One evening in the winter of 1891-’92, in the city of Baltimore, I went to Lehman’s Hall to hear George William Curtis deliver an address before the national meeting of the Civil Service Reform Clubs. Among the prominent men on the platform I noticed a tall gentleman of middle age, with a grave and intelligent face, and of a soldierly hearing. This, I was told, was Professor Edward Graham Daves. I had known of him before this on account of his interest in North Carolina history. Both from what I had Beard and what I then saw. I was very favorably impressed. A short time afterwards I met him. I found that my anticipation was realized. He was a man of charming manners, and of the purest ideals. He was an earnest, intelligent student of the past, an untiring worker, a patriotic American, and in the true old Southern sense, a gentleman. The previous facts of his life, as I afterwards learned, were as follows.
Professor Daves was a grandson of Major John Daves, of the Revolutionary army, a son of John Pugh Daves, and was born at New Bern, N. C., March 31, 1833. He began Iris studies at the New Berne Academy, and later prepared for college under private instruction on the plantation of his kinsman, Josiah Collins, near Lake Scuppernong, Washington county, N. C. In 1850 he entered Harvard College, where Jared Sparks was president, and Longfellow and Pierce were professors. For fellow-students he had President Eliot Phillips Brooks, Bishop Perry, and Furness, the Shakespere scholar. He at once became very popular, and was elected by his classmates to various positions of college prominence.
His tastes ran toward the classics, and tinder a native Greek he devoted his time especially to the language and literature of Greece. He graduated in 1854 with second honors, and at once entered the Harvard Law School. Two years later he settled himself to practice his profession in Baltimore. Just then came the offer of the Greek professorship in Trinity College, Connecticut. He loved Greek better than law, and the professorship was accepted. Here he staid till 1861, when he went to Europe. For ten years he remained abroad giving instruction to English youth on the shores of Lake Geneva, or traveling with his pupils. In 1870 he returned to Baltimore, where he occupied himself with private teaching and with lecturing on literary topics. In July 1894, he died quite unexpectedly in a Boston hospital, to which he had gone a short time earlier for a surgical operation.
In the last year of his life, Professor Daves was much interested in two historical memorials. June 8, 1891, he offered a resolution in a meeting of the Maryland Historical Society, which led that society to erect a monument at Guilford Court House in memory of the Maryland line, who fought so effectively with General Greene at that place. He was appointed chairman of the committee to carry the matter through, and when the society came to select an orator who was formally to present the monument, the choice fell on him. The subject of his address was “Maryland and North Carolina in the Campaign of 1780-’81.” It was pronounced an admirable address, and in an extended form was published by the Maryland society. It is a valuable contribution to our Revolutionary history.
The other scheme to which he addressed himself was the recovery and preservation of the site of the fort which Raleigh’s colony planted on Roanoke Island. Mr. Talcott Williams, of Philadelphia, in 1887, made a journey through the waters of Eastern North Carolina, visiting on the way the site of this fort. He mentioned to friends the necessity of preserving this relic of the first English colony in the borders of our country. It seems that Professor Daves from this point became interested in the scheme. His practical zeal became aroused. Through his efforts Dr. S. Weir Mitchell was interested, and readings were given by the two at Bar Harbor, Maine, in order to secure funds. Dr. Mitchell afterwards gave readings in Baltimore, Philadelphia and other cities, and Professor Daves, in the winter of 1892-’93, made a journey through North Carolina, lecturing and receiving subscriptions for the project. Enough money was raised to buy the tract of land containing the site of the fort and to leave a considerable balance. A company was organized, which was called the Roanoke Colony Memorial Association. The first meeting of the stockholders was held in Baltimore, at Professor Daves’ house, in May, 1894. By unanimous choice, the faithful promoter of the scheme was made president. His active mind had already made many plans for promoting the welfare of the company, when all were thwarted by his untimely death. At the next meeting of the stockholders of the association it was decided to erect a memorial to Professor Daves, on the site of the old fort. The Guilford monument and the Roanoke association remain a lasting tribute to his patriotic zeal and his untiring devotion to history.
JOHN S. BASSETT
Extracted from Trinity College Historical Society