I got interested in genealogy back in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s and spent quite a few years researching in my fumbling way. I have a fairly good fix on the Davis line. It seems, as far as the name Davis, they came over from England in 1640–a father and son, John and James Davis. It might have been James is the father and John was the son.
They landed in Newburyport, Massachusetts. The family traveled from there to Haverhill, Massachusetts and established a farm. James Davis–I believe that’s the father’s name–became fairly important in the town of Haverhill, important enough to be on various boards and that sort of thing, and his name is referenced a few times in the history of Haverhill. He had–just to complicate matters–he had, I think it was ten children. And in those days, the reason you came to America or anywhere else was to gain land. It was all about land in those days–land for farming.
And of course, the oldest son in those days usually got all of the property that was left, so we had ten Davises and they all went in, I suppose, in various directions. But the ones we know about the best follow from Haverhill, Mass up to Durham. I have a great, great, great, great grandfather who was born in New Durham. Complicating matters, New Durham, was a gore at the time. It was taken over by Alton, New Hampshire. So, in effect, some records relating to the family can be found in Alton, New Hampshire, in the lower end of Lake Winnipesaukee.
The Davises came into Corinth originally in around 1801. To get here, they pretty much follow what we now know as Route 25 that comes up and comes in through Bradford and then East Corinth, or Corinth, I should say. And there was a Davis farm established there. The farms there were hill farms. At that time, the brooks were swamps and travel was usually either by canoe down the waterways or people went to the high hills.
The first John Davis who came into Vermont built a lean-to on Pike Hill in Waits River and stayed there a year, apparently alone. He was only 20 years old. He went back to New Durham and married a woman by the name of Evans, Elizabeth Evans. Then she joined him over here. They were married by a famous clergyman at the time. Clergymen by and large traveled around. They didn’t stay in one place.
My grandfather’s father was a man named Salmon, S-a-l-m-o-n, Davis. Salmon Davis’s first wife died. He then remarried, and he had some children with her in Marshfield. A woman–I think her name was Chandler, but I may be wrong–her husband was a doctor, and he died. So it ended up, Salmon Davis married the woman from Marshfield, both of who already had some children of their own. And they, in turn, went and had more children of their own. And they all lived off this one farm, or at least for a period of time.
You go into Waits River. There’s a little church there and they . . . . Route to this farm is pretty much straight up the hill, not far from the copper mines. They’ve mostly plowed them over, but when I was younger, you could go into these mines and travel as far as you dared travel. I never dared do it. I found in later life that I had a son or two that did some of that without permission. But I would expect the mine would land on me, and I was not interested in being buried there particularly.
I went back over there several times with my father to check on all the graves that exist that we still know about. We discovered, almost through a fluke, a man who apparently took old houses and saved the beams and then rebuilt, and one of the dwellings that he did was of a man named Davis, and we have a hunch that it might have been the original John Davis’ father, who we never really identified as being over there for sure. We figured that he may well have been a land agent because it was all about land in those days. You can’t emphasize that enough.
The story is that every Sunday they would get a wagon together and take all those children that they had. I don’t know what number there was at that point. My own grandfather was the youngest. He was the product of the marriage of the woman from Marshfield and Salmon Davis. She, who had been a physician’s wife, turned out to be kind of a full-time social worker, doing all the things that social workers do, including taking in unwed mothers. They took them into the farm there, and so it was a veritable human service agency operating as a farm. And she’d go out in the middle of the night for childbirth and that sort of thing, because there were no doctors immediately available at that time. So that’s part of the Davis genealogy.
If a man had two or three lifetimes, genealogy probably ought to be one of them. But it’s a time consuming activity, as one can imagine, and the reliability of what you’re dealing with is oftentimes shaky. But my father and I had a good time doing that. I started doing it, and then he started doing it. And then we did some of it together right up until about the time he died.
Tom Davis was a seventeenth generation Vermonter, political activist, public speaker, storyteller, author, and statesman. Also known as “Tom Terrific,” he was widely admired for his quick wit, humor, humility, kindness, wisdom, and generosity. He valued tolerance, forgiveness, compassion, and activity and lived his life accordingly. Tom's Bio and Photo Album →
In 2013, Tom Davis hired me to record his recollections and thoughts. I was serving on the Barre Historical Society (BHS) board with Tom. Years before, I had interviewed him about the early days of skiing in Vermont for the Vermont Historical Society and knew him to be an engaging story teller and welcoming person. At BHS meetings I found him to be committed to Barre, social justice, and working people as well. One night, Tom told me that, after having written three books about Barre and people he had known and worked with (and two political mystery novels), he was, at age 82, tired of writing but had more to say. I was honored when he asked me to interview him and to record his memories.
Tom called our sessions “interviews,” but little interviewing was necessary. Tom and I would meet in the conference room at Barre’s Aldrich Public Library and, after I’d set up and found a chair for him that didn’t squeak and he’d adjusted his hearing aids to prevent feedback, I’d ask a question, and off he’d go, speaking freely, keenly, and with gentle humor, while I mostly just sat and listened.
One session led to another. Eventually I had recorded 25 hours of Tom’s recollections about people he’d known, events he’d witnessed and participated in, and changes he’d seen. He also spoke about his love of baseball, skiing, and golf, about the importance of music, and about a world and state that are radically different from the ones he entered in 1931. I found his words illuminating and inspiring, and I admired his deep commitment to Vermont and Barre and, beyond that, to human understanding, fairness, and kindness. It was quickly clear that Tom had a prodigious memory and genuinely cared about the people who had passed through his lifetime of public service—whether a governor, a teacher, a granite worker, or an interviewer.
Tom was also a champion of life-long learning–for himself as well as for others. “Education doesn’t begin and end with the benchmarks of man,” he told my microphone. “Life is education. I may be wrong, but it seems that I’m never going to be able to catch up with what I need to know.”
He also had his peeves, especially partisan politics, income inequality, and the domination of social service programs by office-bound bureaucrats who had little interest in learning directly from the people they purportedly served.
Tom came to his increasingly progressive views without recourse to ideology and despite the leanings of some family and friends. He admired both his Republican father and Franklin Roosevelt and, after a brief flirtation with far-right conservatism while a student at UVM, saw the need for society to stand up for those without voice or opportunity. He was puzzled by people who “could give ten dollars to one man but wouldn’t give one dollar to ten men.” He, on the other hand, had “never been able to walk by somebody who needs a dollar.”
Tom and I discussed what to do with these recordings and decided that a section of the Barre Historical Society’s Old Labor Hall Web site would be an appropriate place for audio segments, transcripts, and photographs. Tom had a deep commitment to the Barre Historical Society and to the Socialist Labor Party Hall, which the BHS owns, maintains, and uses for a variety of community and educational events. The generosity of several folks who also want others to be able to benefit from Tom’s memories and wisdom has now made that site a reality.
The audio segments and transcriptions on this site have been edited for economy and clarity, while still retaining Tom’s warm, thoughtful voice. Some draw on multiple times that Tom spoke about a topic or told a story, and I’ve tried to edit and weave them into a single narrative. Some of Tom’s recollections also appear in his books and in the three commentaries he recorded for Vermont Public Radio in the months before his death.
The complete 25 hours of interviews also cover much more territory, and new segments may appear in the future. Unfortunately, we never got to some topics, including golf, skiing, and chess–three of Tom’s great passions. At some point, we hope that the full transcript will also be available, whether on this site or through a suitable archive.
It has been a pleasure and honor to work on this project. Tom Davis enriched my life. I hope he will contribute to yours as well.
Mark Greenberg, Montpelier VT, April 2020
Tom talks about life in his home town of Barre, Vermont.
The Community was Alive - Barre Memories (Part 1)
Barre life in the 1930s and '40s
A Melting Pot - Barre Memories (Part 2)
Ethnic diversity and street life in Barre
It was a Magnet
Tom talks about his family.
My Mother Was More Liberal
A Fair-minded Person
I Got Interested in Genealogy – Family History (Part 1)
I Came in with Roosevelt – Family History (Part 2)
\"My Mother Was More Liberal\" — Corinne Eastman Davis
Tom\'s mother and her family
A Fair-minded Person – Deane Davis
Tom\'s father\'s family and his politics.
I Got Interested in Genealogy – Family History, Part1
Tom looks back on the early history of the Davis family in America.
I Came in with Roosevelt – Family History, Part 2
Tom brings his family history to his own generation.
The politicians Tom knew and worked for and the programs he helped them implement
The Beginning of Change
FDR’s visit to central Vermont
He Wasn’t Afraid to Lose
Governor Phil Hoff
A Magnificent Leader
Sargent Shriver in Vermont
A Sense of Mission
Tom's experiences as Vermont's Secretary of Human Services
Involve the Poor – The Poverty Program (Part 1)
Vermont and the War on Poverty
True Believers—The Poverty Program (Part 2)
Directing the Office of Economic Opportunity and working across party lines
Somebody Met the Bus - Shorty and Joe
The importance of human relationships in social work
A Great Education
Working in Windsor Prison and for The Vermont Alcohol Rehabilitation Board
Tom talks about his love of baseball.
A Preferred Leisure – Baseball
From Barre youth teams to the University of Vermont
A Bunch of White Guys
Tom at the University of Vermont
- Beyond Depot Square: Stories from the Heart of Vermont, self-published, 2006
- Echoes of Vermont . . . People and Politics in the Green Mountains, self-published, 2010
- Out from Depot Square: Central Vermont Memories from the 1930s to the 1950s, self-published, 2006
- The Duval Conspiracy, Marshall Jones Company, 1995
- The Governor’s Man, self-published, 2002
- Deane C. Davis, with Nancy Price Graff – Deane C. Davis: An Autobiography, The New England Press, 1991
- Michael Sherman, Gene Sessions, Jeffrey Potash – Freedom and Unity: A History of Vermont, Vermont Historical Society, 2004
- Paul Heller – Granite City Tales: Writings on the History of Barre, Vermont, self-published, 2012
- Russell Belding – Hidden History of Barre, Vermont, The History Press, 2011
Many thanks to the people who helped make this project possible:
Gerry Ghazi, Alban Richey, Arthur & Anita Ristau, Bruce Seifer, Carol Healy, Clare & David Duke, David & Nancy Lacroix, Edith A Miller, Elizabeth Slayton, Ellen S. Sivret, Fernand & Ann Peloquin, Joanne Granai, Karen Lane, Marjorie Power, Mary Miller, Maureen Morton, Maurice & Doris Fortier, Paul C Heller, Peter Anthony & Marsha Kincheloe, Quinn Premont, River Valley Workforce Institute, Ruth Ruttenberg, Stephen Martin, Wayside Restaurant, Inc., William & Olene Doyle, and the Aldrich Public Library
- Project & Web site producer: Mark Greenberg
- Web site design and implementation: Marjorie Power
- Interviews recorded and edited by Mark Greenberg/Upstreet Productions
- Interview transcriber: Katherine Drury
- Davis family photographs and memorabilia courtesy Mike Davis and the Davis family
- Tom Davis Labor Hall photo: Mark Greenberg
- Aldrich Public Library, Vermont Historical Society, World Wide Web