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Congressman Thomas Davis

(1806-1895) ~ Inducted 2003


Davis, Thomas, 1806-1895

Thomas Davis was born in Dublin, Ireland on December 18, 1806, attended private schools in Ireland, and migrated to America in 1817, settling in Providence. Davis became a pioneer in Rhode Island's jewelry industry and amassed sufficient wealth to enable him to finance a variety of political, civic, and reform endeavors.

Davis became a state senator from Providence serving from 1845 to 1853 when he was elected to Congress as a Democrat. Locally he was associated with the reform wing of the Democratic party led by Thomas Wilson Dorr. Davis was an avowed abolitionist and supported the removal of the real estate requirement for voting imposed by the state constitution upon naturalized citizens. A victim of the political upheaval and nativism of the 1850s, he was defeated in his bid for reelection to Congress in 1854 and failed in three subsequent attempts to regain his congressional seat. Despite his lack of success on the federal level, Davis served again in the state senate (1877-78), then became a state representative (1887-1890), and also a member of the Providence School Committee.

Congressman Davis's principal legacy, however, was as a reformer, a patron of the arts, and a philanthropist. In concert with his wife Paulina, he hosted cultural gatherings at each of his two Providence residences--a Greek revival house at 503-507 Chalkstone Avenue, dating from 1850, and a stately Gothic mansion built in 1869 on a hilltop near the junction of Chalkstone Avenue and Raymond Street in a thirty-four acre park-like setting. At the salons hosted by Thomas and Paulina, intellectuals, artists, and reformers from around the region came to discuss the vital issues of the day. In 1891, the City of Providence purchased the Davis estate at a bargain price for recreational use, enlarged the tract and created Davis Park. In 1945, the federal government condemned the land, demolished the mansion, and built the Veterans' Administration Hospital. Then the flat low-lying area to the east of the facility was returned to the city for playground use. Congressman Davis died on July 26, 1895 at the age of eighty-eight and was laid to rest in Swan Point Cemetery beside his equally illustrious wife.

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