Voices from History: The Unwelcome Gift
Voices from History - The Unwelcome Gift
By Pat Schley, DDMF Researcher
David Davis was a generous man. He supported many of his family who had fallen on hard times and contributed charitably to his church and community. Later in his life, when the giving of Christmas gifts became a common practice, he was also an enthusiastic gift-giver, with family and friends finding themselves the happy recipients of his Christmas largesse:
“My good man, (who has time now to think) wished to remember so many at Christmas – that he kept Miss Patterson and I running to find what he wanted. I went to town three days with her – and finally she had to go again.” Bloomington, December 26, 1864 (ALPL) Sarah Davis to Fanny Williams
However, one year the Judge found himself in the awkward position of having to refuse a gift on his daughter’s behalf!
The story has its beginnings in a rumor that was passed along to Sarah Davis when she was in town one day:
“[Clara Spencer] said she heard Sallie was engaged to Adlai Ewing – George did not write Mr Fisher to my knowledge – and if this report is true it will do no good now.” Bloomington IL, March 13 1872 (AL 7) SWD-DD
Adlai Thomas Ewing (1846-1920) was the son of John Wallis Ewing (1808-1855) and Maria McClelland Stevenson Ewing (1802-1883) and a 1st cousin of Adlai E. Stevenson (1835-1914), who later became the 23rd vice president of the US under Grover Cleveland. He was born and raised in Bloomington and by 1872, he had become a lawyer and was working in the law firm of Leonard & Ewing, 70 N. La Salle St., Chicago, in Rooms 14 & 15, according to the letterhead of the law firm, on which his letters were written.
Sarah “Sallie” Worthington Davis (1852-1934), the only surviving daughter of David & Sarah Davis, had been attending Miss Porter’s School in Farmington CT, since the fall of 1870 and would end her education there in June 1872.
“Sallie seems so happy in the prospect of coming home to stay –“ 
Sarah Davis hoped to then finish both her 20 year old daughter’s and her 25 year old niece’s domestic education, in anticipation of them someday marrying:
“I hope to teach both Sallie and Fanny enough of housekeeping to enable them to direct their servants, if they have any.” Bloomington IL, March 16 1872 (AL 7) SWD-DD
In November 1872, Sarah Davis and daughter, Sallie, were in Chicago to do some shopping at Field & Leiter’s, the forerunner of what would become Marshall Field’s. Sallie was going to be spending the winter social season of 1872-73 in Washington D.C. and needed some new, more adult clothes:
“I came here on Thursday – finding it necessary to make some purchases in order to carry on my dress making. … I have concluded to have one dress made here for myself and two for Sallie and have sent for her to come up on Monday. She needs to be measured for shoes – and I thought it best to send [for her]. I wish to give her a suitable outfit for the society she is to mingle in the coming Winter – and as she has been a little girl heretofore and lacks many things deemed necessary for a young lady – I find it will take some money to fit her. As this is to be her only season in the Capitol [Washington D.C.] it will not be so bad. I dont [sic] see that goods are any cheaper than heretofore while the quantity it takes to make and trim a dress – is much more than formerly. It seems wrong to encourage such fashion, but who can resist the Tyrant?” Chicago IL, November 9 1872 (AL) SWD-DD
While they were there, they stayed with their friends, the Fishers, in Chicago. Mrs. Lucius G. Fisher, Sr., was Rachel Colton Fisher, the youngest sister of the late Wells Colton, David Davis’ old law partner. She was also a childhood friend of Sarah Davis, from their days in Lenox MA.
Their daughters, Sallie Davis, born on September 9, 1852, and Sarah “Sallie” Barber Fisher, born on November 6th of 1852, - “the Sallies” as they were referred to - had also been friends since childhood. At this time, Sallie Fisher was being courted by William A. Bond (1845-1943). With the approval of Mr. & Mrs. Fisher:
“Adlai Ewing and Mr Bond have called on the girls [Sallie Davis and Sallie Fisher] – Mr B took them … to the Theater last night. They enjoyed it very much.” Oakland IL, November 16 1872 (AL 7) SWD-DD
When the Davis ladies arrived home in Bloomington, Sarah wrote the following to the Judge to keep him abreast of what they had been doing while in Chicago and to tell him the very “new news” - that Sallie had an apparent admirer:
“It is 1/2 past 6 P.M.- Sallie and I are seated before a warm fire. She is rather sleepy as we made an early start to day – So that there might be no fear of missing the train. Mr Fisher walked with us to the Steam cars where we met at the Depot Mr Adlai Ewing who offered to see us to the Chicago and Alton Road. We rose at 9- and had a bracing walk to the Depot – We waited at the Alton Depot three quarters of an hour – Mr E- staid til we left. He is somewhat taken with our daughter – and desires a “letter acquaintance” – and to that end begs Miss D- to correspond. She is evidently willing to do so. She gave me this information after my return home – and for some reason, which I will explain when I see you I made no objection. The young lady is rather fond of attention I find…” Bloomington, November 18 1872 (AL 7) SWD-DD
As planned, Sarah and Sallie Davis spent the winter of 1872-73 in Washington D.C. Sallie “did” the winter social season in Washington, carefully overseen by her parents. This was her official introduction into Washington D.C. society. When the social season was over, Sarah and Sallie made their way slowly home to Bloomington, making stops at Scranton PA, to visit Sarah’s youngest sister, Cornelia, and her family, and in Chicago, to visit their friends, the Fishers (and possibly, Mr. Ewing!). They were home by early spring of 1873.
In Washington D.C., at his office, in late April, Judge Davis received this unexpected letter:
“My dear sir and friend- I have been corresponding several months … with Miss Sallie Davis … I confess to you frankly, that I am seriously and most sincerely interested in strengthening the attachment, which I have formed for her, and which, I believe, she would reciprocate, if Mrs Davis’ and your permission were granted to me to continue my attentions … And it is for the purpose of obtaining your permission in this behalf, that I take this early opportunity to communicate with you –
I am fully aware that I should first obtain your sanction, of this affair of the heart, before compromising Miss Sallie in any manner= And therefore, In the light of these four simple facts, I present myself to you, for your favorable consideration, and ask you not to pass adversely upon me, until you know the full extent of my unworthiness. I hardly know how to best direct your inquiry, with reference to my character; but believe that, through your friend Mr Fisher, you could obtain considerable information – I refer to Mr Fisher (but without his knowledge) because I have lived in his neighborhood for some years, and that on that account he will be possessed of the means of making the proper investigation, I shall say or do nothing further in this matter, until your return to Bloom’ton in May, when I hope that I may be permitted a personal interview –Hoping for a favorable determination of your mind, and that my heart’s desire may be consummated, I remain, Yours very sincerely, A.T. Ewing -” Chicago IL, April 21, 1873 (AL) ATE-DD
Sadly, the Judge’s reply to this request is unknown, however, there is a later letter which gives some hint of what was discussed when Mr. Ewing paid a call on the Judge after he had returned home from Washington D.C. for the summer:
“Mr. Ewing told Sallie he would come down soon after Mr. D’s return home to ask consent – it seemed proper that there should be no mistake in the regard Sallie felt for her Suitor. She talked very freely to her Father of her feelings and was much opposed to forming an engagement- Mr. D. patched up matters as well as possible for Sallie & to save the young man’s feelings – but frankly told him Sallie had not the amount of feeling that would sanction marrying him = and finally the matter was left open for a year. There was to be no engagement but both are free to choose another – and at the end of the year if they love each other – they can do so without any spoken objections…” Bloomington IL, August 13 1873 (WC) SWD-FWW
By August 1873, Sallie was becoming upset by Ewing’s continued ardent pursuit of her. Having exhausted all possible means of politely but firmly discouraging the young man, Sarah wrote to her younger sister, Fanny, for help:
“I wish to talk family matter with you alone – and to have your help concerning some delicate matters. Sallie was asked to correspond with an acquaintance last Fall – a young Lawyer in Chicago… As Sallie’s disposition does not bear strong opposition – I told her she could write to him occasionally – there being nothing against the young man – and he had never professed anything more than friendship for her. I impressed the fact that one was not under an obligation to marry a man because she wrote to him letters of friendship. She never has written often- but last Spring as we came home she stopped and staid [sic] a week with Sallie Fisher…Rachel was loud in her praises of the young man – and I think Sallie was more or less influenced. After being at home a few days – she felt that she had been hasty – and regretted it. I told her Father on his return in May –… His letters are most too sweet – for the short and limited acquaintance – and from some thing I saw last Spring during his visit – I fear he may be a little arbitrary. His correspondence is not carried on actively – but I fear S. may be inclined to decide in his favor – Mr. Davis is very anxious that Sallie should see more of the world before settling herself – and would like her to see a little different class of young men from what she meets here. He has been begging me to write to Lucy to see if Nellie would invite her to visit her the coming season. I don’t like to beg an invitation and I don’t know as Sallie would accept if I should. She certainly would not if she knew I had done so. Now dear Sister, you have my story – and will see that it is a delicate matter to handle… I wish some young man like your Daniel or my David would appear – but Alas! where are they to be found in these desperate days? Bloomington IL, August 13 1873 (WC) SWD-FWW
In reply to Sarah’s plea for help, Sarah’s eldest sister, Lucy Rockwell, came to Bloomington to visit that fall. When she began to make plans for her return to Lenox, Lucy invited Sallie to go back with her and stay for the holidays. Sarah wrote to tell Judge Davis of the invitation and that Sallie had written to Mr. Ewing before going East with her Aunt Lucy:
“Sallie has written to … A-E- that she is convinced she can never entertain for him any other feeling than that of friendship & in justice to him felt it was best to tell him so – I heartily approve of this confession – as she has not answered either of the two letters written since his return to Chicago in September – Her want of liking for him was too evident to admit of further delay and I thought it more honorable to close the correspondence [apace?] – Dont write her any thing about it – Miss Clayton can now have a fair and open field –Bloomington, November 23 1873 (AL) SWD-DD
Sallie Davis went back East with her Aunt Lucy Rockwell. From the surviving letters, it looks like she stayed well into the following spring. She visited New York City with her 2nd cousin, Mary Adam, in January 1874. While she was there, Mrs. Mary Llewellyn Swayne [Mrs. Edwin] Parsons, an elder daughter of US Supreme Court Justice Noah Haynes Swayne, gave a dinner in Sallie’s honor:
“Last evening Mrs. Parsons gave a dinner in my honor which I enjoyed extremely. I have come to the conclusion that New York suits my uncultivated taste more than intellectual Boston. The manners of the inhabitants are more congenial.” New York, NY, January 25 1874 (AL 23) SWD2-DD
On her way home to Bloomington in early February, Sallie went to Scranton PA, to make a 6 week visit to her Aunt Cornelia Scranton’s home. It was a wonderful visit:
The house is very full and quite gay with so many young people. The sleighing is quite gay and we make the best of it. Thursday night we tried coasting and succeeded very well.” Scranton PA February 7 1874 (AL) SWD2 to SWD
As far as we know, there was no word from Mr. Ewing until the end of 1874, in accordance with the agreement made with Judge Davis and described in Sarah’s August letter asking for her sister’s help:
“…and finally the matter was left open for a year. There was to be no engagement but both are free to choose another – and at the end of the year if they love each other – they can do so without any spoken objections…” Bloomington IL, August 13 1873 (WC) SWD-FWW
Shortly before Christmas, a package and note arrived at the Washington DC office of Judge David Davis. The enclosed note read:
“Hon David Davis Washington D.C.
My dear friend:
May I be permitted to offer, through you, to Miss Sallie Davis, the accompanying book, as a Christmas present?
Yours very sincerely, A.T. Ewing” Chicago IL, December 14 1874 (AL i) ATE-DD
Unfortunately, the parcel & note arrived after Judge Davis had left for home to celebrate the holidays with his family.
The Judge returned to Washington DC around the 1st of January, only to find Mr. Ewing’s parcel and note waiting for him. Thankfully, a rough draft of Sallie’s father’s reply exists in the archive in Springfield:
“Jany. 13. 1874
My Dear Sir –On my return from home – I found the en about the first of this month I found your letter of Decr 14th with the book which I herewith return – I ought to have acknowledged the receipt of your note, and returned the book sooner. I ought to have done this sooner – but the pressure of business must be my apology for the delay- In returning it, may I be permitted to say, that after your letter to my daughter of last Summer- she would not consent to receive a present – from you nor would I consider it proper for her to do so – Very Truly Yours David Davis
*It ought to have been returned sooner but the pressure of business on my time must be my apology for the delay –
[Since this was in response to the letter dated Chicago IL, December 14 1874 (AL i) ATE-DD, it therefore should be dated 1875, not 1874.]
Just one week later, Mr. Ewing wrote his response to the Judge’s letter which had accompanied the returned book:
“Chicago , January 20 1875
Hon David Davis, Washington D.C.
My dear Sir:
Your letter of the 13th inst., returning my “Christmas present” offered through you to Miss Davis, has been handed me by the Ex[press]-Agent –
I hardly know what to say!
You have caused my present to be rejected, on account of my letter to Miss Davis, written last summer,
I am neither prepared to retract what was said in that letter, nor, to urge a justification of it - In doing the former, I would confess to having been prompted by the “bad temper” and “improper spirit” of which you accused me in your letter of last September, both of which, I disclaim as ever influencing me in the least toward Miss Davis.
In doing the latter, I would be complaining against Miss Davis to a third party: before doing which, I would loose [sic] my right hand –
As against me, Miss Davis needs no champion.
I desire to say further, that I had no design in sending a present to Miss Davis, for I feel en- [en]tirely cut off from ever renewing our former friendship – Yet I know that it would afford me a pleasure to offer a remembrance of her – and hence I did it.
With very high esteem for you, and a grateful appreciation of your uniform Kindness to me, I remain,
Yours sincerely, A.T. Ewing”
This is, as far as the record of surviving documents shows, the last communication from Mr. Ewing on the subject.
Adlai Thomas Ewing did not marry until December of 1879, when he married Kate Hyde in Buffalo NY, on December 4th. They spent their married life in Chicago.
Sarah Worthington Davis married Henry “Harry” Stuart Swayne (1845-1893) later that same year, on December 22, 1875. He was a son of Judge Davis’ fellow Supreme Court Justice Noah Haynes Swayne, Sr. and Sarah Ann St. Clair Swayne and younger brother of Mary Llewellyn Swayne [Mrs. Edwin] Parsons of NYC.
Harry and Sallie Swayne lived in Toledo, Ohio until the spring of 1885, when they moved to Bloomington, where they lived in the Davis mansion with Judge Davis until their new house on the NE corner of Jefferson & Colton was finished in the fall of 1886.
 Clarissa “Clara” Spencer Scovel (1847-1930), wife of John Combs Scovel (1845-1923); daughter of J .Hamilton & Mary Frances Camp Spencer of Bloomington IL.
 Lucius George Fisher, Sr. (1808-1886), husband of Rachel Colton Fisher (1823-1890); father of Lucius “Lute” George Fisher, Jr. (1843-1916)
 Bloomington IL, March 1 1872 (AL 7) SWD-DD
 Frances Mary “Fanny” Walker (1847-1932), daughter of Sarah Davis’s late brother, George Walker (1812-1860), and his wife, Harriet Hull Walker (1820-1853). She came to live with the Davis family when she was about 15 years old.
 The original Field & Leiter’s store had burned to the ground just the year before, on October 8 1871. As a result of the employees' herculean efforts, so much merchandise was saved that the store was able to reopen in only a few weeks (the Wholesale Department on October 28th, and the Retail Department on November 6th) in a temporary location (a horse-streetcar barn of the Chicago City Railway Co. at State & 20th Streets). Six months later, in April 1872, Field & Leiter reopened in an unburned building at Madison and Market Streets (today's West Wacker Drive). Brewer, Wilmon, "A Life of Maurice Parker," pp. 11–12, Marshall Jones Company, Francestown, New Hampshire, 1954.
 See previous article titled, “The Enigmatic Mr. Colton”, April 1, 2019. It can be found at: https://www.daviddavismansion.org/about/archived-research/79-voices-from-history-the-enigmatic-mr-colton
 Adlai Thomas Ewing (1846-1920), son of John Wallis & Maria McClelland Stevenson Ewing of Bloomington IL. Adlai Ewing was a 1st cousin of Adlai E. Stevenson, who was the Vice President of the U.S. under President Grover Cleveland. Adlai T. Ewing grew up in Bloomington, but was at this time, a practicing lawyer in the Chicago Law Office of Ewing & Leonard at 70 LaSalle St., Chicago IL.
 Cornelia Walker [Mrs. Joseph Hand] Scranton (1823-1919), 2nd wife of Joseph Hand Scranton; youngest sister of Sarah W. Davis
 Rachel Colton [Mrs. Lucius, Sr.] Fisher (1819-1923)
 Capricious, impulsive, or unpredictable.
 Sarah Worthington Davis (1852-1934), daughter of David & Sarah W. Davis.
 Adlai Thomas Ewing (1846-1920), son of John Wallis & Maria McLelland Stevenson Ewing; courted Sallie Davis in 1873-very early1875. DD finally wrote to Ewing to basically shove off and leave Sallie alone: see letter dated Washington DC January 13 [DD wrote 1874 but actually is 1875] DD to ATE (AL i)
 Apparently Miss Clayton was pursuing Mr. Ewing. We do not know if she lived in Bloomington or Chicago.
 February 4, 1874
 Not sure which Mr. Swayne, however it is possible that Mrs. Parson’s young, unmarried brother, Henry Stuart Swayne (1845-1893) may have been one of the guests at a dinner party given by Mrs. Parsons in Sallie’s honor on Sat., January 24th. . See letter dated New York, NY, January 25 1874 (AL 23) SWD2-DD. Thanks to their fathers both being US Supreme Court justices, the Swayne and Davis families had known each other for 11 years by the time this letter was written.