Davis, Michael (ca. 1805-1881)
Michael Davis (ca. 1805-1881), was a house carpenter in antebellum Salisbury, North Carolina, who learned his trade from Salisbury master carpenter Samuel Lemly. According to his obituary in the Salisbury Carolina Watchman of November 10, 1881, Michael Davis was a native of Stanly County who came to Salisbury as a youth and learned the gunsmith’s trade from George Vogler. The young Davis then “concluded to learn also the carpenter’s trade, and engaged himself for this purpose to the late Col. Sam’l Lemly who at that time was a master builder in this place.”
Michael Davis appeared in the U.S. census of 1850 as a carpenter aged 45 who owned $500 worth of real estate and headed a household that included his wife, Sarah, and their seven children aged 21 to one year old. The oldest of these was Jacob A. Davis, a carpenter, who probably worked in his father’s shop. Also in the household was another carpenter, Samuel Linn, aged 23, and a 14-year-old boy, William J. Barringer, possibly an apprentice. In 1860, the census taker found Michael and Sarah Davis with a smaller household that included their younger children, plus two carpenters, Rufus Miller, 24, and George Cauble (Caudle?), 21. By this time, Davis owned $2,000 worth of real estate and personal property worth $150. The Davis family lived in a section of Salisbury where many of their neighbors were other artisans and their families. Active in local affairs, Michael Davis served on Salisbury’s town board in the years 1852, 1853, 1856, and 1862. In later life he resided with his youngest son, Rowan (J. R.) Davis in Iredell County, and he died at his son’s home at age 76.
Although he was busy in his profession for many years, only one building project has been definitely credited to Davis. A surviving contract between Davis and his client, Andrew Murphy of Salisbury, describes in detail the house Davis was to build for Murphy—a house that still stands in Salisbury. The agreement noted that Murphy was to pay Davis $2,871 for building a house, a kitchen, a smokehouse, and a dairy, between December 1852 and July 1853—a schedule that suggests that Davis had a large work force and could execute the project quickly. The Andrew Murphy House was to be substantial, two-story frame building with seven rooms, a hip roof, a shed across the rear, and a piazza, to be finished in the “latest” and “most fashionable” manner, including a bracket cornice indicative of the Italianate style.
The specifications noted certain features that were to be executed in a manner comparable to the house of Robert Murphy, which suggests that Davis might have built the Robert Murphy House in Salisbury as well. Among these were underpinning “of the best granite rock such as the underpinning of Robert Murphy’s house,” and the eaves “to project over at least two feet or more and to have brackets and be finished off something like Robert Murphy’s house.” Other elements were to be done “any way Murphy may require it” or “in the most fashionable and substantial manner.” Such references to an existing building as a model were not uncommon, both in defining overall quality and in referring to a specific feature of design or method of execution. Michael Davis surely built other structures in Salisbury during his tenure there, but these have not yet been identified.
- James Brawley, “Michael Davis Built Murphy House,” Salisbury Post, May 2, 1971.
- Carolina Watchman, various issues.
- “Contract for House at 229 West Bank Street, Salisbury, North Carolina, 1852,” typescript copy in files of James Brawley, Salisbury, photocopy in files of Catherine W. Bishir.
- Davyd Foard Hood, The Architecture of Rowan County North Carolina: A Catalogue and History of Surviving 18th, 19th, and Early 20th Century Structures (1983).
- Contributors:Michael Davis, carpenterDates:1852-1853Location:Salisbury, Rowan CountyStreet Address:229 W. Bank St., Salisbury, NCStatus:StandingType:ResidentialImages Puslished In:Davyd Foard Hood, The Architecture of Rowan County North Carolina: A Catalogue and History of Surviving 18th, 19th, and Early 20th Century Structures (1983).