Sam Davis’ servant interviewed at age 83

by Claudia Johnson, reprinted from my book, a page from the past…

In 1926 an 83-year-old negro man, Coleman Davis Smith, visited a business in Senatobia, Miss., and spoke to H.C. Featherstun about “the (Civil) war and pensions.” “He said he could not get a pension as he was with a spy and stated that he was with Sam Davis, was arrested with him, saw him hung,” Featherstun wrote to the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “He seemed to tell a straight story. Seemed afraid that the Yankees would be after him this late. If we have made a mistake, just pass it off.”
Featherstun reported the visit to the Tennessee Historical Commission, and on March 7, 1927, in a letter to A.P. Foster in Nashville, stated that he found out all he could from Smith. “He is very quiet and humble,” Featherstun observed. “He did not ask for help.”
Featherstun sent Smith to the proper authorities to apply for the pension for which he had been eligible for several decades but had been afraid to seek because of his relationship with Sam Davis. Smith agreed to answer a Civil War veteran’s questionnaire, in which he stated that he was born in Virginia in 1844, the son of slaves, Robert Smith and Maria. He was brought from Virginia as a small boy and sold to Lewis Davis, the father of Sam Davis, and given to Sam as a playmate. His father worked on the farm, and his mother cooked.
“Sam Davis and I worked together plowing and hoeing, doing such work as comes up on the farm, until the war,” Smith reported. “I was in no battles. I went with Mr. Sam Davis, my young master, as a servant. He was a spy.”
“My young master was always good and kind to me,” Smith recalled. “When he ate, I ate. When He slept, I slept. I did whatever he told me to do.” Smith was imprisoned at Pulaski when Davis was captured. “My master had some important papers when they caught him,” Smith remembered. “I was in jail with him and kept pleading with him. We cut off some of the soles of my shoes and put some paper in them. Soon after this, he was hung. I was in [earshot] of him when they still [were telling] him they would let him go. He gave no sign. Then the trap was sprung, and it broke my heart. I can’t stand to think of it now.”
After Davis’ death, Smith returned to the Davis plantation in Rutherford County. “Don’t remember much about it, only I finally got home to my old master,” Smith stated. Smith farmed for the rest of his life, raising a family of 12 children. At the time of his interview only four of his children were still alive, and he was living with a daughter on Florida Street in Memphis. Although he was in his 80s, he had worked the previous year for farm wages but was afraid he would not be able to work the next year. “The old man is very feeble,” Featherstun wrote. “He won’t be here long.
Coleman Davis Smith did receive his pension. 
Sam Davis was born Oct. 6, 1842 and hanged Nov. 27, 1863. For more on Sam Davis, visit: or