William Davis owned 11 acres in Franklin County PA prior to coming to Michigan. Other children of Mildred and William are James Buchanan born in Shippensburg Pa, Susan Ann also born in PA and other siblings noted later. In 1858, William and Mildred sold their PA land for $1,000 to Rev. William Coursey and relocated to Medina Ohio where they had two more children, Alma and Henry.
The Davis family arrived in Benzie County, Michigan about 1862. To our knowledge they were the first African-American family in Benzie County. William Davis (born 1817) homesteaded 160 acres (July 23, 1863), and so did his son Joseph B. (5/17/1864). The township had no cemetery, Joseph B. gave the township land for the cemetery and it was named Joyfield Cemetery in 1864. Oral history handed down for over 60 years reveals that William Davis is believed to be one of the three children of the Scotch-Irish plantation owner and slave.
The first Davis house in Michigan was a log house, years later they build a frame house. The house burnt down in 1919, when the state was paving US 31 right in front of their property. Son, William O. was the timekeeper for the road crew. The road crew built the house that still stands to this day. The family calls this house the “Mushroom”, due to the shape of the house. William and wife, Mildred Brand raised their own children and 17 others. Any child that needed a home, they took them in regardless of color.
William’s oldest son, Joseph Brand Davis born in Pennsylvania abt. 1841, died in Benzie County, January or February of 1915, at the ripe age of 76. Joseph B. was about 23 when the Davis’s arrived in Benzie County. Twice a year he walked to Traverse City to get supplies. At this time there were no trails for horses. He knew families on the way, where he could stay the night and also fill their supply orders. It would take him a week to do the round trip. His mother would watch patiently for his safe return. During the 1860’s, there was only a footpath from Benzonia to Traverse City.
Joseph’s first wife was Mary Bell Imes; they had one son named Horace Burr Davis. He was born in 1864. Horace was the first baby to be born in Joyfield Township after the township got its name. Mary Bell Imes was one of the children that the Davis’s raised. Joseph was about 25 years and Mary about 17 when they married about 1863. Mildred, Joseph’s mother, was a midwife. She was born in Virginia about 1825; light skinned mulatto, with long straight black hair that she could sit on. Mildred’s father was from Scotland (based on census information). She was believed to be a freeborn mulatto from Virginia. Three times a day she smoked a clay pipe. She delivered her grandson, Horace and his first three children; Bessie, Frances and Al and many more children in the Joyfield Township area.
Horace Davis died in 1914, when Calvin was only two years old. Hattie, Calvin mother’s was left with a house, land and a few dollars, which was more than enough for her to live on and support the family. This time was not the best for uneducated rural women. A white man from the area approached her with big ideas that cost her everything. The land, house, as well as the money left by her husband. After being swindled out of everything she owned, she and her children had to move into a little house, located in the neighboring community of Thompsonville.
If that wasn’t enough for the Davis’s siblings, their mother Hattie, died on April 30,1919, just five years after their father. Bessie, one of Calvin’s older sisters, was working as a live-in housekeeper when their mother died. Upon her mother’s death, she quit her job and returned home to take care of her three young brothers, Ferman, Floyd and Calvin. Bessie didn’t have much to live on, and they were very poor. Bessie used to talk about the hard times she had with raising her three young brothers. She said that they were literally starving and being poor was an understatement. To give us an idea of how hungry and poor they were, she commented that she would buy one apple and cut it up for all four of them to eat.
Seven months later, Bessie was approached by Frank Marsh, a resident of Manistee County for marriage. The Marsh family was the first African-American family to homestead in Manistee County, Michigan. George and Mary (Goens) Marsh, Frank’s parents arrived from Jefferson County WV, right after the Civil War and homesteaded 160 acres on Letteau Road. George had been a slave and Mary C. (Goens, a mulatto) was freeborn. Frank told Bessie that he would take care of her and her brothers if she married him. Frank had his eye on Ms. Bessie for a while. They married 11/20/1919, and Frank took his new family to Manistee and brought new clothes for them. They moved on Letteau Road, close to the Marsh homestead.
Another story that Bessie used to tell is that she asked Frank during a meal one time, this was soon after the marriage and they were close to finishing meal. She wanted just a little more maple syrup on her food; she asked Frank if she could have a little more maple syrup. Frank told Bessie that she and the boys could have as much to eat as they wanted and didn’t have to ask anymore.
Bessie and Frank moved the boys down the road to the Marsh homestead and that is where Calvin, Ferman and Floyd grew up, and where Bessie died in 1981 at the age of 90. The house that Calvin grew up in is still standing, but has been remodeled. Only 30 acres of the original Marsh homestead is still held in family ownership.
Calvin attended the Malcolm School, Manistee County. (Attached Malcolm School picture, 1920-21) According to information submitted by John W. Martin, who provided a history on the Malcolm School, the 1922-23-school term started late in August with 26 pupils making up eight grades.
The Davis, Marsh, Reed, and Schleuter children used a well-worn path through the fields, woods, and across the railroad track, being a direct half-mile walk to school. If the round about roads had been used, the distance would have more than doubled. Attachment #2 shows the class picture of Malcolm School for the year of 1927-28.
Calvin attended Bear Lake High School, class of 1932. While in high school he sang in the Glee Club and set a new regional record in the half mile run. Calvin always dreamed of becoming being a pilot. But knew it was out of his reach, they wouldn’t allow him to attend pilot school being an African-American. He was very light skinned and settled to be a radio gunner. He entered the military May 14, 1941, and there is no indication that anyone ever asks what race he was.
The local newspaper reported Calvin was promoted to the rank of Corporal and holds a position as a radio operator and studying typing in the bombing squad in Spokane, Washington.
Snapshot of Calvin’s military career:
TSgt. Calvin Clark Davis
Born September 2, 1912, Benzie County, Michigan-
Died November 30, 1944, WWII Solider-Serial number 16014331
Buried at Ardennes American Cemetery, Neupre, Belgium (Plot D, Row 10, Grave 29)
8th Air Force, “390th BG, 570 Squadron, The Flying Fortress
5th Air Force “90th BG, 400 Squadron, The Jolly Rogers
- Attended school: Bear Lake High School, Class of 1932
- Singer in the High School Glee Club and Track Star.
- Military Awards: 50+ completed missions in SW Pacific, over Japanese held territory
- 16 missions in Europe
- Wounded, from missions in the Pacific
- Distinguished Flying Cross, Two Oak Leaf Clusters
- I Air Medal, 2 purple hearts with oak leaf, Air Medal with Star, Defense Medal, European-African Campaign Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, World War 2 Victory Medal, Honorable Service Lapen Button, WW11
- Purple Heart Received for Military Merit and for Wounds Received in actions resulting in his death (6/2/1945)
- Recommended for the Silver Star and Medal of Honor
Stay tune for Part 2, Pacific tour