George Davenport

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George Davenport
Born George William Davenport
Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom
Died July 4, 1845(1845-07-04) (aged 62)
Rock Island, Illinois, United States
Cause of death Murdered
Nationality English-American
Occupation sailor, frontiersman, soldier, fur trader, Indian agent, city planner
Known for One of the first pioneers to settle in Rock Island; one of the co-founders of Davenport, Iowa.

Colonel George Davenport, born George William Davenport (1783 – July 4, 1845), was a 19th-century English-American sailor, frontiersman, fur trader, US Army soldier, Indian agent, and city planner. A prominent and well-known settler in the Iowa Territory, he was one of the earliest settlers in Rock Island and spent much of his life involved in the early settlement of the Mississippi Valley and the "Quad Cities". The present-day city of Davenport, Iowa, is named after him.[1]


Early life and military service

Born in Lincolnshire, England, Davenport became an apprentice to his uncle, a merchant captain, and went to sea at an early age. During the next several years, he visited ports in the Baltic as well as in France, Spain, and Portugal. In the fall of 1803, shortly after arriving with a cargo from Liverpool, Davenport was arrested with the rest of his crew while in port at St. Petersburg when the Czarist Russian government acceded to Napoleon's embargo on British vessels (the "Continental System"). Davenport was imprisoned until the spring when he was released and allowed to return to his home country.[2]

He arrived in New York the following summer. While in port, he suffered a severe leg injury while rescuing a fellow sailor who had fallen overboard. As the merchant ship was without a ship's surgeon, he was forced to stay in hospital while his ship returned to Liverpool. He left the hospital two months later and, acting on doctor's advice to live in the country, he lived in Rahway, New Jersey for a time before enlisting in the United States Army at Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Accepting a commission as sergeant, he was assigned to the 1st Infantry Regiment and assisted in recruiting for the army in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, as well as training recruits at the Carlisle Barracks.[2]

He remained in the army for the next several years, participating in the War of 1812 under General James Wilkinson. At the end of the Peoria War in late December 1813, he escorted the Pottawatomie peace delegation to St. Louis, where the peace treaty was signed. Chieftains in the delegation included Black Partridge, Senachwine, Comas, Shick Shack, Crow, and Gomo.[3][4]

Arrival in Rock Island

In the spring of 1816, he accompanied Colonel Lawrence as an army supplier for an expedition to Rock Island where Fort Armstrong was established. After he was discharged, he became a successful merchant and traded with the local tribes in the Illinois and Iowa territories for several years. Soon after his arrival, he built a double log cabin. This was the first permanent residence built in the Rock Island-area from which grew into a small frontier town. The first recorded religious service was held at his home in 1819.

Around this time, Davenport entered a partnership with fellow pioneer and fur trader Russell Farnham. Building a house on the mainland opposite of Rock Island, the two founded Farnhamsburg, a small village from which the present-day Rock Island, Illinois, stands. In 1825, Davenport was appointed the first postmaster of Rock Island when the post office was established.[5]

The following year, he resigned his position to became an agent for John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company with Farnham and oversaw its interests from Iowa to the Turkey River. During the Black Hawk War, he was made an assistant quartermaster with a commission of colonel by Governor John Reynolds.

In 1833, he moved from his double log cabin and built his home on a lower part of Rock Island near the old fort. Two years later, he and six others (including close friend Antoine LeClaire), purchased a large tract of land along the Mississippi River opposite the island. On this site, the town of Davenport, Iowa, was officially founded on February 23, 1836. In 1838, he succeeded U.S. Indian agent Joseph M. Street as a representative of the Sauk and Fox until 1840.[6] In 1842, he and several others negotiated a treaty on behalf of Governor John Chambers between the Iowa territorial government and the Sauk and Fox for the sale of their lands in Iowa.

Davenport left from the American Fur Company following the signing of the treaty and retired to private life on his Rock Island estate. He often travelled to St. Louis, Missouri, sailing on his keel boat, and resided there or in Washington City during the winter months. He also laid out plans for an addition to the small town of Moline, Illinois.[2]


George Davenport Monument on the Scott County Courthouse grounds in Davenport, Iowa

On July 4, 1845, Davenport's family went to the mainland to celebrate Independence Day. Davenport stayed behind however and, sometime during the late afternoon, a band of local bandits forced their way into Davenport's home. Accounts differ as to the nature of the assault, as one version claims he was shot by the burglars while another states the elderly Bowman was severely beaten when his assailants found there was far less money in the safe than they had first believed. Davenport was still alive when the men finally left his home and was able to give a description of them to authorities before he died.

The men thought to be responsible were traced to a ruffian gang operating out of northern Illinois, known as the "Banditti of the Prairie". Detective Edward Bonney volunteered to infiltrate the gang was able to arrest eight men and, although one man escaped while another disappeared, the others stood trial and were convicted of murder. Two received prison sentences [7] while another three, Granville Young and brothers John and Aaron Long, were later arrested and executed for the crime.[8] In October, shortly before their execution, the men were photographed by daguerreotypists Thomas Martin Easterly and Frederick F. Webb.[9]

Current Landmark

One of the earliest buildings to be built on Rock Island, Davenport's home still exists and remains one of the oldest residential landmarks in northern Illinois. The house was later used as the temporary headquarters of a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp during the American Civil War. The house is currently operated by the Colonel Davenport Historical Foundation as a civil war and house museum.[10] It had fallen into severe disrepair by the late 1800s and the wings of the house were razed. The remainder of the house was preserved and by the 1980s efforts had begun to fully reconstruct the demolished parts of the home. Today, the east and west wings have been added back to the structure and the home is open for tours during the warmer months. [11]


  1. Thwaites, Reuben Gold. Collections of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. Vol. XX. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1911. (pg. 357)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Wilkie, Frank B. Davenport, Past and Present: Including the Early History, and Personal and Anecdotal Reminiscences of Davenport. Davenport, Iowa: Luse, Lane & Co., 1858. (pg. 145-165)
  3. Watson, Nehemiah. Pioneers of Illinois: Containing a Series of Sketches Relating to Events that Occurred Previous to 1813, Chicago: Knight & Leonard Printers, 1882. (pg. 291)
  4. Watson, Nehemiah, Watson. French and Indians of Illinois River, Princeton, Illinois: Republican Job Printing Establishment, 1874. (pg. 248)
  5. Dury, John. Old Illinois Houses. Springfield: Illinois State Historical Society, 1948. (pg. 126-128)
  6. United States War Department. Report of the Secretary of War. Vol. III. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1877. (pg. 48)
  7. Morgan, Bob. Biking Iowa: 50 Great Road Trips and Trail Rides. Madison: Trail Books, 2006. (pg. 28) ISBN 1-931599-63-7
  8. Gue, Benjamin F. History of Iowa from the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Twentieth Century. Vol. IV. New York: Century History Company, 1903. (pg. 67-86)
  9. Palmquist, Peter E. and Thomas R. Kailbourn. Pioneer Photographers from the Mississippi to the Continental Divide: A Biographical Dictionary, 1839-1865. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2005. (pg. 220) ISBN 0-8047-4057-7
  10. Walker, Patricia Chambers. Directory of Historic House Museums in the United States. Walnut Creek, California: AltaMira Press, 2000. (pg. 81) ISBN 0-7425-0344-5

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