George Davenport

George King was born in Lincolnshire, England in 1783. He went to sea on his uncle's ship at the age of 18, and by 1804 found himself in New York harbor. As the story goes, a fellow sailor was knocked overboard while unloading the ship, and George jumped in to save him. In doing so, George broke his leg, and his uncle, who had a tight schedule to keep, was forced to leave him behind in a hospital in New York City. After George's release, he was sent to the country to recuperate, and met Lieutenant Lawrence, who was recruiting for the United States Army. George needed a job, so he joined the army in 1805. He also chaged his surname to 'Davenport', as 'George King' was far too close to the name of the reviled British monarch from which his new country had so recently won its freedom.

In 1815, George was honorably discharged, and was next employed by Colonel William Morrison of Kentucky to help run supplies from St. Louis, Missouri along the Mississippi River to Fort Armstrong, which was being built on an island between Illinois and Iowa, where the Mississippi River runs east to west. Before George began his new job, he visited Cincinnati, Ohio, where he met Margaret Lewis, a widow with two children, Susan and William. George married Margaret, and took his new family with him to Fort Armstrong. William died on the journey or shortly thereafter. Susan Lewis, George's stepdaughter, later bore George two sons, George L'oste (1817) and Bailey (1823). George's only daughter, Elizabeth (1835) was born to him by Catharine Pouitt, one of the family's indentured servants.

George established trading posts along the Mississippi River and became a very affluent and influential man. He was a friend to the Winnebago Indians, with whom he traded. They called him "Saganosh", which means "Englishman." Relations between Native Americans and other area settlers were often not as friendly, however. Black Hawk, a chief of the Sac Nation, in particular wanted the settlers to be moved off his people's land, "by force, if necessary." George, fearing the consequences for both sides if the hostilities continued, is said to have traveled to Washington to speak to Andrew Jackson on behalf of the Native Americans.

Despite this intervention, violence broke out in the early 1830s, and troops were sent in to protect the settlers. George Davenport was appointed quartermaster officer with the rank of Colonel in the Illinois militia, and Fort Armstrong became the headquarters for General Winfield Scott's army during the Black Hawk War. After several bloody skirmishes, the War ended in the summer of 1832 with the capture of Black Hawk, and the Native Americans were forced to sell their land to the United States.

After the War, the nearby Illinois settlement of Farnhamsburg grew rapidly, and there was a proposal to lay out a larger town and name it Davenport. However, during the Black Hawk War, Colonel Davenport had verbally opposed the tactics of Colonel Stroud, whom George held largely responsible for the worst of the violence. After the War, Colonel Stroud had become a member of the Illinois legislature and refused to have the new town named after Davenport. Stroud saw to it that the new town was named Stephenson, after Colonel James Stephenson. Six years later, Stephenson, Illinois changed its name again, to Rock Island.

In 1835, a group of like-minded men, among them Antoine LeClaire, met at Colonel George Davenport's Island mansion to discuss the possibilities of building a new town in Iowa, across the Mississippi from Stephenson. They formed a company, and by the following year the site of what was to become the city of Davenport was surveyed and laid out. The city's oldest commercial building, the G. L. Davenport store, was built in 1841 by George L'oste Davenport,, Colonel Davenport's older son, on the corner of Front and Main Streets, where it stood until 1995.

Fort Armstrong was evacuated in 1836, having outlived its usefulness—the last commanding officer was Lt. Colonel William Davenport, who may or may not have been a relative. Control of the site was transferred to Colonel George Davenport, who was in charge until 1840, at which time the island became a military arms depot. In 1862 an act was approved for the establishment of a national arsenal for the deposit and repair of munitions, which was named Rock Island Arsenal. The island is now locally known as Arsenal Island, to distinguish it from the city of Rock Island.

Colonel George Davenport was murdered on July 4, 1845. The rest of the family had gone to the big Independence Day celebration in the city of Rock Island, but George, for some reason, stayed home. Several men broke into the mansion and tried to rob him for the fortune, said to be $20,000, he was rumored to keep in his safe. When the safe was opened, there was less than $400, so the men beat Colonel Davenport and left him for dead. He died that night, after giving a complete description of the robbers. George, 62 years old, was buried on the land near his mansion on July 5, 1845, in a ceremony performed by the Fox Indians, with whom he was friendly. A second funeral service, performed by a minister, was held later in the day for everyone to attend.

John Baxter, John Long, Arron Long, Granville Young, and William Fox were charged with the murder of George Davenport, and all but William Fox, who managed to escape before his trial, hung for it. Robert Birch, William Redden, and Grant Redden were charged as accessories before the fact. Birch was sentenced to life in prison, but later escaped and was killed three months later. William Redden served the full one year term of his sentence, and the charges were dropped against Grant Redden, who left the area soon after.

Sources

  • McCoy, Gayle A. A Clearing in the Forest, 1980.
  • Omni gazetteer of the United States of America. Edited by Frank R. Abate. (Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc.), 1991.
  • Rock Island Arsenal: a historical tour guide with photographs & narrative. Compiled by Robert H. Bouilly and Thomas J. Slattery. ([S.L.]: AMCCOM Historical Office), [1989?].
  • Schantz, Regena Jo. The Davenport house and family on Rock Island: a case study in the transformation on the midwestern frontier to 1858. (Thesis (M.A.)--University of Iowa), 1991.
  • Wilkie, Franc B. Davenport past and present. (Davenport: Publishing House of Luse, Lane and Co.), 1858.