Hon. Gilbert Asa Davis was born in Chester, Vt., on December 18, 1835, being the youngest child of Asa and Mary (Hosmer) Davis. He received his early education in the public schools of Chester and at Chester Academy. He began to teach school when he was 15 years of age and in 1852 he moved to New Jersey, where he taught for four years at Belvidere and other places in Warren and Huntingdon counties. While there he was for a time the principal of an academy and started to study medicine. While he did not continue his studies the information he obtained proved valuable in his experience as a trial lawyer. He began his legal studies with Hon. J. G. Shipman of Belvidere. He returned to Vermont and read law with Hon. William Rounds of Chester and with the famous law firm of Washburn & Marsh at Woodstock. He was admitted to the bar at the May term of the Windsor County court, 1859. He remained with Washburn and Marsh for a year and then removed to Felchville, where he lived for 20 years and there built up a large law practice and for a time did an extensive pension business. In 1858-1861 he was the assistant clerk of the Vermont House of Representatives. For five years he was the Register of Probate for Windsor county. He represented the town of Reading in the legislature in 1872-1874 serving the second term as the chairman of the committee on education. In 1874 he was selected by Governor Peck to compile the school laws of the State and about this time published the first volume of the History of the Town of Reading. In 1876 he was elected Senator from Windsor county. On August 9, 1877, he was the orator of the day at the Centennial Celebration at Windsor of the Adoption of the Name and Constitution of the State. This celebration was held in a large tent on the Common.
Mr. Davis was State's Attorney for Windsor county from 1878-80. In 1879 in order to better handle his large law practice he moved to Windsor, where he has lived ever since. In 1888 he was an alternate and acting delegate to the Republican National Convention and was a member of the famous Vermont Eight who voted for Harrison on every ballot until he finally was nominated. In 1888 he assisted in forming the Windsor Machine Co., the predecessor of the local plant of the National Acme Company and served as the president for about fifteen years. In 1895 he helped to organize the Windsor Canning Co., and was its president until 1908. He also assisted in organizing the Windsor Electric Light Company and was for many years its president. In 1898 upon the adoption of the Natonal Bankruptcy law, Judge Wheeler appointed Mr. Davis referee in bankruptcy for Windsor county, which position he held for 18 years or until the political turn over changed the complexion of the local court. Gov. Bell appointed him chairman of the State Bridge Commissioners which position Mr. Davis held under the succeeding governors to date and was largely instrumental in freeing several of the tall bridges across the Connecticut.
About a year ago he was elected an assistant judge of the County court. Mr. Davis was the oldest lawyer in active practice in Vermont at the time of his death and he was recognized as one of the leaders of the bar. He was a very successful trial lawyer. His active brain and wonderful nerve control which made him untiring mentally and physically cause him to be recognized as an opponent worthy of one's steel. One of the leading lawyers of the state recently remarked that Mr. Davis was the best man to prove a fact that he knew of. Mr. Davis' work as a lawyer may be seen by reference to the Vermont Reports from Vol. 36 to 91 inclusive, each volume containing one or more cases briefed or argued by him. Justice Powers of the Supreme court writes:
"Gilbert A. Davis was a typical lawyer of the old school, earnest, able and untiring. Educated in the atmosphere of Common Law teaching and firmly grounded, in the principles lying at the foundations of that system. He was a legal reasoner of unusual ability, rather than a case hunter of the modern school. So far as I know he was the last of that fine old race of lawyers who developed the law of our state and kept it moored to the doctrines of the fathers. We shall never see his like again."
Mr Davis in his long career participated in many cases of more than usual interest. Among them the Hayes Will case involving a large Massachusetts Estate and it issues involved investigations in England and Constantinople. The Shaw murder case where Mr. Davis was assigned to defend a lad about twenty years of age. The jury brought in a verdict of murder in the first degree and Shaw was sentenced to be hung. An appeal to the Supreme court availed nothing, although a leading lawyer (afterward a member of the Supreme court) said: "They turned you down Mr. Davis, but it took them twenty pages of Vermont Reports to get around your points." Mr Davis went next to the Legislature where he secured a commutation of the sentence to life imprisonment. And for eighteen years afterwards or up to the time Shaw was released on parole Mr. Davis was constantly working on his behalf.
Two cases at least of his are recognized as establishing important legal principles and are published in full in the case books used in the leading law schools of the country. They are Davis vs Bank, 46 VT. 248 on the obligation of one who subscribes for stock in a Corporation. His Weathersfied cemetery case was commented on in the leading periodicals. Mr. Davis was for years a member of the local Congregational church and served as its clerk for over 25 years assisted in preparing its history, and for years was superintendent and teacher in its Sunday school and he was borne to his last resting place by a group of his old Sunday school boys.
On April 13, 1862, Mr. Davis married Delia I. Bolles at Turner Junction, now West Chicago, Ill. To them were born four children, one daughter and three sons, two sons died in infancy. His wife, his daughter, Mrs. Stanley Carleton of Oak Park, Ill, and his son, Gilbert. F. Davis of Windsor survive him, as does an older brother, Charles L. Davis of Minneapolis. (From the Vermont Journal, Friday, December 5, 1919. front page.)
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