Unattributed Portrait of Captain Elias Davis

Unattributed Portrait of Captain Elias Davis enlarge

Unattributed Portrait of Captain Elias Davis

A portrait of Captain Elias Davis, Sr. painted c.1790 by an unknown Antwerp artist.

Elias Davis, Sr., was born in Gloucester in 1758 and raised in Town Parish. In 1775, at the age of 17, Davis enlisted in the Continental Army, serving for three months. By 1780, he was commander of the armed brigantine Fair Play which was commissioned as an American privateer.  While sailing off Guadeloupe, the Fair Play was fired upon and sank, forcing Davis and his crew to swim for shore.  Captain Davis received two more privateer commissions before the Revolutionary War ended including the brig Tybalt, the last American privateer to be commissioned. 

After the Revolution, as Cape Ann’s maritime economy rebounded, Elias Davis took command of various merchant vessels engaged in the Caribbean, South American, and European trades. Several of Davis’ journals are preserved at Harvard’s Houghton library and can be viewed here. Over the past few years, volunteers from the Cape Ann Museum, led by docent Paul McGeary, have been transcribing some of the journals to better understand Davis’ business ventures, particularly in regards to the slave trade.  An update on their work can be found here

In the 1920s, Capt. Davis' home on Pleasant Street in Gloucester became the headquarters for the Cape Ann Scientific and Literary Association, an earlier iteration of the Cape Ann Museum. The house remains in the Museum's collection today.

Image rights & reproduction


Date of work: Undated
Medium: Oil on canvas


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