Will the real Winfield Davis please stand up?

A little background...

My great grandfather was Winfield Arthur Davis...or was he? In my family it had been passed down that he was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts on November 12, 1875. However, his gravestone clearly reads 1874. Prior to his life in Lincoln, New Hampshire starting about 1910, any details were sketchy at best. I was told that his parents were Sadie DuBois of Wakefield, MA or Paris, France; and Arthur Davis of New Brunswick or Scotland. Though, no evidence of their existence could be found. I was also told that his parents ran a hotel in Boston; that his father was a musician and bandleader; that someone in the family was an opera singer; and it was speculated that Winfield was adopted and his real name was Corbett. Though some family members disagreed with this, the name Corbett was brought up repeatedly with some speculating that he was related to the famous boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett. I was also told that Winfield was a plumber, an electrician, and briefly a police officer in Woodsville, NH. So, in my search I started to watch for these things and I think I may have finally unraveled this mystery.

Updated July 2007: Excel document summarizing information found about Winfield from various sources.

What I have found...

Winfield's mother? Sarah Maria BLOIS was born July 27, 1849 in Upper Nine Mile River, Nova Scotia. She married John MACMILLAN May 16, 1865 at the same location. Sarah and John had two children, Annie MACMILLAN and G. Simpson MACMILLAN. Sarah and John later divorced (unknown date). Sarah's second marriage was to Andrew CORBETT of Scotland (Winfield's father?). They married in Wakefield, Massachusetts on May 15, 1872. However, Sarah indicated this as her first marriage.

Sarah and Andrew O. B. CORBETT had one known child, Winfield Scott Ripley CORBETT born November 12, 1873 in Wakefield, Massachusetts, according to his birth record. Sometime between 1873 and 1880, the family moved to Bridgton, Maine where Andrew was a music teacher, as evidenced by the 1880 census (322k / JPG). Andrew CORBETT is found in the 1883 North Attleborough, Massachusetts city directory (70k/ JPG) and working as a jeweler. Sarah and Andrew divorced December 27, 1888. In the divorce papers, it was stated that Andrew had deserted Sarah in June of 1884 and was known to be living in Norfolk, VA at the time of the filing. Sarah married a third time in 1890 to Charles W. DAVIS in North Attleborough, Massachusetts, according to the vital records, where she indicated her name as "Sadie M. (Blois) CORBETT." Charles W. DAVIS was a farmer who had lived nearby to Sarah and Andrew in Bridgton, Maine.

The 1898 North Attleborough directory lists Mrs. Charles DAVIS as proprietor of the Central House on Church Street and husband Charles DAVIS is listed as lodger. I have located a photograph from this time period in the Roy Victory Thorpe collection: "Photo by Mr. T.: Mrs. Thorpe, Minnie Sceal, Mrs. Davis and Central House, North Attleboro, Mass." Unfortunately, Mrs. Davis is well in the background making it difficult to see if she is a match to the photograph of "Sadie DuBois" that I currently have, though it looks very possible.


As of the 1900 census (572k / JPG), Sarah and Charles W. DAVIS were living at the Wamsutta Hotel in North Attleborough where Charles was listed as "hotel keeper." The 1898 Directory describes the Wamsutta as a large building including hotel, opera house, post office, and many other small businesses. In 1900 Winfield was also living with Sarah and Charles, though now his name appears on the census as Winfield S. DAVIS and he is listed as Charles' son, so it is possible that Charles adopted him after marrying Sarah. Winfield's occupation was listed as a plumber, which has some relevance later.

Interesting to note is the fact that Winfield is listed as married at this point, but no wife is present on the census record. There is a daughter-in-law listed (Mary), but she was born in 1864 — a full 10 years before Winfield — and is listed as single, so I don't believe she is his wife. As a side note, I should have noticed before that the "age at first marriage" column on the 1930 census for Winfield DAVIS and his wife then, Mary, did not match - implying that Winfield had been married before. I located and received Winfield's 1897 marriage record and it indicates his surname as Corbett and first wife as Minnie MCGRATH. They were married January 30, 1897. I traced Minnie MCGRATH (aka Mary E. MCGRATH) to Spencer, MA, as well as her birthdate — 1878. Others noted on the 1900 census with Sarah and Charles are daughter-in-law Mary DAVIS; niece, Sarah A. BLOIS; nephew, Ernest MCPHEE; sister, Minnie DAVIS (widowed), as well as a number of lodgers. I am speculating that Minnie DAVIS from the photograph and Minnie Sceal are one in the same.

The 1903 directory of North Attleborough indicates that Mrs. Charles W. DAVIS died in 1902 (correct date is 1901) and that Winfield S. CORBETT became the hotel proprietor (35k / GIF) at this time. Per the death record for Sarah M. (Blois) DAVIS, she died July 8, 1901 and was listed as proprietor of a hotel. In Sarah's will she left her estate to W. S. CORBETT, M. M. CORBETT, C. W. DAVIS, S. G. MACMILLAN, and Mrs. GRANT. I later found out that Annie MACMILLAN's married name was GRANT. Andrew CORBETT died not long after this on July 19, 1903 per an email from a descendant of Annie MacMillan, location unknown. By the release of the 1905 North Attleborough directory, (33k / GIF), Winfield is gone and is listed only as "Removed to Gardner, ME." A search of the Gardiner, ME directories yielded nothing, though Gardner, MA directories have yet to be checked.

Sometime between 1904-1910, Winfield married my great-grandmother, Mary Marguerite O'CONNELL, in Massachusetts. No records have been found for their marriage. By the time of the 1910 census, Winfield, Mary and daughter Marguerite were living in Pike, New Hampshire where Winfield was listed as plumber. This matches the occupation given on the 1900 census of North Attleboro.

Though the connections were pretty close to the stories I'd heard, I almost gave up on this lead because everything seemed very inconclusive... Until I located Winfield's 1918 WWI Civilian Draft Registration. On the document he is named "Winfield Scott Corbett DAVIS" and is living in Lincoln, New Hampshire with wife Mary. His date of birth is listed as November 12, 1874, which matches birth dates previously passed down in the family as well as the year on Winfield's gravestone. Winfield's occupation is listed as electrician on the WWI Draft Registration. This really ties all of the names, dates, locations, and professions together, but still leaves just a bit of doubt since the birthdate is off by one year compared the Wakefield birth record (1873).

On the 1920 census, Winfield A. DAVIS is found in Lincoln, New Hampshire with his wife Mary and his 5 daughters. His occupation at this time is listed as electrician, which matches the draft registration information. The 1930 census is very similar, though some daughters had married and moved away. By 1936, Winfield died in Lincoln, NH of heart disease. On Winfield's death certificate, his birthdate is listed as November 12, 1875.

The mystery continues...

There are still many unanswered questions. What became of Winfield's first wife? No death or re-marriage records can be located so far. What happened between 1904-1910 when Winfield was allegedly "removed to Gardner, ME?" When did he meet my great-grandmother, Mary Marguerite O'Connell? I am told that she was a nurse and worked for a Dr. Ring in Boston and that their first child was born in Charlestown, MA June 4, 1904, but no records have been located on that front either. The middle initial "A" made its first appearance in 1920 -- why?