Whiteside County Biographies 1908
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Whiteside Biographies 1908 > 1908 - W. W. Davis

23 Aug 2012



Page 740


William White Davis was born in New Holland, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, October 25, 1836. His father, Gabriel Davis, had Scotch, Irish and Welsh blood in his veins. John Anderson, one of his ancestors, was born in County Antrim, Ireland, in 1728. Jenkins Davis emigrated from County Cardigan. Wales, early in 1700. They settled in  eastern Pennsylvania. The great-grandfather of William W. was an active patriot in the Revolutionary war, being member of the committee of safety, and captain of a military company. The mother of William W. was Susanna Roland Diller, daughter of Jonathan Diller and Ann Weaver. German on both sides. Gabriel Davis and Susanna Diller were married in Philadelphia, 1835, at the Episcopal residence by William White, first bishop of Pennsylvania. From this venerable and saintly prelate, the first son of this marriage, William White received his name.

William grew up in New Holland and received his early education in the village school. Two pleasing and profitable episodes in his youthful years.  In 1849 he accompanied his father to Washington and saw President Taylor, Henry Clay, Thomas H. Benton, and the giants of that time. In 1851 he had his father made a delightful tour of two months in the west, going to Pittsburg by rail and canal, by boat on Ohio and Mississippi, traveled by stage over Illinois, had an interview with Lincoln at Springfield, returning by Chicago, Niagara Falls, Hudson and New York. From 1852 to 1853 he was at the Lancaster high school, from 1853 to 1856 at Franklin and Marshall College. He took the honors of his class at commencement and had the distinction of delivering his address, “Decline of Political Integrity,” before the coming president, James Buchanan.

Removing to Sterling, Illinois, with his father’s family, Mr. Davis entered upon the profession of teaching, which he continued for twenty years. During his stay at Dixon, he prepared a small manual on Composition Writing, which he published by George Sherwood, Chicago, and received the commendation of Newton Bateman, Richard Edwards and John S. Hart, educators all now gone to their reward.

In 1875 Mr. Davis was offered the position of associate editor on the Express, a daily of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which he held until he accepted a similar position on the Press, Philadelphia, then conducted by John W. Farney. Here he remained during the winter of 1876-1877, and in the spring returned to Illinois. In August, 1879, he was married to Miss Maggie A Wolfersperger, daughter of John and Lydia Wolfersperger, prosperous farmers of Jordan Township, north of Sterling. After two years of domestic happiness at Birdwood, west of Emerson, a pleasant rural retreat, Mr. and Mrs. Davis removed to Sterling in 1881, where they have since resided in a charming cottage on the banks of Rock River.

During his college course Mr. Davis was a regular attendant at St. James’ church, and enjoyed the earnest discourses of Samuel Bowman, afterward bishop of Pennsylvania. On his removal to Sterling, the family found the Presbyterian church most convenient, the pastor, Rev. E. Erskine, graduated of Princeton, attracting all classes by his earnest manner and kindly sympathy. Since his marriage he has accompanied his wife to the Lutheran church, was fourteen years superintendent of the Sunday school, and is now teaching a Bible class of fifty men and women.

In the spring of 1890 Mr. Davis, gratified a long cherished desire of his life by joining an excursion to Europe and the Holy Land, visiting Antwerp, Switzerland, Italy, Egypt, Jerusalem, Paris, London, and Edinburgh. On his return he delivered some lectures onhis trip, “Jerusalem and the Pyramids,” “A Sunday Morning With Spurgeon,” “A week in London.”

His tales are literary. Autographs are a hobby, and his collection of poets, statesmen, heroes, divines, begun in 1865, richly illustrated, has few equals in the country. He is a constant contributor to the press. The Gazette of Sterling is printing a series of sketches on “Men and Women I’ve Met,” notable people of a life=time, that has reached the sixtieth number of the series. He is a favorite writer for the Lutheran Observer, Philadelphia.

The Whiteside County Historical Society was brought into being by his efforts in 1903, and now has a large and valuable collection of books, papers and curios of every name.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

His letter wriging has given Mr. Davis a peculiar local distinction. He has made numerous trips, short and extended, and never fails to dispatch a daily bulletin of things as he sees them to his home papers. In this way, people have traveled with him. His letters from Europe and Egypt Colorado, Washington and New York, Quebec, Mexico, Dakota, Havana, Florida, New Orleans, Chattanooga, would fill several volumes. Scarcely a day when at home that he has not a paragraph for the journals about some current topic.

Two children have blessed the union. John, after enjoying four years at the hight school in Sterling, took four years in civil engineering at Illinois University, Champaign, and is now married and engaged in his profession in Chicago. The younger child, Susanna Roland, also passed through the high school and is now in her second year of a general classical course at Oberlin College, Ohio.



Page 153

While teaching in Dixon in 1864, he prepared the material for a treatise on “Composition Writing,” which was published by George Sherwood, Chicago. It was a small, unpretending book, bound in cloth, only fifty-two pages. It was not a text-book for pupils, but a guide for teachers in elementary schools that they might excite more interest in the neglected exercise of original composition. It is now out of print and never had an extensive sale, or Mr. Davis would today be an operator on Wall street with J. P. Morgan.  After graduating at Lancaster, Pa., in 1856, Mr. Davis came to sterling, which, except a few years’ absence, has been his home ever since.

                                True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,

                                As those move easiest who have learned to dance.

From those educators who believe in this couplet of Pope, the author received many kind words. Dr. Richard Edwards, then in the Normal at Bloomington, wrote: “Your plan of making the child’s written exercise an expression of his own thought, and not a rehash of stolen platitudes, must commend itself to every philosophical educator.” Prof. John S. Hart of the New Jersey Normal at Trenton said: “For teaching young beginners in common schools the first steps in the art of composition, this book has no superior, if, indeed, it has an equal.” Newton Bateman, also, expressed high commendation.

Except an occasional appearance on the platform with such lectures as “How to Live One Hundred Years,” “A Sunday Morning with Spurgeon,” Mr. Davis’ literary activity has been confined to newspaper work. During a tour abroad he wrote a series of letters to the Sterling Standard, and has furnished for a year a weekly sketch to the Gazette of “Men and Women I’ve Met,” reminiscences of a lifetime. He is a regular contributor to the New Era, Lancaster, Pa., and the Lutheran Observe, Philadelphia. Many of his articles appear with simply the initials, W. W. D.

Dickens, Thackeray, Emerson, and others, who are best known in prose, occasionally dropped into poetry, and Mr. Davis in an evil hour was tempted to follow their in llustrious example:

                CHINA ASTERS. (On seeing a bouquet at church.)

                I often think in early spring,        

                  When buds put forth apace,

                That tulips are the sweetest thing,

                 Of all the floral race.

                In leafy June when earth is bright,

                  With every plant that grows,

                ‘Tis then I say with feelings strong,

                  There’s nothing like the rose.

                And so the lovely tribe bloom on,

                  In summer’s heat the faster,

                Until my captive heart exclaims,

                  Give me the China aster!


Other references to W. W. Davis in the “History of Whiteside County” book:

Page 404


This was founded in Feb., 1903, by W. W. Davis, and its collection of curios has grown steadily by contributions from all parts of the county. The articles are arranged as far as possible insections, and placed in show cases.

Page 410


Few persons know that a small magazine was published for a short time in Sterling. It was conducted by Calvin Martin and issued weekly. Before us is the number for March 29, 1879, with several original and selected articles like “Unseen Battles of Youth,” by Rev.. H. G. Fife; “Wives and Puddings,” by W. W. Davis; editorials, local items, general news, business cards.

Page 536

In the biography of Judge Aaron A Wolfersperger, the wife of W. W. Davis, Maggie W. who was one of six children.




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