glen Island off the coasts of New Rochelle and Pelham.  The island is named after Thaddeus Davids who lived in New Rochelle and was famous for "Thaddeus Davids Electro Writing Fluid" and "Thaddeus Davids Ink" during the 19th century.  Davids bought the island in November, 1856.  

The island was part of Thomas Pell's original purchase of lands from local Native Americans in 1654 and remained part of the Manor of Pelham until John and Rachel Pell sold 6,000 acres to Jacob Leisler for the benefit of Huguenot settlers on September 20, 1689.  

In 1862, Thaddeus Davids leased Davids Island to hotelier Simeon Leland who, in turn, subleased it to the United States for the construction of a Civil War military hospital.  De Camp General Hospital was built with wooden structures that eventually sheltered thousands of wounded soldiers.  By late 1862, De Camp was the Army's largest general hospital, housing more than 2,100 patients. According to one source, "[o]riginally, the hospital treated only Union soldiers, but following the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, the War Department opened it to care for hundreds of wounded Confederate soldiers. Davids' Island soon held more than 2,500 Confederate prisoners.  Most had recovered by October and were moved to prisoner of war camps elsewhere."

Detail of 1867 Beers Map Showing Davids Island Adjacent to
Locust Island (Known Today as Glen Island).  Source: Beers,
Ellis & Soule, Atlas of New York and Vicinity From Actual
Surveys By and Under the Direction of F. W. Beers, Assisted by
Geo. E. Warner & Others, p. 7 (Philadelphia, PA: Beers, Ellis & Soule,
Westchester Co."). NOTE: Click on Image to Enlarge.

I have written before about Pelham's involvement with Davids Island, particularly during the Civil War.  For examples, see:

Wed., Oct. 19, 2016:  Valor in the Waters Off Pelham During a Monumental Snowstorm in 1871.

Wed., Feb. 03, 2016:  Pelham Women Assisted Union Troops and Confederate Prisoners on David's Island During the Civil War.

Wed., Oct. 21, 2015:  Ministering to Troops on Hart and Davids Islands During and Shortly After the Civil War

Tue., Nov. 03, 2009:  Pelham Students Help Civil War Soldiers on Davids' Island in 1864

Fri., Jun. 3, 2005:  Davids' Island Off the Coast of Pelham Manor During the Civil War.

Though Thaddeus Davids only owned the island for a few years in the late 1850s and early 1860s, the island continues to bear his name.  To learn more about Thaddeus Davids, who served as Supervisor of the Town of New Rochelle and became one of its most notable citizens, see the two extensive obituaries quoted in full below.

Thaddeus Davids in 1879, from the January 21,
1879 Issue of the Graphic.  NOTE:  Click on Image
to Enlarge.

WASNew Rochelle Pioneer, Jul. 28, 1894, Vol. XXXIV, No. 17,
p. 1, cols. 5-6 & p. 8, col. 1.  NOTE:  Click on Image to Enlarge.

*          *          *          *          *

Below is the text of two obituaries that appeared shortly after the death of Thaddeus Davids in 1894.  Each is followed by a citation and link to its source.

Thaddeus Davids.

Thaddeus Davids died at his residence, the old Underhill homestead, on Pelham Road, New-Rochelle, early Sunday morning.  He had been a prominent man in Westchester County since the second quarter of the century, and until comparatively recent years he was an active figure in commercial life in this city.  The Thaddeus Davids ink is a familiar and staple article of commerce, but eleven years ago the manufacture and control of this, and all the business connected with it, finally passed out of his hands.

Mr. Davids had nearly completed his eighty-fourth year.  He was born Nov. 16, 1810, in the town of Bedford, Westchester County, N. Y.  He was employed in the ink and stationery trade as early as 1825, and accumulated a large fortune early in life.  He was once the owner of Davids Island, comprising eighty acres of woodland and tillable ground, lying in Long Island Sound off New-Rochelle.  This he leased to the United States Government, which then had a military station on Hart's Island near by, (now owned by New-York City) during the civil war.  The Government afterward bought the island, which is now a recruiting station, and has lately been building a massive mortar battery there.  Mr. Davids, after leaving the island, established his home on Echo Bay, New-Rochelle Harbor.

Since 1883 he had had no business interests, and for six years he had been confined by physical disabilities to one room.  But his brain was as active as ever, and he retained his mental faculties to the end.  His last illness was brief.

Mr. Davids had been thrice married, the last time, thirty-two years ago, to Miss Chase of Providence, R. I., who survives him.  He had twelve children, of whom eight sons and two daughters survive.  Funeral services, conducted by the Rev. Dr. Canedy, will be held in his house to-day."

Source:  THE OBITUARY RECORD -- Thaddeus Davids, N.Y. Times, Jul. 24, 1894, p. 5, col. 2 (Note:  Paid subscription required to access via this link).  

One of New Rochelle's First Pioneer's Useful Life Ended. 

Having passed the three score and ten allotted to man and added fourteen years more to his life Mr. Thaddeus Davids, whose name is known the wide world over, peacefully breathed his late residence on Pelham Road, Sunday last, after an illness of about three weeks, although he had been an invalid for several years past. 

Mr. Davids was born in the town of Bedford, this County in the year 1810 and when quite young his parents removed to the Tenth Ward of New York City.  

When old enough to seek a livelihood he went into the employ of David Felt, a stationer.  Here he remained some time.  

At the age of fourteen he was employed as assistant to an old Englishman named Kidder, who at the time, about 1824, made writing ink in a small way in New York City.  About a year afterward young Davids employer became ill, and having no relatives or near friends to care for him, was nursed by Davids, to whom he left the little property he possessed at his death, which occurred soon afterward.  The youth had gained knowledge and experience enough to enable him to carry on the business, and in 1825 began it for himself.  He was successful for a time, but being a minor was obliged to make purchases and contracts in his father's name.  This resulted in his being unable to recover $3,000 paid by the United States Government for writing ink and sealing wax furnished by him.  Disappointed and chagrined he gave up the business and went to sea, visiting the West Indies, South America, and the Northwest coast.  While in Columbia, South America, he became acquainted with some of the merchants of that country, receiving from them promises of order when he should venture again into business.  These promises were afterward made good, and were the beginning of the large trade the present house has with the West Indies and Central America. 

An incident is related from a reliable source in this connection which clearly shows how honest Mr. Davids was in all his transactions. 

It appears that during the last year he furnished wax for the Government, an individual known as a go between intimated to Mr. Davids that he added an extra price to the agreed price, and suggested that this extra figure be paid to him (the go between).  Mr. Davids was too honorable a man to enter into such a swindling arrangement, of which fact the officials were soon made aware, and from that time Mr. Davids never sought for a renewal of the contract to furnish the Government officials with the articles which he had been accustomed to furnish them with. 

Thaddeus Davids first ink works were in William street, near where the Brooklyn Bridge crosses it.  He was not suited with his location, his store being too far from the business centre of the city, which was further down town.  He moved to John street, between Cliff and Pearl streets and in 1853 to No. 56 Cliff Street.  In 1856 he moved to the present quarters, where a double six-story and basement building is devoted exclusively to the business.  He married when about eighteen years old, Jane M. Reynolds, of North Castle.  After her death he married in 1847 and again in 1861.  There were children by all three marriages.  His last wife survives him. 

Altogether he was the father of twelve children, ten of whom are living and there are now twenty grandchildren and seven great-grand children. 

Mr. Davids came to this town in the year 1836 and purchased a small piece of property on Cedar Road within a stones throw of where he died.  He then began to increase his ownership of property here and soon held a vast amount of it and at once identified himself with every public measure that he conceived was beneficial to the public interests.  In . . . 1856 he was elected to the office of Supervisor of this town and was re-elected in 1857, 58, 59, 60 and 64.  He was also elected Justice of the Peace in 1863, 64, 65 and 66 and for twenty years held the honored office of Treasurer of the public schools of the town, for which position he received a handsome testimonial from the Board of Education for his valued services.  This testimonial is now hanging in the room lately occupied by him at his late residence.  He was the Trustee of the New Rochelle Savings Bank, was Village Trustees in the years 1858, 59, and 75, and President in 1859 and 1864.  

A few years after his residence here he erected a factory on the property owned by him, now owned by Mrs. George W. Sutton on Echo avenue, and here for some years he manufactured ink, sealing wax and wafers.  

The place was under the supervision of Mr. William Hubsdell.  This existed for some few years, when it was destroyed by fire.  Then the work of manufacturing seals and wafers was taken in charge by the deceased father of the editor of the PIONEER, who up to the time of his death in 1860, carried on that line of business at her property on Franklyn avenue.  At Mr. Sweet's death, the business was assumed by his eldest son Joseph, who has conducted from that period up the the present day, although in the last few years the business has decreased considerably owing to the sharp competition.  When the New Rochelle factory was destroyed by fire Mr. Davids gave his entire attention to his New York department and soon had a most prosperous business.  

In the year 1870 Mr. Davids supervised the planning and building of the present Town Hall and also contributed largely to its erection in many ways, but would not think of accepting one penny for his labors. 

To Mr. Davids is largely due the credit for our present perfection and efficiency, which the public schools in our town today enjoy.  Through his indefatigable zeal and perseverance can be attributed the great success of our educational facilities.  While associated with it for over twenty years he labored most zealously for the welfare of them and when on his retirement from office he was presented by the Board of Education with a beautiful engrossed testimonial.  

When Mr. Davids lived in his handsome residence near the water he named the street which led to it Echo avenue on account of the fine echo of any sound made at this particular point.  A few years later he purchased the island in New Rochelle harbor, which he named Davids Island.  When the war of the Rebellion broke out he aided largely the Union cause, and with the aid of a few sent to the front Company I, of this place.  During the war the United States Government wanted an Eastern station for a hospital, and Mr. Davids cheerfully gave them at a nominal sum the island off this harbor which bears his name and which he had contemplated the erection of a country seat to equal that of the then Austrian Consul, Hugo Futsch, just opposite, and which is now Glen Island.  Davids Island is now a recruiting station.  

In 1853, when there was a decided opposition on the part of the old settlers, to all suggested improvements to the roads, water supply, drainage, etc. on account of anticipated increase in taxes.  Mr. Davids and a few of his intimate friends who advocated improvements of the Village, became convinced that the only way in which they could be undertaken, would be by getting the place incorporated as a village, which was finally carried in 1857 by a majority of two votes.  Many of the old settlers contended that the streets and sidewalks had 

(Continued from First Page)

always been good for their fathers and their grandfathers before them, and was therefore good enough for them, and years elapsed before the opponents experienced a change of heart and conformed to the idea that improvements might be a good thing after all, and although Mr. Davids lived to know and realize the fact that his suggestions had been successfully carried out, he was deprived by long continued sickness from taking an active part of even witnessing the progress of the work and increased prosperity of the village. 

Mr. Davids was a very prominent Odd Fellow.  In fact he at one time held the office of Grand Treasurer of the New York District and was much interested in the advancement of the Order, even up to within a few weeks of his death.  About twenty-five years ago he was a charter member of the National Lodge of New York and did considerable to give that lodge prominence in the annals of the order. 

He was also one of the builders of the Odd Fellows Hall, at Grand and Center streets, New York and on his removal to this town, started a lodge here which continued for many years until death removed most all of its members.  

Mr. Davids amassed a fortune through ink, and his place on Echo avenue was one of the attractive spots on the Sound.  In 1883 reverses came to him through mistaken confidence, and the business which he had fostered went into the hand of a receiver to satisfy creditors.  He gave up all property and had but his reputation left.  The blow was crushing and shortly after he was taken with a stroke of paralysis, rendering him helpless.  

Mr. Davids was in every sense the father of improvements in New Rochelle. No one resident has even done so much as he has for its welfare.  He it was who built the first public dock we ever had, to him is due the credit of having placed the first load of blue stone on the streets of our village, while in numerous other ways he did much for the town he resided in.

In politics he was a staunch Democrat and in all his political life was found to be an honest and conscientious official. His word was always as good as his bond and to take advantage of any one was a thought that never entered his head. To those of our older residents who were personally acquainted with him and who survive him today will he ever be held in loving remembrances. 

His funeral took place on Tuesday afternoon, Rev. Charles F. Canedy, Rector of Trinity Church, officiated.  Mrs. Edwin Harmer rendered the musical portion of the services.  Although his widow desired a quiet and unostentatious funeral there was a large attendance. 

The remains were encased in a handsome casket, surrounded by and abundance of floral emblems. 

The interment was made in the family plot in Beechwood Cemetery.  

To the widow and relatives of the deceased is extended the sympathy of a sorrowing community."

Source:  AN HONORED CITIZEN GONE -- One of New Rochelle's First Pioneer's Useful Life Ended -- WHO AND WHAT MR. DAVIDS WAS, New Rochelle Pioneer, Jul. 28, 1894, Vol. XXXIV, No. 17, p. 1, cols. 5-6 & p. 8, col. 1.  

Archive of the Historic Pelham Web Site.

Labels: , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home