REMINISCENCES OF SARATOGA AND BALLSTON.
WILLIAM L. STONE.
Gideon M. Davison .
"Happy the man who sees a God employed
In all the good and ill that chequer life,
Resolving all events with their effects
Into the will and arbitration wise
Of the Supreme."
GIDEON MINER DAVISON, to whom frequent reference has been made in the preceding pages, was born in Middletown, Vt. His parents were from Connecticut, and his father a farmer. His father died in early life, but his mother will be well remembered by the older residents of Saratoga. She was a woman of uncommon intellect, whose life was devoted to labors of charity among the poor and neglected. Her maiden name was Miner . Mr. Davison occupied much of the leisure of his later years in genealogical studies, and, in the course of these, succeeded in tracing back the history of his mother’s family for a period of five hundred years, to the time of Edward III., of England, in whose reign the family name of Miner had its origin. The circumstances are these: A man named Bulman, who was a miner by occupation, enlisted under the banner of his monarch, who was then at war with France, together with one hundred of his workmen, and armed them with weapons. He rendered such gallant and effective service that he was rewarded by the king with a crest and coat of arms, and from that time assumed the name derived from his occupation, i.e., Miner . This crest can now be seen upon a tombstone of one of the Miner family in the graveyard at Stonington, Conn. The tombstone is over two hundred years old. Mrs. Davison seems to have inherited very much of the spirit which characterized the founder of the family; and while her temper and life were singularly amiable and lovely, she was also noted for her decision of character and firmness to do that which her conscience and judgment approved. Indeed, the subject of this sketch attributed his success in life very largely to the teachings and example of his excellent mother.
Mr. Davison received a common school education, and at an early age entered the printing-office of William Fay, in Rutland, Vt., to learn the "art preservative of all arts." After his apprenticeship was completed, he went to New York, and worked at his trade a few years. Among those with whom he was there associated as a workman were the Brothers Harper, and others who have since risen to fame and fortune. After a few years he returned to Rutland and became a partner of Mr. Fay, and there married Sarah, daughter of Hon. John Mason, of Castleton. During his residence in Rutland the firm of Fay & Davison issued a History of the War of 1812 – a compilation of the leading facts of that contest. They also commenced the publication of the Rutland Herald , which, under their management, became a journal of established reputation, and is still in existence.
In 1817-18 Mr. Davison came to Saratoga, then rising into notice as a fashionable watering-place, and called upon the leading citizens consult about establishing a paper there. Graudus Van Schoonhoven, proprietor of Congress Hall; Rockwell Putnam, proprietor of Union Hall; Nathan Lewis, assistant in Congress Hall; Esek Cowen, then a rising young lawyer; Dr. John H. Steel, and Miles Beach, were the principal men consulted, and through their advice and influence he decided to settle and establish The Saratoga Sentinel , the first number of which was issued some time in April 1818. It was at first a neutral sheet, but in the course of a year or two Mr. Davison identified himself with the party of which Reuben H. Walworth, Esek Cowen, and John H. Steel were the leaders, and made the Sentinel its organ, in opposition to the Ballston Spa Gazette . During the publication of the Sentinel he was not unfrequently aided by contributions to its editorial columns from some of the most eminent writers of the day. Among these may be mentioned Col. William L. Stone and Nicholas Hill, the famous lawyer, both of whom were his warm personal friends. Upon the organization of the courts under the Constitution of 1824, Reuben H. Walworth was appointed one of the circuit judges, and in 1823 he removed to Saratoga Springs. He appointed Mr. Davison the clerk of the Equity or Chancery branch of his court, a position which he held until the court was abolished under the constitution of 1846. When Esek Cowen was appointed reporter of the new Supreme Court, Mr. Davison made arrangements to print his reports, and enlarged his office for that purpose. In 1840, he transferred his interest in the Sentinel newspaper to others, and increased the capacity of his office for book-work, adding a stereotype foundry in 1841, having already a power-press in use. In addition to these court reports, Mr. Davison edited and published an edition of Stevens’ Arithmetic ; a quarto family Bible, from stereotype plates; Smith’s Lectures to the Unconverted , an original work by a clergyman of Ballston; several editions of Dr. Steel’s Analysis of the Mineral Waters ; Goodrich’s Spelling Book ; and in 1838, he and the late Judge Warren compiled a guide book, which appeared under the titles of The Fashionable Tour and The Northern Tourist .
As an advocate of public improvements Mr. Davison, as alluded to in a former chapter, took an early interest in railroads. His success with the Saratoga and Schenectady Railroad encouraged him to go forward with the project for the Utica and Schenectady Railroad, of which he became the Commissioner of Construction, succeeding in that office the late ex-Governor Bouck.
The next railroad that he initiated was the Saratoga and Whitehall. Mr. Davison was indefatigable in the collection of statistics of travel and business, and could prepare and lay them before the public in a concise shape. This aided materially in helping forward the lines he was interested in. The charter for the Saratoga and Whitehall road being secured, the capital was subscribed and its construction began, but the crash of 1837 came on before it had made much progress, and its managers were forced to suspend operations; but Mr. Davison never lost faith in it, and kept steadily at the work until he had secured its construction, not, however, until many years had elapsed. The Sackett’s Harbor and Saratoga Railroad was another avenue that he had to do with from its inception, the first meeting on the subject having been held in his office, at his invitation, sometime in 1847 or 1848. He was a commissioner, in connection with Rockwell Putnam and N.B. Doe, of the village water-works in 1846, and had the principal charge of the work of construction.
Mr. Davison’s first wife died in April, 1861, and his second marriage, to Anna Miner, who survives him, took place in January, 1863. He leaves four children surviving, viz.: John M. Davison, for many years Register in Chancery, and afterwards President of the Saratoga and Whitehall Railroad, residing in Saratoga; Clement M. Davison, a banker in Detroit; Charles Augustus Davison, the well-known lawyer, of New York City; and Sarah M. Davison, his only daughter. He was a member of the Presbyterian church from an early date, was for many years the superintendent of the Sabbath-school, and, since 1827 – a period of more than forty years – one of its ruling elders. He died on Thursday, October 1, 1869, at the ripe age of seventy-eight. The following day a meeting of the prominent citizens of Saratoga was held, at which addresses were made by the late Judge Warren, Judge Bockes, Judge Lester, Patrick H. Cowen, and others, and resolutions adopted eulogizing the public achievements and private virtues of the deceased. At the funeral, which took place the following Tuesday, Rev. Dr. Woodbridge delivered a feeling address; and while the cortége was moving to the grave, all the places of business on Broadway were closed, the bells of the Presbyterian, Baptist, and Roman Catholic churches being tolled.
Mr. Davison was a man of plain and unassuming manners, and extremely courteous and gentlemanly in his intercourse with others, of whatever position in life. Always ready to listen to suggestions, he formed his opinions with care and then urged them with force. He was, moreover, a man of spotless purity and integrity of character. No stain, professional or personal, ever attached to his fair name, and whatever interests were devolved upon his were discharged with scrupulous fidelity. He was ever liberal and generous to the deserving and unfortunate, and not unfrequently disbursed charity by the hands of others that the source of the favor might remain unknown. To young men, also, his wise counsel and ready assistance were of material benefit. He was, especially, eminently conscientious in the administration of the public trusts which were from time to time committed to him; and while his official position afforded him abundant opportunities for accumulating a fortune, had he been disposed to take advantage of it, it can safely be said that never in a single instance did he avail himself of any position of trust to improve or better himself. Mr. Davison was very just also in all his dealings with his fellow-men. It was a noticeable trait of his life that he was very careful to meet his obligations with promptitude, and this was especially marked in the little matters which belong to domestic life. No workman or employé was ever asked to call a second time for payment of his bill. Mr. Davison understood and appreciated fully the value of time to such men, and he felt that it was doing a wrong to men who had rendered him a service of any sort to subject them to loss of time in endeavoring to collect what was their just due. We mention this as a trait in Mr. Davison’s character, marking his sense of justice and his thoughtful consideration for others As illustrative of Mr. Davison’s accuracy in business matters, as well as his perfect integrity, it may be stated that, on the conclusion of his connection with Utica and Schenectady Railroad Company, after having received and disbursed the large sums involved in the construction of the road, upon an adjustment of his accounts with the treasurer of the company, it was found that they were in perfect accord, with the exception of a trifling sum, less, we believe, than six cents! In view of these traits of character, and his long and useful life, it is certain that his memory will be long and reverently cherished.
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