Judge W.D. Davenport
illiam Dupre Davenport made it all the way from Clay to the Governor’s chair some 85 years ago. He became a champion of morality, punishing bootleggers and promoting Christian ethics in the public schools. His Bible recently surfaced, provided by a family friend, more than half a century after his death. It contains personal information on his family as well as evidence that he - or his wife Margaret Figg Davenport - studied it often.
According to the Bible, William was born August 3, 1877, the second child of Tabitha Francis Haywood Davenport and Benjamin Franklin Davenport.
He married Margaret February 15, 1903, at the home of her parents, Joseph J. and Frances Figg of Clay, an area later called Route 1 Pangburn. The ceremony was conducted by justice of the peace John A. Carruthers and officially witnessed by L.D. Fields and his wife Lelia.
Davenport opened a law practice in Searcy in 1909 after teaching school for several years. He was elected to the State Senate in 1915. Serving as president of that body in 1917, he acted as Governor on several occasions during the absence of the Governor, G.W. Hays. According to historian Raymond Muncy, “Searcy politics managed to keep on an even keel in the 1920s. M.H. Greer had been elected to a second term as mayor in 1918. In 1922 he moved to another state and W.D. Davenport was appointed to fill out his unexpired term.” Davenport was succeeded as mayor in 1924 by Mark P. Jones. That year, Davenport was elected to the Searcy School Board at a time when strong emphasis was placed in Searcy’s schools on Christian values. By the time the Roaring Twenties came to a close, William was building a name as a forceful Circuit Court judge. This was a time when the illegal manufacture of intoxicants became such a problem in and around Searcy that a court session was referred to as a “Bootleggers’ Convention” and Judge Davenport as “The Moderator.” More than half the criminal cases that came before the Circuit Court in 1929 were alcohol related.
Judge Davenport died April 10, 1949. The Bible he left is filled with marginal notations indicating serious Christian study. On November 2, 1942, he had written into it all the genealogical information about his family that he knew:
His father Benjamin Franklin Davenport was born in North Carolina August 30, 1848; he died April 13, 1886 and was buried at “Coffey or Harris Cemetery.” Residents of this area have not heard the cemetery called “Harris” before, although Judge Davenport refers to it by that name other times in his Bible. A Charlie Harris is the only marked grave for a Harris in the cemetery. Tabitha Frances Haygood and B.F. Davenport were married at Pangburn in 1872. According to the Bible, she died February 11, 1942, and was buried at “Coffey or Harris Cemetery.” All Judge Davenport knew to write about his grandfather was his name - John Davenport - and that he died “at the close of the Civil War.”
Frances and Ben Davenport had three other children. Jennie was born November 23, 1873, at Pangburn. She married George Reaves and gave birth to Maude Reaves, then married Presley Broadwater and gave birth to May Broadwater Goff. Jennie died May 15, 1901, at Dewey and was buried at Coffey Cemetery. Booth Davenport was born in 1879 at Clay and died in 1896. He never married. He was buried at Coffey Cemetery. Kate Davenport was born in 1881 at Clay. She married Walter Harshaw. Their children were Arley and Odean Harshaw. She died March 13, 1968, and was buried at Henderson Cemetery. Walter followed two years later.
W.D. and Margaret had one child, Elvin Figg Davenport, born November 18, 1919, at Searcy. He never married and died at age 81 June 27, 2001, in a Searcy nursing home. Margaret, who was born November 22, 1883, at Clay, died November 20, 1962. She, Judge Davenport and Elvin were buried at Oak Grove Cemetery.
--photo courtesy Mary Dean Rice Reynolds, WCHS
W.D. and Margaret Davenport in an early studio pose.