RIP John Scott Davenport

“Doc” Davenport 1925-2013

In May of 2005, The Legal Genealogist drove down to Holmdel, New Jersey, to try to get some help with research into the earliest known ancestors of the Baker family from which I descend.

John Scott Davenport

My target for the trip was John Scott “Doc” Davenport, Ph.D., then a spry 80 years of age.

Doc was the Grand Old Man of genealogical research for that branch of the family that was and is known as the Pamunkey Davenports. This Davenport branch, from which we both descend, traces back to Davis Davenport, a landowner in the Pamunkey Neck region of Virginia (hence the designation “Pamunkey Davenports”)1 in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

We can definitively place Davis in that area from a survey made by James Taylor, surveyor of King & Queen County, Virginia, dated 29 May 1696, which identified Davis Davenport’s Plantation and Landing on the Mattaponi River.2 We know Davis was still alive in 1704 when he was assessed on the Virginia Quit Rents roll for 200 acres.3 And he had died by 1735 when his son Martin mentioned in his own will that he had inherited land from his father Davis Davenport.4

Doc’s descent from Davis Davenport through son Martin is well-documented, both by genealogical records and by DNA. My own is more circumstantial: we have good reason to believe that the Dorothy who married Thomas Baker around 1716 in Virginia was a daughter of Martin Davenport.5 And I wanted to meet with Doc because he was the acknowledged expert as to the ins and outs of these Davenports — and he himself was convinced that Dorothy Baker had been Dorothy Davenport before her marriage.

So I headed off to Holmdel that bright weekend day, determined to secure Doc’s help in making the case for Dorothy as a Davenport. I mean, I had an agenda. In boldface and italics. And I wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

And before I left his home many hours later, I’d been snookered. Taken for a ride by this lovely gentleman. Conned into agreeing to edit what ended up as a 900-plus-page, multi-part, CD publication called The Pamunkey Davenport Papers : The Further Chronicles of the Pamunkey Davenports,6 a complete reworking of the family history Doc had first produced in 1998.7

Over the next weeks, and months, and years, Doc and I fought over the Chronicles. We fought over some assumptions that he’d made, and some that I’d made. We fought about what to put in and what to leave out. We fought over whether there was enough evidence to connect one generation to another. We even fought about typefaces and fonts.

He thought I was silly for insisting on transcribing documents as they were written, with words misspelled and all, rather than “what they meant.” As if, he sniffed, preserving those misspellings mattered. I thought he was silly for thinking that every time the DNA didn’t match the paper trail, it necessarily meant Mama was playin’ around. As if, I’d sniff, there’d never been an undocumented adoption or a child who took his stepfather’s name.

Oh we battled. And we growled. And we occasionally snarled.

And I loved every minute of it.

To this day, I have no idea how my agenda got co-opted into Doc’s agenda. And to this day and as long as I may live, I am and will be forever grateful that it was.

What I learned from Doc, about the Davenports, about the Bakers, about good genealogical research, about good writing, about life, about history, about family, and about the love cousins who first met each other on the Internet can have for each other… I couldn’t begin to document all that I owe to Doc Davenport.

So it is with the heaviest of hearts that I have to report there will be no more battles with Doc in this lifetime. We got the word yesterday that we lost him last Friday, at the age of 87. His memorial service is scheduled for this evening in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, near to where he and Dorothy, his bride of 64 years, settled to be near a daughter and her family.

I can’t be there in person, but I will surely be there in spirit.

Rest in peace, John Scott Davenport (August 12, 1925 – January 11, 2013).

Genealogist.

Road crew boss and fellow traveller down the Davenport family history road.

Seventh cousin.

And friend.


 
SOURCES

  1. “Pamunkey Neck is that long finger of land running northwest to southeast between the Pamunkey-North Anna River and the Mattaponi River, ending at their confluence to form the York River.” “Who are the Pamunkey Davenports?,” The Pamunkey Davenports of Colonial Virginia (http://www.pamunkeydavenport.com/ : accessed 15 Jan 2013.
  2. Waller Family Papers, 1667-1816, Accession #260356, Library of Virginia, Richmond.
  3. Louis des Cognets, Jr. (comp.), English Duplicates of Lost Virginia Records (Princeton, NJ: p.p., 1958), 149-156, 157-160, 163-171. See also Annie Laurie Wright Smith, compiler, The Quit Rents of Virginia, 1704, reprint (Baltimore, Maryland : Genealogical Publ. Co., 2004), 24.
  4. Rosalie Edith Davis (compiler), Hanover County Court Records, Wills, Deeds, Etc., 1733-1735 (Manchester, Mo. : p.p., 1979), 339.
  5. I’ll get around to writing that up another day. This isn’t about my Bakers today, or even about the Davenports. It’s about Doc.
  6. John Scott Davenport, Judy G. Russell, Linda E. Davenport, The Pamunkey Davenport Papers : The Further Chronicles of the Pamunkey Davenports, CD-ROM (Charles Town, W.Va. : The Pamunkey Davenport Family Association, 2009).
  7. John Scott Davenport, The Pamunkey Davenports of Colonial Virginia : An Approximated Four-Generation Lineage from the Patriarch Davis Davenport of King William County (Hopkinville, KY : Pamunkey Davenport Family Association, 1998).
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12 Responses to RIP John Scott Davenport

  1. I read your wonderful piece with tears in my eyes–and with laughter. I met Doc through our correspondence over my Davenport family line–a bunch that fit in nowhere and carried Doc’s descriptive moniker, “Limbo Davenports.” Over the course of our emails, he somehow convinced me to go ahead with a complete study of my family history. This established a new Davenport family line (The New Kent/Hanover Davenports) and took me away from other projects for the better part of a year. And when I was done, I knew I could never have brought the study to fruition without Doc. He was a mentor, a guide, a tireless researcher, and a dedicated genealogist. Most of all, he was my beloved friend. I will miss him every day.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I’m so glad you had the opportunity to work with Doc, Randi. So many of us were the beneficiaries of his assistance… and persistence! He will be so missed…

      • I’m glad of this too, Judy. He was tireless even when I tired and he egged me on when I thought I ought to give up. I will never forget his good humor as he pushed me through the final revisions last summer. And we discussed everything–items that wound up in the final study and items we cast out. And Doc’s Pamunkey research was at the heart of the study–he carefully extracted the lines he had identified as Pamunkey years ago and set me to work on them. There are many people who have benefited from the New Kent/Hanover Davenport study–but absolutely no one more than me. When I told him how much pleasure he’d given an old man (my father, delighted at 81 to have a family history at last), Doc said, “That’s something I ought to know how to do, being an old man myself.” Or words to that effect. He didn’t want me to give him any credit at all in my acknowledgments–but this was one argument he was not going to win!

        • Judy G. Russell says:

          Doc was amazingly generous in sharing credit with others for his own work and modest in declining credit for work he’d had a great hand in.

  2. Denise Maupin Watson says:

    I loved him from afar, although I never had the chance to meet him in person. He was always so helpful. What a loss. I pray for his family and all of us who will miss his wise counsel. May He Rest in Peace.
    Denise Maupin Watson (formerly of Alexandria, VA)
    9 Tomoka Cove Way
    Ormond Beach, FL 32174
    386-673-7706

  3. Debi Austen says:

    Oh my, I have tears in my eyes reading this beautiful tribute. Doc sounds like one heck of a guy and a great friend. I’m so glad you had the opportunity to know him and to work with him!

  4. brenda says:

    What a wonderful tribute. I felt as if I knew him.

  5. Lee Garland (Baker, McKinney, Byrd} Dryden says:

    A fitting tribute to a generous man, writer and genealogist for helping to preserve our heritage

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