|Fort Harmar by Judge Joseph Gilman (1738-1806)|
James left Marietta around 1808 to become a frontier settler in western Ohio. He was one of the leading hunters in Ohio, and had the credit of killing the largest bear of his day. He was an accomplished musician and contributed much to Dayton society through his violin playing and also worked as a barber.
On November 6, 1811, he shaved General William H. Harrison while the general sat upon a log. The next day, the great battle of Tippecanoe was fought, and the Indians of the great Shawnee chief – Tecumseh – killed upward of sixty men of Harrison’s army and more than one hundred were wounded.Around 1815, James began his career on the Underground Railroad by helping a few fugitive slaves from Kentucky find their way across Ohio to Canada. As time progressed, he became more involved as the Underground Railroad in Ohio expanded. Through the Wesleyan Methodist Church, he collected food, clothing and money to help fugitive slaves reach Canada. He was also dedicated to protecting “free” African Americans in Ohio from being kidnapped into slavery.
James was founder and first president of the American Sons of Protection that organized in February 1849. It was the oldest benevolent society in Dayton as well as Ohio for African Americans.
A short article in The Dayton Herald in 1889 described the American Sons of Protection as “a benevolent institution instituted several years ago by colored citizens here.” The group met once a month and an executive board met every two weeks. There were about 75 members at that time and dues were paid monthly, only 25 cents, after a$15 initiation fee. Members who became ill or disabled were paid benefits, up to $3 per week and at the time of death, the family would receive $40 to pay for burial expenses. Another article in 1897 describes the group as celebrating its 48th anniversary and stated that “it is a progressive body that promotes good fellowship and good citizenship, looking carefully after the welfare of its maintainers.”
In 1908, the group voted to provide “provisions and supplies for the unemployed of the city irrespective of color.” And in 1911, the group, with 50 members, celebrated their 62nd anniversary. Sick members were given $5 a week and $105 for funeral expenses were paid.
By 1923, two homes on Eaker Street which provided comfort to the members of the American Sons of Protection were sold to Mr. F. Kumler in which he planned to convert them into duplex residences.
James Davis died on January 17, 1862 at the age of 74. He is located in Woodland Cemetery Section 80 Lot 969 in an unmarked grave. Lots 969, 970, 971, 1026 and 1027 are still listed as lots for the American Sons of Protection.