Elisha W Davis
Portrait: Senate of Pennsylvania
The only member of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to serve as a legislative Speaker in two states (Pennsylvania and Colorado), Elisha W. Davis was born to Lemuel and Margaret (Elliot) Davis near Slippery Rock, Butler County on September 8, 1828. The family moved to Venango County in 1842, where Elisha attended public school; taught for nine months and married Josephine Morrow, 1849. Davis read law, joined the Venango bar in 1857, and worked for and purchased the Rockland Forge. Elisha turned his attention to corporation law in 1858, specializing in the coal-oil land boom in the Venango fields. He sold the forge but maintained much of the operation’s acreage for future sale. Land and law became handmaidens to Elisha’s early success, the young attorney emerging as a corporate law expert, and by 1859, charter incorporator of the Continental Oil Company. The various business dealings of the “old Whig” country lawyer impressed county Republicans, who selected Davis for an 1859 seat in the state House of Representatives. Davis joined the liberal wing of the party, embracing the philosophy of Massachusetts abolitionist Senator Charles Sumner. He additionally developed business ties with fellow liberal Republicans, Governor Curtin and Alexander McClure, Davis assisting the two men with the creation of the Curtin and Independent oil companies.
Elected regular and special session Speaker of the House in 1861, Elisha led the fight for Curtin’s “Soldier Bill,” authorizing the governor to grant regular and brevet commissions and upgrade a Pennsylvania officer’s pay to a level equaling U.S. Army counterparts. The bill granted state authority to extend loans to the federal government in exchange for greenbacks. Also called the “force bill,” the measure granted the President military command powers and authorized the chief executive to call up militia units and fill depleted ranks through a draft. Davis led enlistees to Philadelphia, September 1862, forming part of the 121st Regt., PVI. The regiment marched to Frederick, Md.; joined Meade’s Division; encountered skirmishes at South Mountain (Antietam Campaign); then moved south to the Shenandoah Valley. Under the command of Colonel Chapman Biddle, Davis led his regiment at the Battle of Fredericksburg, receiving note for meritorious service; subject to a medical discharge in spring 1863, after leading the 121st through the “Mud March.”
He moved his family to Philadelphia after the war; served five consecutive terms in the state House of Representatives and secured a second term as Speaker of the House in 1868; elected to the state Senate, 1871-1876; and served as President pro tempore in the latter year.
Davis went to Leadville, Colorado in 1879, providing legal service to beneficiaries of the Leadville silver strikes. He became his community “Assembly Club’s” nominee for the infant Colorado state legislature, represented the 7th Precinct, Saguache County in the Colorado Assembly, and served as Speaker of the House in 1883. Elisha received a federal appointment as Agent to the Nintah and Ute Indians (Utah Territory), but poor health caused Davis to return with his family to Philadelphia, arriving in the city in December 1886. Davis died in Philadelphia on February 13, 1887.