Levi Davis photo

Levi Davis (Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library)

Levi Davis (1808-1897)


TENURE:  – 1853




Amanda Chavers Case (1853) – 1 returned, but ransomed

  • On January 17, claimant Malcolm McCullon attempted to seize Amanda Chavers (or Kitchell) and return with her on a steamer from Alton, Illinois to St. Louis. Learning of the recaption attempt, African American residents thwarted McCullon’s plan, and prompted him to bring Chavers before U.S. Commissioner Levi Davis. During the brief hearing on January 17, it was revealed that Chavers had been brought to Alton and freed by the son of her former owner, who did not have legal authority to manumit the enslaved woman. McCullon, who then purchased Chavers from her original owner, journeyed to Alton to claim her, armed with a bill of sale, a power of attorney “and all the requisite legal papers.” Accordingly, Commissioner Davis remanded Chavers to McCullon’s custody, but Alton’s black community managed to ransom Chavers’s freedom, for a price of $1200. The Chavers family of Alton mortgaged their property for $400, while the remaining $800 was contributed by Alton residents. [1853-01-18 Alton, IL Weekly Courier; 1853-01-21 Alton, IL Weekly Telegraph]


  • After his death, several of Levi Davis’s friends and colleagues claimed that he “was himself an abolitionist at heart, but he knew that when acting officially he was the mere agent of the law…. Odious as the fugitive slave law was to him, it was clearly and plainly his official duty to enforce it in case the evidence proved the woman to be a fugitive slave.” According to their remarks, while Davis read his decision to remanded Chavers, he also delivered to the packed hearing room an invective against slavery and the 1850 law, further announcing that he would resign from the office immediately. [1897-03-16 Edwardsville, IL Intelligencer]
  • Later, a Madison County, Illinois history provided a detailed description of the Chavers case. [W.T. Norton (ed.), Centennial History of Madison County, Illinois and Its People 1812 to 1912 (Chicago: Lewis Publishing Company, 1912), 1:213-217]