Major Joseph Hamilton Daviess was born on March 4th 1774 in Bedford County Virginia, the son of Joseph and Jean Hamilton Daviess. His parents were of Scotch and Irish decent. In 1779 his father moved the family to Kentucky, settling near Crab Orchard in Lincoln County, where he had purchased a sufficient amount of land for the price of $1.25 per acre. Later, around 1786, they moved to near Danville, Kentucky, where young Jo, as he was commonly called, was placed under the care and tutoring of Dr. Priestly, at Harrodsburg.
At a young age he showed a great love for reading and studying, and became known as an excellent classical and mathematical student. Being a bit of a free spirit, Daviess was unable to endure the confinement of the schoolroom; he often took his book and hid away in the woods, where he would spend the day reading. He later became a student at a school operated by Dr. Culbertson, where he laid the foundation for a life noted for a broad and elevating scholarship. He had a natural aversion to farm work, opting to spend his leisure hours on hunting expeditions in the woods.
At the age of nineteen, seeking further adventure, he joined the regiment of Maj. John Adair, who was escorting a train of provisions for the forts north of the Ohio River in the Ohio Territory. Their camp was attacked near Fort St. Clair by a band of Indians under the leadership of Little Turtle, forcing them to seek shelter at the nearby fort. When his enlistment time was up, he returned to Kentucky, and took up the study of law under George Nicholas. He passed the bar in June of 1795, and, by the age of twenty-four had the largest and most lucrative practice in the state. Instead of “riding the circuit,” as was the custom of the backwoods lawyers of his day, Daviess would shoulder his rifle, and on foot, range the woods between county seats. He often appeared in court in his hunting clothes: deerskin leggings, linsey hunting shirt and coonskin cap.
In 1799 he served as second to John Rowan in a duel in whi ch Rowan’s opponent was killed. Dueling being illegal both Daviess and Rowan fled and were fugitives for some time. After hearing of Rowans arrest Daviess returned and acted as Rowan’s attorney eventually winning the case.
In 1801-1802, he served as United States Attorney for the State of Kentucky. He became the first Western lawyer to present a case before the United States Supreme Court.
In 1803, he married Miss Ann Marshall, who was the sister of John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court but they had no children. Daviess spent much of the next few years sorting out the many land claims that arose concerning the Kentucky lands.
In 1806, as United States Attorney for Kentucky he attempted to prosecute Aaron Burr for levying war against a nation that the United States was at peace with. After subpoenaed individuals and documents failed to appear in court, the judge overruled the motion and Burr’s excellent defense, presented by his attorney Henry Clay, and Burr’s popularity with the local citizenry, he was released. However in January of 1807, when President Jefferson issued his proclamation, proving beyond dispute Burr’s duplicity and treasonable designs, and ordering his arrest, were Daviess’ actions vindicated.
It was at this time that the great noble Indian chief Tecumseh had envisioned a grand plan of uniting all of the various tribes across the country into one grand confederation. With such a formidable force, he hoped to push the Americans back across the Allegheny Mountains to the east, and reclaim their lost homelands. In 1808, having accumulated a large following from other tribes, and finding it harder to sustain such a large gathering at their Green Ville village, Tecumseh accepted the invitation of Main Poc, of the Pottawatomies, to move their village to a new site near the juncture of the Wabash and Tippecanoe rivers in the Indiana territory.
Within several months, the new village had been constructed and was named Prophets Town. From here, Tecumseh, continued traveling all across the country to push his grand plan of uniting the various Indian tribes.
While he was absent from Prophets Town, Tecumseh had instructed his brother Tenskawatawa not to do anything to provoke an attack from the Americans, who under the leadership of Maj. Gen. William Henry Harrison, were stationed at Vincennes in the Indiana Territory. Due to the ever-increasing population of the Indian village on the Wabash and the threat that it imposed, Gen. Harrison determined to quash the Indian movement once and for all. Seizing upon the moment, during the absence of Tecumseh, Harrison ordered that additional regular troops be sent to the fort at Vincennes. He also was authorized to call for volunteers from Kentucky. Ever the adventurer, Daviess asked to lead this group of volunteers. On September 26, 1811, the American forces left Vincennes and headed for Prophets Town.
Proceeding up the east side of the Wabash River, they stopped near the modern-day town of Terre Haute, and erected a new stockade, which was named Fort Harrison. From there, Harrison sent a delegation to Prophets Town with a message that, if the Indians would disperse and surrender all of those who were guilty of depredations, he would not attack the village. He then continued his march toward the settlement and on November 3rd came to within 12 miles of the site. When no word was heard from the Indians, Harrison moved to within one mile of the village. “The Prophet,” as he was called, Tenskawatawa, then sent a delegation to Harrison to inform him of his willingness to set up negotiations. Camping along Burnett’s Creek, Harrison felt that the negotiations would prove futile, and he prepared his troops for war. Back in the Indian camp, the Prophet, always jealous of his brother’s fame as a warrior and a leader, had pre-determined to make an attack on the Americans that night, hoping to take advantage of the darkness and catch them unprepared.
The battle began shortly after 4am on November 7, 1811, and was over before sunrise after several hours of intense, nearly hand to hand combat. Major Daviess, leading his regiment of light cavalry volunteers, seeing an exposed angle of General Harrison’s troops lead a stampeding charge directly into the Indian’s line forcing a retreat. Major Daviess was however wounded through the chest in the charge, and although his maneuver won the battle, he lost his life. The Indians deserted their village and fled even further west later that day. Of the 37 men that were killed in the battle of Tippecanoe, 11 were known Freemasons.
Major Joseph Hamilton Daviess was listed as a Fellow Craft Mason from Lexington Lodge No. 1 in the Grand Lodge of Kentucky proceedings in 1804 and 1805 and in 1806 is listed as a Master Mason. In 1810 during the first half he was Senior Warden of Lexington Lodge #1 and served as Master the second half of that year. In August of 1811 he was elected Most Worshipful Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky. This was the only office he ever held in the Grand Line. While en route to Vincennes to serve General Harrison, M.W. Daviess stopped in Louisville, KY and attended Abraham Lodge No. 8 and is listed in their minutes. While in Vincennes, M.W. Daviess presided over three meetings of Vincennes No. 1 of the Indiana territory. Vincennes No. 1 is still in possession of correspondence from M.W. Daviess, written by his own hand leading to; and following his visit there.
His exact whereabouts now however is rather unknown. Conflicting research reports that he was buried on the battlefield, others say he was returned to Kentucky but no one knows where. On December 24th, 1811 the Grand Lodge of Kentucky convened in consequence of the Grand Master’s death and ordered a Grand funeral procession scheduled for August 25th 1812 during the next stated communication of Grand Lodge. The funeral actually took place on the 27th of August because of travel delays for some of the officers. Grand funerals were also preformed in Ohio and Indiana in honor of M.W. Daviess. Counties in Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Kentucky are named for him. Brother Daviess’s cavalry officer sword and scabbard were presented to the Grand Lodge of Kentucky by Brother Levi Todd, PM Lexington Lodge No. 1 and it still remains in their possession. The sword is used by the Grand Tyler at every Grand Lodge of Kentucky Annual Communication. This beautiful portrait of M.W. Brother Daviess is on loan to Lexington Lodge No. 1 by the Grand Lodge of Kentucky to hang in our Lodge hall as Past Master of Lexington 1 and Past Grand Master of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. It is a reproduction of a lithograph originally done in 1810, created in oil as you see it here in 1840.
Compiled and Presented by Cameron C. Poe, 2010