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Colonel George Davenport
Colonel George Davenport was the first white man to make a permanent
settlement in what is now Rock Island County, arriving here in the spring
of 1816. He was a native of England, born in Lincolnshire, in 1783. At the
age of seven-teen he enlisted as a sailor on a merchant vessel, and for
the next three years he visited France, Spain and Portugal. In the fall of
1803 his vessel sailed from Liverpool to St. ' Petersburg, Russia, and
shortly after its arrival there an embargo was laid upon all English
vessels in that port, the vessels taken possession of and their crews
thrown into prison by the Russian Government. In the following spring they
were released and re-turned home. The next voyage was to New York, in the
summer of 1804, where they arrived in safety. After discharging their
cargo and taking another on board for Liver-pool, as the vessel was on the
point of sailing, one of the sailors was knocked overboard. Mr. Davenport
quickly jumped into a small boat and rescued him. In jumping into the boat
he fractured his leg very badly and, there being no surgeon on board, the
captain had him taken to the city and placed in a hospital, returning
without him. After remaining in the hospital about two months, he was
advised to go into the country to recruit his health. Acting upon this
advice, he went to Rahway, New Jersey, and subsequently to Carlisle,
Pennsylvania, where he afterward enlisted in the regular army.
In the spring of 1806 he went with his regiment to New Orleans, and in
the fall received orders to march to Sabine River. While there, he was
sent with dispatches to Fort Adams, and while on the way his canoe struck
a snag and he was upset in the river. Clinging to some drift-wood, he
managed to reach the shore, and was then obliged to strike across the
country to the Mississippi, traveling over swamps, bayous and sloughs. He
was several days in reaching the fort, living upon what berries and wild
fruit he could find. For ten years he served his adopted country as a
soldier, principally against the Indians. In the second war with Great
Britian the most important battle he was engaged in was that of Lundy
Lane. He secured a British musket at this battle, which is still kept in
the family as a relic of the war.
||On receiving his discharge in
1815, he was employed by Colonel William Morrison, of Kentucky,
government contractor, to supply the troops with provisions. Going
to St. Louis, he took charge of several keelboats, loaded with
provisions. A large drove of cattle were also purchased and driven
through the country. They started up the river and arrived at the
mouth of the Des Moines River late in the fall and concluded to stop
there for the winter. In the spring of 1816, in company with Colonel
Lawrence, in command of the Eighth Regiment United States Infantry,
they again embarked on boats and proceeded up the river. Arriving at
the mouth of Rock River, they examined the country for a site for a
fort, resulting in the selection of the lower end of Rock Island as
the most suitable point. They landed on Rock Island May 10, 1816,
and here Mr. Davenport made his home until his death. His residence,
a double log cabin, was near the foot of the island, where he
subsequently erected a large two-story frame house.
The Indians at that time were not very friendly to the Americans, but
soon took a fancy to Mr. Davenport, giving him the name of Sag-a-nosh,
meaning " an Englishman." During the second year, with what little money
he had saved, he purchased a stock of goods and began trading with the
Indians. As an Indian trader he was remarkably successful, securing and
retaining their good will and confidence, although for a time he had more
or less trouble with the Winnebagoes, at one time narrowly escaping being
In 1823 the first steamboat, the "Virginia," arrived at the island loaded
with provisions for Prairie du Chien, and Mr. Davenport was called upon to
pilot her over the rapids.
In 1825 a post office was established upon the island, with Mr. Davenport
as postmaster. He held the office until its removal to the main land, on
the organization of the county.
In 1827 he visited his native land, after an absence of twenty-three
years, returning in 1828.
During this year the first settlements were made in this vicinity. As they
were poor Mr. Davenport furnished many of them with provisions and
groceries until they could raise a crop. - When the Indians returned in
the spring of 1829, Mr. Davenport used all his influence to induce them to
remove to the west side of the Mississippi, and partially succeeded.
Wapello removed his village to Muscatine Slough, and Keokuk, with part of
the Sacs, to the Iowa River, but Black Hawk and the remainder of the Sacs
refused to go, claiming that they never had sold their lands. During the
Black Hawk War that followed, Mr. Davenport was appointed quarter-master
general, with the rank of colonel.
On the organization of the county, Colonel Davenport was elected one of
the first county commissioners, and served some two or three years. In the
fall of 1835, in company with several others, he purchased a claim of
Antoine Le Claire, across the river in Iowa, and proceeded to lay out a
town. This town was given the name of " Davenport," in his honor.
In the fall of 1837 he visited Washington City, in company with a number
of chiefs of the Sac and Fox Nations, and aided the Government in the
purchase of a large portion of Iowa. In 1842 Governor Chambers made
another treaty with the Sacs and Foxes. He told the chiefs to select any
of their white friends they might choose to assist them in making a
treaty. They selected Colonel Davenport as one of four. By this treaty the
Indians sold all of their lands within the State of Iowa. Shortly after
this, Colonel Davenport withdrew from the Indian trade and devoted the
remainder of his life to the improvement of his property in Davenport and
|"Colonel Davenport," said a well known writer,
"was of a very free and generous disposition, very jovial and very
fond of company. After retiring from the Indian trade, he spent
the winters generally in St. Louis or Washington. Whether
traveling on a steam-boat or stopping at a hotel, he would always
have a crowd around him listening to his stories and anecdotes. He
never sued any one in his life, and, could not bear to see any one
in distress without trying to relieve him. He enjoyed excellent
health and spirits, and had a prospect of living many years to
enjoy the comfort for which he had toiled so hard, but he was
struck down by one of a band of robbers, in his own house, on the
fourth of July, 1845. He died aged sixty-two."
The life of Colonel Davenport was a long and active one. " Although
of trans-Atlantic extraction," says the writer already quoted from, "he
was a true type of the American, possessing indomitable resolution, a
restless desire to progress, with an invincible determination to
overcome obstacles and achieve success. Much as his courage,
perseverance, enterprise and ability demand admiration, there is still
something more than these commanding our respect and honor-something
which is more lustrous than wealth, better than position or title: it is
his Humanity. Had men of his bias dealt with Black Hawk and his `British
Band,' less gory scalp locks would have decked the belts of warring
savages, less blood would have been shed, and the entire fearful drama
of devastation, slaughter and carnage which was enacted upon our
frontiers, would have been wholly omitted. Honor to his ashes! He sleeps
in a grave whose proud epitaph reads: "Here lies a friend to humanity!'"
The above biography is held at
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