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IWU logo David & Sarah Davis Family Correspondence (Illinois Wesleyan University)

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a collage of David & Sarah Davis imagesPhoto credits: David and Sarah Davis (ca. 1840) and Sarah alone (ca. 1863) by permission of the Abraham Lincoln Library, Springfield, IL. The portrait of Judge Davis alone is from the Samuel Chapman Armstrong Collection, Williams College, MA.


Collection Description

The correspondence between David and Sarah Davis and their correspondence with their distinguished contemporaries is rich in nineteenth-century social, political, economic and cultural history. The letters provide a glimpse into the lives of the important men and women from Illinois (including Abraham Lincoln), who created an orderly society on the western frontier and then helped lead the U.S. through some of the most significant events of the mid nineteenth century: the market revolution, industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and the Civil War and Reconstruction.


The transcripts collected here constitute a unique and rare resource. They reunite in one collection a large number of letters that have been scattered in at least eight archives throughout the United States. Brought together in this way, the documents reveal new story lines and a variety of themes and stories that were not readily apparent or easily identified before. When read chronologically, they constitute what is, essentially, a written conversation between the Davises and their correspondents which spans nearly the entire 19th century.


This site went live with nearly 250 transcribed letters in March 2014. Upon completion, it is expected that the total quantity will reach 1500-1800 letters. All transcriptions were created by Patricia Kasbohm Schley of the David Davis Mansion, Bloomington, IL, who also created annotated versions. Direct inquiries about these letters to the contact points listed below.


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Letters written from   Letters written to
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About the Davises
David Davis (1815-1886) was a lifelong friend and supporter of Abraham Lincoln. Born in Maryland, Davis was educated in Ohio, Connecticut, and Massachusetts and then moved to Illinois in 1835, where he became a lawyer, politician, judge, and businessman. After spending two decades riding the Eighth Judicial Circuit as its judge, accompanied by Abraham Lincoln, the chief circuit-riding lawyer, David Davis masterminded Lincoln’s nomination as the Republican Party candidate in 1860 and later became a Lincoln appointee to the United States Supreme Court. In the course of his lifetime, Davis and his wife, Sarah Woodruff Walker Davis, wrote several thousand letters to friends, family, acquaintances, and most especially to one another.

About the documents
The majority of the Davis letters are part of a larger collection of 19,000 documents known as the David Davis Family papers. This entire collection is owned by the State of Illinois and is on deposit in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library in Springfield, Illinois.. Additional Davis family letters are on deposit in a variety of archives throughout the United States: Beloit College Library; Duke University Libraries; Lackawanna Historical Society; Lenox, MA Library; Library of Congress; McLean County (IL) Museum of History; New-York Historical Society; and Williams College Library.


To cite this material, consult your publication's preferred style manual and/or use the following:
{Author name}, letter to {Recipient name}, {date in "Month Day, Year" form}. Transcribed by Patricia Kasbohm Schley. *David and Sarah Davis Family Correspondence (Illinois Wesleyan University)*. Accessed {the date you found it online}. {Reference url}.

Note: the Reference URL is located above the pdf viewer and to the left; for help finding this stable link to the source, click here

Questions about this collection? Contact: or 1-309-828-1084

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