Introduction: Davis

Larry Pearce

This article is about my Dad’s three times great grandmother Sarah E. Davis (b. 1802) who married Joseph Myler Moon, Sr. (b. 1795). Although Joseph was born in McCandless Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, we believe that he met, as did his son Joe, Jr., his mate in Venango County to the north before returning to the Depreciations Lands family farm to live out the remainder of their lives. Unfortunately, we don’t know where the older J.M. Moons are buried. Sarah’s parents were John (b. 1774) and Keturah (b. 1774) and, we believe, are also are buried in Allegheny County. Davis is a rather common name, so our search hasn’t been easy. What follows is a study of the name origins and a list of other Davis’s, some famous and others simply contemporaries and possible relatives of ours. Perhaps most challenging of all to future family historians is a list of research questions at the end with a cheery “Good Luck.”

According to, Davis is the seventh most common name in America, coming from the Hebrew for “Son of David” or “Beloved.” Variations can be found throughout the English-speaking world, including Davidson, Davison, Daves, Dawson, Dawes, Day, and Dakin. Davies is uniquely Welsh and, indeed, some of the Venango County Davis’s arrived there toward the end of the nineteenth century from Old World coal mines, stopping first in Utah. Henry Thomas Davis (b. 1859) was also a rancher and railroader. William P. Davis (b. 1883) was a bricklayer. Speaking of the Welsh, there is some controversy over the spelling of our two Joseph Myler Moons’ middle names. Sources indicate that, while most in our family spell it “Myler,” an English derivative of “miller,” meaning “grinder,” the “Mylar” spelling is uniquely Welsh, from clan origins. For further information go to “Myler/Mylar—What’s the Difference?” Probably a family name, and in keeping with naming traditions in the British Isles, research of “Myler” or “Mylar” may turn up additional ancestors and answer the questions posed in an earlier article, “The Mystery of Henry Moon.”

Perhaps the most detailed genealogy I’ve ever seen on any family belongs to Llewellyn Haverford Davis (b. 1670) who came from Wales to Chester County, PA. Running 22 pages and including Revolutionary War officers and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the document includes descendants alive today. Unfortunately, we didn’t see our Sara Jane’s name on it so apparently there is no connection.

Some of the more famous persons carrying the surname Davis are: Jefferson Davis (b. 1808) President of the Civil War era Confederate States of America

Bette Davis (b. 1908) American actress noted for her willingness to play unsympathetic characters

Nancy Davis Reagan (b. 1921) First Lady from 1981 to 1989

Sammy Davis, Jr. (b. 1925) dancer, singer, multi-instrumentalist, impressionist, comedian, and actor.

Miles Davis (b. 1926) influential American jazz artist

Angela Davis (b. 1944) political philosopher and black power activist

Geena Davis (b. 1956) American actress who received an Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Accidental Tourist (1988)

I don’t know that we’re related to any of the above. Almost half are African Americans and arguably the most powerful Davis was from the South. If my understanding of that tradition is correct, many of the slaves took on their master’s surnames, which might explain the Davis color line here. Read about more notable Davis’s by clicking here.
Our John and Keturah’s better documented off spring Nathan Elder Davis (b. 1811) and wife Sarah Jane Cross lived in Venango from 1830 until the end of the Civil War and raised fourteen children. Afterwards they sold their farm, probably to an oil company, and moved next door to Butler County. He died there in 1874. More is revealed in a 1922 letter from daughter Keturah Davis Funk to my great-great grandmother Susan Fleming Moon, cousins. Apparently, Joseph Moon, Sr. went off to the “oil fields” with Nathan. Joseph Moon, Jr. joined them later, but both Moon eventually returned to Allegheny County, as we said above.

We don’t know when or why our John and Keturah went to Venango, but John died before son Nathan arrived, some 34 years before Keturah passed in 1860, at age 86. Another daughter, Caroline Eliza, sister to our Sarah Davis, was placed in guardianship under Susan’s husband Joseph Moon at age 14, the year father John Davis died, 1802. Eliza, as she was known, never married, lived the rest of her 89 years with Joe and Sarah, and is said to have been the family historian.

One might think that tracing the name “Keturah” would be easy. It came from the Hebrew for “fragrance” and was name of the second wife of Abraham in the Old Testament. Puritans used if often after the Reformation. Fellow genealogist Christine Adams has located a Keturah Hamlen or Hamlin born around 1800 who married a John Davis in New Jersey. The only problem is that this is too late to have a daughter born in 1802. The family website reports the marriage of a Keturah Davis to Joseph Tooker (b. 1756) in New York State. They even named a daughter Keturah, as did our Sara Jane Moon. There may be a connection, but further research is needed. Other Venango County, PA, Davis’s include Solomon (b. 1800), Euton (b.1794 in Vermont), and Samuel (b. 1780). Could any of these, perhaps family, have drawn our Davis’s to the pre-oil, pristine hills and valleys of Venango? Perhaps one day soon we’ll know.

So, in summary, and as we promised at the beginning, some research questions: Exactly where did our Davis family originate and why did they go to Venango County? What is our relationship to other Davis families, not only in Venango but elsewhere in 19th century America? Now, also as promised, “Good Luck in finding the answers.” Please don’t forget to share them with E-Gen readers and me.

Works Cited

Adams, Christine. “Known Descendants of Henry Moon.” 2 Nov. 2001

“Descendants of Nathan E. Davis.” 13 Feb. 2012.

“Keturah.” 18 Feb. 2012.

See other associated family trees for documentation

4 Responses to Introduction: Davis

  1. Beth Peterson says:

    Davis Researchers –
    I’ve worked for years on a William Davis (1840,1850, 1860 Irwin Twsp, Venango, PA). He and his wife Mary Gillespie (m. abt 1830) had 9 children: Ephraim, Jane, Thomas William, John P, Clark Isaac, Robert Miller, Matilda Caroline and Mary Elizabeth.

    For years they lived near Nathan E and I’ve wondered if they were brothers.

    They left Venango mid-60’s and went to the same township in Butler County as Nathan E and family. After a brief stay, most headed on to Iowa although son John P remained.

    Is it possible that William was another son of John and Keturah? Do you know the date that John died?


    • admin says:

      Hi Beth,
      It surely seems like William & Nathan could have been brothers. I have John & Keturah probably coming from New Jersey where daughter Sarah Jane’s father-in-law Henry Moon married after his service in the Revolutionary War. As I look back at the similarity of names between the Davis and Moon families, I wonder if historians have confused the two or, as was tradition, paid honor to ancestors by reusing them. John, Sr. died in 1802. Also, I have some additional information on the Moon & Davis families in the article “Four Short Postcards” []. Please let me know if you learn any more and I’ll do the same.Thanks for your interest.

  2. Beth Peterson says:

    Larry –

    I have Nathan E’s birth as 1811 and William’s as 1809. By John Sr dying in 1802, do you mean their grandfather?


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