A Family Legacy

Week 40: #52 Ancestors – Ten

By Eilene Lyon

My great-grandfather, Sterling P. Davis, was one of ten children born to Sarah Rebecca (Livengood) Davis. Though many women gave birth to ten (or more) children back in those days, not so many can say they brought them all to a healthy adulthood. Perhaps the fact that Sarah was known as a “spiffy housekeeper” attests to an astringent cleanliness that helped keep deadly diseases at bay. Or maybe she was just lucky and had good genes.

Sarah Rebecca was born on December 9, 1840 in Davidson County, North Carolina. Her parents were Andrew Livengood and Mary Taggart.1 She had a brother, Jonathan M. Livengood, and four sisters, Matilda, Rebecca, Rachel, and one who died as a child (name unknown, initials were E. E.).

By the time Sarah was 10 years old, her family had moved to Lafayette County, Missouri. Unlike the Davis family, it appears the Livengoods were of modest means and did not own any slaves, though a family story suggests Andrew was a plantation overseer.2

The area where the family lived in North Carolina was home to many Quaker abolitionists and the West may have seemed like a place to remove themselves from the coming storm. Heading to Missouri was jumping from the frying pan to the fire, however.

Sarah Davis
Sarah Rebecca Livengood. (Courtesy pergoliJARVIS on Ancestry.com)

Young Sarah Livengood was dark-haired and full-cheeked, with a guileless face – a trait she would eventually pass on to many of her offspring. In Lafayette County, she met the tall and dark Melville Cox Davis, oldest son of Dr. Hamilton C. Davis (deceased) and his remarried widow, Christina (Mock) Davis Cooke. He was five and a half years her senior, but she wasted no time letting this catch off the hook.

Two days before Sarah’s 17th birthday, she and Melville were married.3 It would be an enduring bond. Two years later, their first child, Phoebe Jane, was born.4 Before the birth of their second child, the country had finally ruptured over slavery and the bloody Civil War was well underway.

Melville joined the 1st Missouri Cavalry which was formed in December 1861. Sarah’s brother, Jonathan, who had married Melville’s sister, Elizabeth H. Davis, joined the 5th Missouri Cavalry in August 1862. Both units were Confederate Army. Melville was captured by Union forces not far from his home in October 1863 and sentenced to hard labor at the Alton prison in Illinois.5

Just twenty-two, and with a baby and toddler to care for, Sarah had to petition the President to release her husband. Melville was required to post a $1000 bond and sign an Oath of Loyalty.6 If it’s true that he was the Company F drummer, he may have seemed like a low risk for release to his family.

Melville returned home carrying the burden of loyalty to the Union, and by all indications he complied. He returned to farming. Jonathan Livengood also survived the war and came home to Elizabeth. Despite the disruption, they resumed family life, but Elizabeth was not as fortunate in her fecundity as Sarah.

I imagine that Sarah and Elizabeth were extremely close, so it must have been devastating for both the Davises and Livengoods when Elizabeth died in 1866 after the birth of her second child.7 The infant boy only survived a few months, compounding the tragedy.8

Melville and Sarah, then with four children, were living in Elmwood Township, Saline County, by 1870.9 Sarah continued having children every two or three years. Her last child, Thomas Bridges Davis, was born in Elmwood on June 20, 1886.10

In 1885, the family decided to relocate to Idaho. The two oldest daughters were married, but they also made the trip northwest. My grandmother related the move:

“The Davis’s moved (via railroad car) to northern Idaho in 1885.  A farm & woodland on Texas Ridge had been purchased by the father and oldest son Charles who had come on ahead. They chose terrain similar to their Missouri land – with water and a wood lot. In 1886 the family made the move by r.r.  The horses & cattle were herded from the Moscow rail stop to the new home, and the household goods hauled by wagon. The men of the family built a sturdy home and in the years ahead the Davis’s were considered one of the ‘first’ families on the ridge.”

In 1893, the family gathered for an impressive portrait:

Davis1893 001
The Melville Cox Davis family of Texas Ridge, Idaho, about 1893.  Front row: Sarah Rebecca Livingood, Thomas, Elmer and Melville Cox Davis.  Back row: Phoebe Jane (Jennie), Sterling Price, Alice, Leola, Franklin, Mary Ellen (Nellie), Charles and Perry. Sarah is looking quite young and strong for a 52-year-old with ten children!

Sarah and Melville left the homestead and moved to Moscow by 1900, leaving the land in the care of their sons, Charles, Frank, and Perry.11 Eventually, all of Sarah’s children moved away from Latah County, with the exception of Sterling and Nellie. Melville died in Asotin, Washington, in 1906, Sterling by his side.12

622EastC1
The Davis home in Moscow, Idaho. (E. Lyon)

Sarah lived in Moscow most of the remainder of her life. She died there at the age of 82 on February 10, 1923. She was survived by all but one of her children, 38 grandchildren, and 14 great-grandchildren, an enormous legacy.13

Headstone
Sarah and Melville’s headstone in the Moscow Cemetery. (E. Lyon)

Feature image: The Davis homestead on Texas Ridge, Latah County, Idaho. Franklin Davis, Elmer Davis, and Ivy (Harrison) Davis. (University of Idaho Special Collections)


  1. Idaho. Department of Health and Welfare. Death Index and Images, 1911–1967. Idaho Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, Boise, Idaho. Idaho, Death Records, 1890-1967 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. 
  2. Andrew Livingood. Year: 1840; Census Place: Davidson, North Carolina; Page: 246. Ancestry.com. 1840 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. 
  3. The date of December 7, 1857 comes from personal communication with Davis family descendant. I am pursuing a documented source. Calculating a marriage year from the 1900 census gives the year as 1854. That seems unlikely. Sarah would have been only 13 and her first child was not born until 1859. The 1857 date is more plausible. 
  4. Phoebe Anderson. Year: 1900; Census Place: Walla Walla Ward 3, Walla Walla, Washington; Page: 1; Enumeration District: 0089; FHL microfilm: 1241752. Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. 
  5. Variety of Civil War records and databases accessed at Ancestry.com and Fold3.com. Contact me for precise citations, if needed. I will cover this topic in greater depth at a later date. 
  6. Ibid. 
  7. Death date from gravestone in New Hope Cemetery, Lafayette County, Missouri. I viewed and photographed the grave in October 2012. 
  8. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/113917748/john-h.-livengood 
  9. Melville C. Davis, Sarah R. Davis. Year: 1870; Census Place: Elmwood, Saline, Missouri; Roll: M593_804; Page: 80A; Family History Library Film: 552303. Ancestry.com. 1870 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. 
  10. Thomas B. Davis. Registration State: Illinois; Registration County: Cook; Roll: 1503828; Draft Board: 47. Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005. 
  11. Ancestry.com. 1900 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2004. 
  12. “Nurses Dying Father is Now Seriously Ill.” Moscow (Idaho) Evening Journal, June 9, 1906, p. 1. Microfilm at University of Idaho, Moscow. Accessed October 2013. 
  13. “Pioneer Woman Dies at Age of 82 Years.” Daily Star Mirror (Moscow, Idaho), February 10, 1923, p.1. Microfilm at University of Idaho, Moscow. Accessed October 2013. 

20 thoughts on “A Family Legacy

Add yours

    1. I’m certain this photo was done in a studio. I have a portrait with my immediate family done in a studio when I was about 13. I think the last studio family shoot was when my niece was born about 12 years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think she’d have time to die her hair with 10 kids. Can you imagine how long it would have taken you to do all the laundry back then! Maybe she hadn’t any time to worry!

        Liked by 2 people

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