John A. G. Davis (5 Mar. 1802-15 Nov. 1840)

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
  • “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]. (Accessed 5/14/2011).
  • “Lucy Minor Davis” in Burns, David C. and Jasper Burns. Trice Blessed [website]. (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 and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: 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
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3 Responses to John A. G. Davis (5 Mar. 1802-15 Nov. 1840)

  1. Junius R. Fishburne, Jr. says:

    many thanks for the biography of John A.G. Davis. you might be interested to include that his wife, Mary Jane Terrell, was the daughter of Richard Terrell and Lucy Carr, who was the niece of Mr. Jefferson through his sister Martha Jefferson, who married his friend Dabney Carr. His son, Dr. John Staige Davis became a professor of medicine as later his grandson, Dr. John Staige Davis 2nd.

  2. Bill Emerson says:

    This was a fabulous find for me. John Staige Davis was a surgeon at the Charlottesville General Hospital (the formal name of the Confederate hospital). In 1864 my great grandfather, George N. Bliss, a captain in the Union cavalry, was wounded in Waynesboro, and brought by train to the hospital. Davis took good care of Bliss for the two weeks he was there (before being sent to Libby Prison in Richmond). Bliss and Davis became friends and communicated occasionally until Davis’s death in 1885. We had heard that JAG Davis had been murdered by a student, but could not imagine how that could have happened. You make that quite clear. Thanks.

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