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20167 Slave Emancipation Advice  
Lexington May 6, 1861

Dear Madame, I have just received your letter of this inst. not
knowing the necessity for removing the servant you speak, I
cannot advise you definitively. Unless there be some sufficient
reason, I advise you not to remove him, as it would not only
defeat his emancipation, under your father‘s will, but lay you
liable to the disapproval of public sentiment. If such a step be
necessary let it be done by proper investigations, of the proper
authorities so as to justify you in  the act.  Unless in the case of
an emergency, admitting of no delay. There are times when
ordinary rules for advising are at fault. In any action you take
you should so guard yourself, as to avoid any improper
interpretation here after. Say to your mother that I will be
down to see her, when the excitement here tempers down a little
yours truly J. D. Davidson   


The son of Presbyterian minister Andrew Baker Davidson
James, Dorman Davidson (1808-1882) was born in Rockbridge
County, Virginia. James graduated from Washington College in
1828. After passing the bar in 1831, Davidson lived and
practiced law in Lexington for half a century. In 1835, he
handled the settlement of the estate of Colonel James McDowell,
father of Davidson’s friend and future Virginia governor James
McDowell, Jr. Davidson. The case set Davidson’s course as a
specialist in estate settlement. Known as the “Country Lawyer,”
Davidson was widely respected by the Virginia legal community
and made friends from all walks of life.
Politically active, he was first a Whig, then a Democrat, and
initially a staunch Unionist. At the request of Governor John
Letcher, Davidson visited with President Abraham Lincoln,
withdrawing his opposition to secession after seeing that the
President would not compromise. During the war, Davidson
organized the Rockbridge County Home Guard, acted as
Commissary Agent for the Virginia troops, and represented
Governor Letcher in his dealings with military forces. Three of
Davidson’s sons with wife Hannah McDowell Greenlee
Davidson, Greenlee, Frederick, and Albert, died fighting for the
Confederacy. His brother Alexander H. Davidson lived in
Indiana and was a general in the U. S. Army. After the war,
Davidson acted as a diplomatic agent between occupying
Federal forces and the citizens of his county. He also tried to
revive the local economy by urging investment in West Virginia
coal and lumber.

In addition to his legal career, Davidson served as trustee of
Washington and Lee University from 1858 to 1882. A friend of
Robert E. Lee and “Stonewall” Jackson, Davidson also led the
establishment of memorials for the men in Lexington.
Additionally, he contributed poems and short stories to the
literary periodical The Mountain Laurel.