Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book


Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Rodney O. Davis  

Pen Name: None

Genre: History Non-Fiction

Born:

Sites:


Illinois Connection

The author has been a professor at Knox College since 1963.

Biographical and Professional Information


Published Works Expand for more information


Titles At Your Library

Herndon's Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln
ISBN: 0252023285

University of Illinois Press. 1997

Herndon was Lincoln's law partner and an important early biographer.

Escape Betwixt Two Suns: A True Tale of the Underground Railroad in Illinois (Shawnee Books)
ISBN: 080932301X

Southern Illinois University Press. 2000

Although the northern Illinois chapters of the story of Susan “ Sukey” Richardson’ s escape from slavery on the Underground Railroad are documented, the part played by southern Illinois in that historic episode has remained obscure. Carol Pirtle changes that with her investigation into the 1843 suit Andrew Borders lodged against William Hayes, charging his neighbor with helping slaves from the Borders estate escape to Galesburg. In conjunction with her probe into the past, Pirtle also discovered the Hayes correspondence.



Pirtle documents Hayes’ s involvement in the Illinois Underground Railroad through approximately two hundred letters received by Hayes from the early 1820s until his death in 1849. Many of these letters specifically corroborate his participation in the escape of slaves from the Borders estate. One such letter came from T. A. Jones in 1843: “ You Dear Sir are to me an unknown friend, yet I believe you are a friend to the poor down trodden Slave. This is as good an introduction as I want from any man. My brother, our cause is a holy one.” Letters written by Galesburg residents show that several prominent citizens of that community also assisted in the affair, proving that Knox College administrators and trustees were active in the Underground Railroad.



Pirtle also includes excerpts from the trial transcript from the 1844 civil case against Hayes, which was tried in Pinckneyville, Illinois. She researched newspaper accounts of the event, most notably those in the Western Citizen and the Sparta Herald. Records of the Covenanter Presbyterian church of which Hayes was a member provide partial explanations of Hayes’ s motives.



Telling the story of Hayes and his involvement with Susan Richardson and the Underground Railroad, Pirtle provides insight into the work of abolitionists in Illinois. Escape Betwixt Two Suns, in fact, is one of the few books to substantiate the legends of the Underground Railroad. She tells the story of a quiet man who made a difference, of a man deserving the accolades of a hero.

The Lincoln-Douglas Debates (The Knox College Lincoln Studies Center series)
ISBN: 0252033558

University of Illinois Press. 2008

While the debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas are undoubtedly the most celebrated in American history, they may also be the most consequential as well. For the issues so fiercely debated in 1858 were about various interrelated aspects of one momentous, nation-threatening issue: slavery. The contest between Lincoln and Douglas became a testing ground for the viability of conflicting ideals in a nation deeply divided. One of the most colorful and engaging episodes in American history, this series of debates is of enduring interest as an illuminating instance of the ever-recurring dilemma of self-government: what happens when the guiding principle of democracy, "popular sovereignty," confronts a principled stand against a "moral, social, and political evil"? The tragic answer in this case came three years later: civil war.

Important as they are, the Lincoln-Douglas debates have long since ceased to be self-explanatory. This edition is the first to provide a text founded on all known records, rather than following one or another of the partisan and sometimes widely-varying newspaper accounts. Meticulously edited and annotated, it provides numerous aids to help the modern reader understand the debates, including extensive introductory material, commentary, and a glossary. The fullest and most dependable edition of the Lincoln-Douglas debates ever prepared, this edition brings readers as close as possible to the original words of these two remarkable men.

French and Indians of Illinois River (Shawnee Classics)
ISBN: 0809323648

Southern Illinois University Press. 2001

Complex and paradoxical, Nehemiah Matson (1816–1873) celebrated the occupation of the Middle West by European pioneers even as he labored to preserve the memory of the natives these pioneers replaced. He perpetuated the memory of the Indians who were driven out of the territory, but he nevertheless accumulated wealth selling their land to the pioneers. Rodney O. Davis notes in his new foreword to this book that Matson combined the attributes of a scholar with those of a salesman and promoter.

Matson settled in Princeton, Illinois, in 1836. He left behind a library partially endowed by him, named for him, and finally completed in 1913. According to Davis, however, Matson’s other legacy, “of equal significance in his own eyes, consisted of the five books he authored on northern Illinois and Illinois River history and cartography, volumes based not only on conscientious scholarship but also on both Indian and white reminiscence and on local folklore.”

Matson’s historical writings are valuable even when he deals with well-known events because his personal perspective makes his observations unique. Without the stories and reminiscences he collected, much valuable information would have been lost, especially since many of his informants, both Indian and European, were illiterate. Because his informants often told conflicting stories, Matson admitted that “harmonizing all conflicting accounts . . . has not been a success.”

Although Matson’s sources may not always have agreed, and sometimes his heart may have overruled his head and colored his accounts, he was a conscientious and committed author. “Obviously,” Davis explains, “this book must be evaluated as what it is, a piece of colorful local history, romantically anchored in legend yet rooted also in invaluable research and produced by a dedicated amateur whose standards were high. . . . French and Indians of Illinois River is a model of its type, indeed a minor classic.”

The Life of Abraham Lincoln; from His Birth to His Inauguration as President
ISBN: 080327985X

Bison Books. 1999

Ward H. Lamon’s biography, which first appeared in 1872, presented a rustic portrait of the young Lincoln as he would be depicted in numerous books and later in movies: "He wore flax and tow linen pantaloons—I thought about five inches too short in the legs—and frequently he had but one suspender, no vest or coat." Straightforward in tone, the book was the first challenge to the filiopietistic school of Abraham Lincoln biography.

One of Lincoln’s few close friends, Lamon based his book on materials gathered by Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon. Lamon’s was the first Lincoln biography to be based on this indispensable collection. Joining forces with a politically well-connected ghost writer, Chauncey F. Black, Lamon produced a book controversial for its treatment of Lincoln’s paternity, his courtships and marriage, and its assertion of Lincoln’s lack of Christian faith. The Life of Abraham Lincoln from His Birth to His Inauguration as President was initially rejected by reviewers and the reading public as too invasive of Lincoln’s privacy. Today’s readers can relish the vivid account of Lincoln’s boyhood, his young manhood, and his years in the Illinois legislature. Full accounts of Lincoln’s relationships with Ann Rutledge, Mary Owens, and Mary Todd are equally valuable.

Herndon's Lincoln (Knox College Lincoln Studies Center)
ISBN: 0252030729

University of Illinois Press. 2006

William H. Herndon aspired to write a faithful portrait of his friend and law partner, Abraham Lincoln, based on his own observations and on hundreds of letters and interviews he had compiled for the purpose. Even more important, he was determined to present Lincoln as a man, rather than a saint, and to reveal things that the prevailing Victorian conventions said should be left out of the biography of a great national hero.
A variety of obstacles kept Herndon from writing his book, however, and not until he found a collaborator in Jesse W. Weik did the biography begin to take shape. It finally appeared in 1889, to decidedly mixed reviews. Though controversial from the outset, Herndon's Lincoln nonetheless established itself as a classic.
This new edition restores the original text, includes two chapters added in the revised (1892) edition, and traces the story of how this landmark biography got written. Extensive annotation affords the reader a detailed look at the biography's sources.