The University of Iowa LibrariesThe Biographical Dictionary of Iowa: Jacket Art - Agriculture - Cresco, Iowa by Richard Haines ca 1934 -  Photo by Scott Christopher courtesy of Gregg Narber


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Davenport, George
(1783–July 4, 1845)

–an English immigrant who provided a name for Iowa's third-largest city and was a central figure in the settlement of Rock Island County, Illinois, and Scott County, Iowa—was born in Lincolnshire, England. He went to sea at the age of 18 and experienced adventures, including some months of imprisonment in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1803. The young sailor found himself in the New York City harbor in 1804, when an injury resulting from the rescue of a crewmate who had fallen overboard prevented his planned return to England.

    With his ship long departed, Davenport traveled in the countryside and enlisted in the U.S. Army at Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1805. His military career lasted for a decade, with assignments in New Orleans and along the Sabine River. With the arrival of the War of 1812, he saw combat at Lundy's Lane in the Niagara region of Canada. His association with the military would continue after his discharge in 1815. Employed by a government contractor, Colonel William Morrison, Davenport transported goods from St. Louis to the newly constructed Fort Armstrong on Rock Island in the Mississippi River.

    Davenport built a home on the island in 1816 and brought his new family from Cincinnati, Ohio. Relations between Native Americans and other Americans were generally tense at best. The Winnebago Indians, with whom Davenport had developed a social and trading relationship, gave him the name Sag-a-nosh, meaning "Englishman."Capitalizing on the friendly relations, he expanded his trade to include the Sauk and Meskwaki. In an effort to avoid bloodshed, which would have been bad for business, Davenport apparently attempted to intervene on the Indians' behalf by visiting President Andrew Jackson in Washington. If, in fact, that extraordinary effort was made, we know that it failed, as war arrived in the 1830s.

    With the beginning of the Black Hawk War, Davenport, because of his military experience and his position in the community, was appointed quartermaster at the rank of colonel in the Illinois militia. His opposition to Colonel Stroud's tactics in the war would interfere with future fame and fortune when Stroud became a member of the Illinois legislature and blocked an effort to rename Farnhamsburg (later renamed Rock Island) in honor of Davenport. Undaunted by the rejection, a group of eight men met at Davenport's new mansion on the island in 1835 to plan a new town on the Iowa side of the Mississippi. The company purchased land for the new town from Antoine Le Claire, one of the eight, and named the new community Davenport.

    The treaty negotiations that ended all claims of the Sauk and Meskwaki in Iowa in 1842 ended his trade with them as well. Davenport would devote the remainder of his life to improving his properties in Iowa and Illinois and spending winters in St. Louis and Washington, D.C.

    While other members of his family were celebrating the 1845 Independence Day in Rock Island, Davenport remained in his island mansion, where he was robbed by several men who beat him severely and left him for dead. Davenport did die as a result of the injuries he sustained that night but not before providing a detailed description of the criminals. Davenport was buried the following day near his home, with rites performed by Meskwaki. Later a minister performed a Christian funeral service.
Sources The most compelling account of Davenport's life is in Franc B. Wilkie, Davenport Past and Present (1858), written only 13 years after Davenport's death. The Davenport Public Library's Special Collections Department's four-reel set of Davenport Family Papers, 1819–1923, contains material relating to the Davenport family held by the State Historical Society of Iowa, Augustana College (Rock Island) Special Collections, Rock Island County Historical Society, and Black Hawk State Historical Site.
Contributor: Mel Prewitt