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'The Davidson Family As We Know It'

(Excerpt taken from a letter compiled by Robert Kenneth Davidson in 1933.

     The purpose of this record is not to trace the family far back 
into the Middle Ages to Discover ancestors from royalty or nobility.  
It deals only with the American history of the family, from the time 
it came to this country, shortly after 1790, down to the present.

     The first we know of our ancestors they were a Scot-Irish 
family living in County Down, Ireland, A northern county near Belfast. 
They were Protestants, probably Presbyterians.  Aside from this we 
know nothing of them and never will, unless some member of the family 
becomes ambitious enough to go to Ireland and Trace them there.

     A brief history of the Scot-Irish may be of interest, as it 
will show what the old DAVIDSONs probably did, or might have done, 
before the time that we really know what they did.

     At the dawn of Scottish History there was a Clan Davidson living in 
the Highlands of Scotland, sufficiently important to have its own 
plaid, or tartan, that is a peculiar pattern of colors woven into the 
cloth out of which the members of the family made certain of they 
clothing.  A member of the DAVIDSON Clan was distinguished from the 
members of other clan by the color and pattern of his tartan.  The 
Clan Book, which can be found in any large library, contains 
illustrations of the DAVIDSON tartan.

     The Scot-Highlands is a very poor country and in very early 
days it was bothered by bloody clan wars, in which many whole families 
sometimes were wiped out.  About 1400 there is said to have been a 
bloody battle between the Davidsons and the McPhersons, in which the 
Davidsons were the losers.  Living conditions in the Highlands were 
very harsh and poor, and for that reason there has always been a heavy
emigration from the Highlands to Northern Ireland, a more fertile if 
not a more peaceful country.

     Between 1620 and 1680 the emigration from Scotland to Ireland was 
unusually heavy.  This was the time when the Stuarts were the rulers 
of all Great Britain, but were struggling with the Puritans and Oliver 
Cromwell.  The Stuarts persecuted the Presbyterians of Scotland, 
especially the Covananters, who were very strict Presbyterians, and 
many fled to Ireland to escape this persecution.  Cromwell then came 
to power.  He favored the Presbyterians but encouraged them to settle 
in Ireland because they would support his party better than the 
Catholic natives.  Then Cromwell's party fell and the Stuarts returned.
During all this period of civil war and revolution, thousands of the
Scots moved to Ireland, especially Ulster, the northern part, which 
today is more Scot than Irish, but about 1700 new laws were passed 
which injured them almost as much as the native Irish.  The 
Irish-Catholics were too poor and too harshly held down by the law to 
help themselves, but the Scotch-Irish still possessed a little money 
and propertywhich they had acquired during the earlier laws favoring 
them, and they could leave the country.  Thousands of them came to 
America during this early depression, beginning to come about 1720, 
and many went to the colony of Pennsylvania.

     English law at that time provided that when a man died all of his 
land should go to his "nearest male relative."  if he had sons, this 
land went to the oldest son.  The youngest sons and the daughters 
divided the money and what was left of the personal property after the
debts were paid.  Most people were farmers at that time.  Farmers 
seldom possess a large amount of money and at that time they were too 
poor to have much live stock or other personal property.  Moreover, 
the debts of the estate were paid very largely out of the personal 
property.  The oldest son was thus a very favored individual, and the 
younger sons and the daughters were left out in the cold.  The 
daughters remedied this by marrying.  The plight of the younger son 
was harder.

     A younger son could remain at home and become a dependent on his
oldest brother.  Not a very attractive prospect for a young man of 
ambition.  He could enter a trade, but in Ireland there was very 
little trade and such as there was almost all in the hands of English, 
who were determined to keep it there.  There were factories.  linen 
weaving was about the only form of manufacturing in Northern Ireland,
and that trade was crowded.  Only a few young men could afford the 
education to become ministers, doctors, or lawyers.  There were the
Army and Navy, but during the 18th Century no self-respecting young 
man would willingly serve as a private in either, and commissions for 
officers had to be bought.  The buck private and the common sailor 
had a pretty hard life.  Recruits had to be obtained by various 
semi-legal forms of kidnapping.  About all that the average younger 
son could do was to emigrate.  It is interesting to notice that in the
Davidson family it was only the younger sons and the daughter who left 
Ireland to come to America.

     The passage across the sea was frightful.  It took weeks, 
sometimes months, to cross the Atlantic.  There were no laws 
protecting immigrates, and grasping shipowners overcrowded the ships 
so that privacy was impossible.  The food was often condemned army 
stores, and when the British Army in the 18th Century condemned food 
as unfit for its soldiers, the food was terrible.  If the voyage was 
delayed by storms the food often ran out and the immigrants starved.  
Sanitary measures were extremely primitive.  Disease often broke out 
on the ships; in a few instances as many as three-fourths of the 
passengers died on the ocean.  It was indeed a brave soul who came to 
America as an immigrant in 1793, and we must admire Mary Dunlap 
Davidson,who came to America then with at least four children, the 
youngest eleven years old.  When the immigrant landed he was 
desperately poor.  He probably had little enough to start with, for
after the fortunate oldest son, who seldom emigrated, had taken all 
his father's land, there was little enough for the younger sons and 
the daughters.  The fares to America were exorbitant, and then a few 
shipowners hired swindlers and blackguards to fleece the passengers 
out of the little money they had left.

     In 1793, when the Davidsons first came to America, George 
Washington was president of the United States.  The Revolutionary War 
had been over only ten years.  The United States consisted only of the 
country between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River, 
excluding Florida.  The settled part of the country was between the 
ocean and the mountains.  West of the mountains was a howling 
wilderness of dense forests, but Western Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, 
and Tennessee were filling up rapidly.  Pittsburgh was a tiny 
backwoods trading post.  There were no other towns for hundreds of 

     Yet, because he had so little money the Scot-Irish immigrant 
seldom stayed near the East Coast, where prices were fairly high, but
pushed across the mountains where there were few settlements and land 
could be bought on a very long-term contracts.  The Andrew Davidson 
farm was bought on contract February 23, 1797, from the Pennsylvania 
population Company.  He received the deed September 27, 1836, nearly 
40 years later.  Even with the cheap land and the long period for 
making payments, many settlers failed and lost their land.  During 
hard times the Pennsylvania population Company brought suits to 
forfeit many contracts, and when the cases came to trial the neighbors
gathered in the Court Room and booed, threatening to riot.  So far as 
we know, none of the Davidsons lost his farm in those early days, but 
doubtless they all had their difficulties and sympathized with their 
less fortunate neighbors.

     When the Davidsons settled was then in Beaver County, thought it 
is now Lawrence county.  Bears and rattlesnakes are said to have been 
seen there for many years after 1800, though there were probably no 
Indians by that time.  The country is hilly and was heavily timbered 
then.  Every farm had to be cleared before it was tillable, a slow, 
backbreaking process without dynamite or tractors.  Often it was years 
before an entire farm had been brought to plow.

     A low standard of living had to be adopted because the settlers 
had no money and were generally in debt for their farms.  The roads 
were very poor and the freight charges on luxuries prohibitive.  The 
quickest means of travel was by water.  There were no churches or 
schools, and these had to be created with very little money to pay for
them and for salaries of ministers and teachers.  Compulsory education 
paid for by the taxpayers did not exist in Pennsylvania for years, and 
children of the pioneers, especially the older ones, received little 
schooling.  The Scot-Irish were usually Presbyterians or Methodist. 
The Davidsons divided between the two churches.

     A new country always contains a large rough, lawless element, and 
Western Pennsylvania was no exception.  Drunkenness, gambling and 
brawling were frequent in the settlements, and the whole frontier had 
a bad reputation for crimes of violence.  The Whiskey Rebellion 
occurred in 1797, a series of small riots by the farmers about 
Pittsburgh to prevent the Federal Government from taxing their private 
stills.  The law-abiding people, to protect themselves and to prevent 
their children from mingling with the lawless crowd, adopted very 
strict Puritanical views on religion and morals, and the strict 
upbringing which the older members of the Davidson Family received was 
due to this cause.

     This historical background may assist in understanding the known 
facts of the early family history.     

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The Ahenentafel of Heath Vogel
Heath's Davidson Page
First Generation of Davidsons