John Anthony Gardner Davis was the son of Staige Davis (1775-1813) and his wife, Elizabeth Macon (Gardner) Davis (b. 1780). John A. G. Davis, was named after his mother’s uncle, Dr. Anthony Gardner. The family lived at Prospect Hill in Middlesex County, VA. Davis studied at the College of William and Mary from 1819 to 1820, then opened a law practice in Middlesex County.
In 1821, Davis married Mary Jane Terrell (1803-1879), and the couple had seven children: Eugene, John Staige, Dabney Carr T., Richard Terrell, Caryetta, Elizabeth Gardiner, and Lucy Minor Davis. All of the sons attended U.Va.: Eugene Davis, sessions 12-17 (1835-1841); John Staige Davis, sessions 14-17 (1837-1841); Dabney Carr T. Davis, sessions 17-19 & 21 (1840-1843 & 1844-1845); and Richard Terrell Davis, sessions 21-22 & 25-26 (1844-1846 & 1848-1850).
When the University of Virginia opened, Davis attended during session 1 (1825), then practiced law in Charlottesville until 1830. In that year he was chosen to fill the position of Professor of Law at U.Va., a position in which he served until his death. The house that the family lived in still exists in Charlottesville, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Davis was a respected lawyer, writer, and teacher, well liked by the students. In the early years of its existence U.Va. was plagued by recurring student disturbances, one of which occurred on the evening of 12 Nov. 1840. In his role as Chairman of the Faculty, Davis attempted to stop the two students who were causing the disturbance. One of the students, Joseph G. Semmes of Georgia, shot Professor Davis, seriously wounding him. Davis died three days later. One of the outcomes of this tragedy was the development of the University of Virginia Honor Code, which exists to this day.
- Barringer, Paul B., James M. Garnett, and Rosewell Page, eds. University of Virginia: its history, influence, equipments, and characteristics. New York, Lewis Publishing Co., 1904. Accessed via books.google.com
- “Correspondence of the Salem Gazette: Monticello and the University of Virginia.” Salem Gazette (Salem, MA), v. 55, no.95 (11-26-1841), p. 2.
- “John Anthony Gardner Davis, 1830-1840” [website]. http://libguides.law.virginia.edu/content.php?pid=135150&sid=1158308 (Accessed 5/14/2011).
- “Lucy Minor Davis” in Burns, David C. and Jasper Burns. Trice Blessed [website]. http://www.jasperburns.com/minor/texts/lmdavis.htm (Accessed 5/14/2011).
- “Elizabeth M. Davis v. James G. Rowe and others. May, 1828.” in Michie, Thomas Johnson, ed. Virginia reports, Jefferson–33 Grattan, 1730-1880. Charlottesville, VA, 1904, p. 715-746.
- Minor, Lucian. Discourse on the life and character of the late John A.G. Davis: professor of law in the University of Virginia, delivered before the Society of Alumni, June 29th, 1847. 1847.
- United States. Census Bureau. General population schedules, 1790-1930, in Ancestry.com and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
- University of Virginia Matriculation Books, 1825-1904, Accession #RG-14/4/2.041, Special Collections Dept., University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Va.
- Watson, Annah Robinson. “Of sceptred race.” Memphis, TN, 1910. Accessed via books.google.com