Robert T Davis

Biography of Robert Thompson Davis, M. D., of Fall River, MA

ROBERT THOMPSON DAVIS, M. D., late of Fall River, physician, promoter, State senator, mayor, congressman, etc., was one of the most prominent figures in the public and industrial life of Fall River, and as well one of its most widely known and wealthiest citizens. Dr. Davis was the son of John and Sarah (Thompson) Davis, and was born Aug. 28, 1823, in County Down, Province of Ulster, North of Ireland. His father was of Presbyterian ancestry and his mother a member of the Society of Friends. His parents came to America in 1826, when he was three years of age, and settled in Amesbury, Mass., where his father resided for half a century. His preliminary education was acquired at the Friends’ School in Providence, R. I., and Amesbury Academy. He began the study of his profession under Dr. Thomas Wilbur, then one of the leading physicians of Fall River, passed two years in the Tremont Medical School, Boston, and in 1847 graduated from the medical department at Harvard. He served a short time as a dispensary physician in Boston, and then went to Waterville, Maine, and finally in 1850 to Fall River, where he established himself in his profession. He was elected president of the Bristol County Medical Society and was one of the youngest physicians to hold that office. He was a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society and was frequently elected councilor of that body.

Robert Thompson Davis
Robert Thompson Davis

Dr. Davis inherited the strong characteristics, the lofty patriotism and the public spirit of the Scotch-Irish people, and consequently was early led to take an active interest in the affairs of his city and State and country. In public affairs he was at his best. His interest in all questions of the, day was intense, and his devotion to any cause which he espoused was marked, his whole soul and brain being thrown into every effort which he put forth to accomplish an object. From early life he was strongly antislavery in sentiment and bold and earnest in his advocacy of the cause. His public career began in 1851, when he made a brilliant and eloquent speech in favor of instructing the Fall River representatives in the State Legislature to cast their votes for Charles Sumner for United States senator. He was a member of the Constitutional convention of the State in 1853 and in 1858 and 1860 was elected to represent his district in the State Senate. His power in those times of forecasting the future was keen and this power he retained up to the day of his death. In 1860 Dr. Davis was a delegate to the National Republican convention which nominated Abraham Lincoln and he was also a delegate to the convention in 1876 which nominated Rutherford B. Hayes. In 1863 Governor Andrew appointed him a member of the State board of charities, and in 1869, upon the organization of the State board of health, he was appointed one of the members by Governor Claflin. When that board was superseded by the State board of health, lunacy and charity, he was immediately made a member thereof by Governor Talbot and reappointed by Governor Long. Dr. Davis served as mayor of the city of Fall River in 1873, there being no opposition to his candidacy. His administration came at a time of transition, when many large and expensive improvements were under way, and the many important recommendations in his inaugural were with few exceptions adopted and carried out by the municipality. One of the schoolhouses recommended by him bears his name, the Davis school. The city hall was completed and dedicated during “his administration. The advancing strides made by the city during his term of office are quite too numerous to mention, but it was due to the progressive and militant character of Mayor Davis that the city began at that time to establish a place of prominence. At the end of one year he declined reelection and donated his salary to the Children’s Home.

In 1882 Dr. Davis was unanimously nominated by the First District Republican Congressional convention as its candidate, and he was elected by a vote of 11,475 to the 5,581 cast for his Democratic opponent. In 1884 and 1886 he was reelected and at the close of his Congressional career Gov. Oliver Ames appointed him a member of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission.

Dr. Robert Thompson Davis, amid his many duties and obligations, found time to promote the business prosperity of the city. In 1869-70 he purchased real estate in the eastern section of the city and marie investments in the various corporations having mills in that locality. In the conduct of the many mills in which during his life he became interested he was always a dominant factor and never hesitated to dictate the policy when he deemed it essential to the successful conduct of the business. So good was his judgment that his associates had unbounded confidence in him and never hesitated to act boldly upon his suggestions. Through his investments he accumulated &, large fortune and was one of the city’s wealthiest men. He was especially keen in securing mill sites, and many farms have been disposed of by him to corporations, for which he received a block of stock and then jumped to the front as a leader of the business policies of those business concerns. He was very prominent in the organization of new mills in the seventies and is survived by only one or two of his associates of those years.

Dignified in personal appearance to the last, though he lived to pass his eighty-third year, Dr. Davis maintained the same erect carriage of the gentleman of the old school that always made him a familiar and striking figure. The city never produced a more able and forceful public speaker, and even his opponents accorded him an attentive ear when he made an address in public. His will was strong, his purpose tenacious, and when he got a grip he never let go. It was not in the man to retreat, except good judgment called for a backward step for the time being. He held many offices in local corporations. He was a director of the Algonquin Printing Company, the Stafford Mills, the Wampanoag Mills, the Davis Mills, the Merchants Mills and the Stevens Manufacturing Company.

Among his strong personal friends Dr. Robert Thompson Davis numbered Charles Sumner, Wendell Phillips, Governor Andrew, George F. Hoar, Henry L. Davis and the leading statesmen from the time of Lincoln. He was always a stanch and steadfast Republican.

Dr. Davis shone most conspicuously by his prominence in the Irish Land League movement some years ago. He was greatly interested in the questions concerning Ireland, and his stirring addresses before bodies affiliated with the cause of Ireland’s freedom will live and be remembered long after his other deeds are forgotten.

On Oct. 1, 1848, Dr. Davis married Sarah, daughter of Dr. Thomas Wilbur, his instructor in medicine. She died in 1856, having survived their only child. In June, 1862, he married Susan Ann Haight, daughter of Moses Haight, of Westchester county, N. Y. Mrs. Davis died a few years before the Doctor’s demise. He passed away at his home in Fall River Oct. 29, 1906.

Representative Men and Old Families of Southeastern Massachusetts: containing historical sketches of prominent and representative citizens and genealogical records of many of the old families. 3 Volumes. Beers & Chicago. 1912.

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