DAVERS, Sir ROBERT, 5th baronet of RUSHBROOK, tourist; b. c. 1735, probably at Rushbrook, near Bury St Edmunds, England, to Sir Jermyn Davers and Margaretta Green; d. 6 May 1763, on the St Clair River near Lake St Clair.
Upon the death of his father in February 1742, Robert Davers inherited the title. The following July he entered Bury Grammar School. In the spring of 1756, armed with a recommendation from Horace Walpole, he began his travels on the Continent, stopping in Rome long enough to have his portrait painted by Pompeo Batoni. Possibly travel was a way for Davers to escape unpleasant conditions at home. His mother was a melancholy person, and two of his three brothers took their own lives while still in their twenties. In 1759 he left home, leasing the estate for seven years. He apparently travelled through Europe at least once again and completed his studies at Lausanne. In 1761 he came to America, where his brother Charles was serving in the 44th Regiment, and embarked on a lengthy tour of the Great Lakes. One writer says he “left England in a pique careless what his fate might be, and visited America seeking the most savage and uncultivated spots.”
By September 1761, Davers was apparently in New York introducing himself to Major-General Jeffery Amherst* and discussing a plan to visit the Upper Lakes. Carrying dispatches from Amherst for Captain Donald Campbell, he arrived at Detroit on 1 Dec. 1761. Davers planned to stay a month or so, then return to Fort Niagara (near Youngstown, N.Y.), by land. Whether he actually made the trip to Niagara or not, he was in Detroit again shortly and passed the winter there studying the language and culture of the neighbouring Indians. Campbell considered, “a very accomplished young Gentleman,” “an excellent companion,” and “a great addition to our small society.”
Late in April 1762, Davers began touring the Upper Lakes, probably alone or with a small party. John Rutherford reported that Davers and his Pawnee slave travelled about in a canoe, which was “so easily navigated that he and his boy were sufficient to cross the lakes and go up the creeks among the Indian villages.” Since the Indian boy could speak a little English, and Davers knew a few Indian words, they kept each other company during their long journey. Before the end of June Davers was at Sault Ste Marie, having completed a voyage on Lake Superior. Here he met Alexander Henry*, who travelled with him back to Fort Michilimackinac. Probably Davers and his Pawnee companion then went at least part of the way down Lake Michigan before returning to Detroit, which they reached by 23 Sept. 1762. During his journey he had made some useful discoveries on both Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.
About this time Davers prepared a petition to the Privy Council for a grant of title to Grosse Île, several surrounding islands in the Detroit River, and some land along the south bank. Early in May Davers accompanied Lieutenant Charles Robertson on a short trip from Detroit to the upper end of Lake St Clair to sound the entrance of the St Clair River in an attempt to take Robertson’s six-gun schooner into Lake Huron. Robertson, young John Rutherford, and six or eight men were in a large bateau, Davers and his Indian boy in a small canoe. Although French settlers warned them about Pontiac’s plan for a surprise attack on the British, the party proceeded and was confronted at a narrows by hostile-looking Indians. Davers stopped and “smoked a pipe of friendship” with the tribesmen, advising his companions to move upstream to a wider part of the channel where they might be able to make the far shore. His efforts failed, and a crowd of warriors began firing on the party. Davers, Robertson, and two others were killed instantly; the rest were taken prisoner.
Early published reports said Davers’ body was boiled and eaten, but Rutherford, who was there, reported that although Davers’ body was mutilated, he was given a proper burial near the Ojibwa village at the mouth of the St Clair River. Robertson, however, was roasted and eaten, his remains being buried later alongside those of Davers; the other dead soldiers were fed to the dogs. The Pawnee boy was eventually bought by an Albany merchant and sent to the Davers family in England.
BM, Add. mss, 21662, ff.78–79v, Gage to Haldimand, 18 Nov. 1762. Bury St Edmunds and West Suffolk Record Office (Bury St Edmunds, Eng.), mss 941/63/6. Clements Library, Thomas Gage papers, American series, Gage to Campbell, 17 Aug. 1765, 1 March 1766. DPL, Burton hist. coll., Silas Farmer mss, Z A 515, Gladwin to Amherst, 14 May 1763 (transcript); Porteous papers, John Porteous to his father, 20 Nov. 1763. PRO, WO 34/49, Campbell to Amherst, 10 Jan., 20 April 1762; Gladwin to Amherst, 5 Sept., 23 Nov. 1762; MacDonald, Journal of the siege of Detroit. Diary of the siege of Detroit . . . , ed. F. B. Hough (Albany, 1860). Johnson papers (Sullivan et al.), III, 757–59. Journal of Pontiac’s conspiracy, 1763, ed. M. A. Burton (Detroit, 1912). Michigan Pioneer Coll., VIII (1885), XIX (1891), XXVII (1896). Rushbrook parish registers, 1567 to 1850 with Jermyn and Davers annals, ed. S. H. A. Hervey ([Woodbridge, Eng.], 1903). [John Rutherford],“Rutherford’s narrative – an episode in the Pontiac War, 1763 – an unpublished manuscript by Lieut. Rutherford of the ‘Black Watch,’” Canadian Institute Trans. (Toronto), III (1891–92), 229–52. County of Suffolk; its history as disclosed by existing records and other documents, being materials for the history of Suffolk . . . , ed. W. A. Copinger (5v., London, 1904–5), II, 210. Peckham, Pontiac. “An account of the disturbances in North America,” Gentleman’s Magazine, 1763, 455–56. “American news,” Gentleman’s Magazine, 1763, 413.