Contributor Close-Up: Robert Davis


April 7, 2021
by Editors Also by this Author


Journal of the American Revolution is the leading source of knowledge about the American Revolution and Founding Era. We feature smart, groundbreaking research and well-written narratives from expert writers. Our work has been featured by the New York Times, TIME magazine, History Channel, Discovery Channel, Smithsonian, Mental Floss, NPR, and more. Journal of the American Revolution also produces annual hardcover volumes, a branded book series, and the podcast, Dispatches

What inspired you to start researching and writing about the Revolution?

In 1974, Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia began a state internship program. I was the state’s first history intern. Because I was at that time a cadet at North Georgia College, I chose the battle of Kettle Creek, a military topic of which I knew absolutely nothing. All else of the American Revolution flowed out of my research for a state park there that was never created. (The Kettle Creek Battlefield Association, however, has done wonders with the county park, which would make a great article for JAR!)

What historians or books have most influenced your work? Why?

In 1974, Georgia had two books on the American Revolution, Hugh McCall’s History of Georgia (vol. 2, 1816) and Alexander A. Lawrence, Storm Over Savannah(1951, 1968).

The Lawrence book on the combined American and French siege of British Savannah in the autumn of 1779 is about as near perfect a history book as I could imagine although it was part of an era of such books by authors like Walter Lord.

Storm Over Savannah inspired me that if there was so much to Georgia in the Revolution in that brief moment in 1779, then what is the rest of that legacy? Over the years, I have received encouragement from such friends as Heard Robertson and Gordon B. Smith.

What are your go-to research resources?

We have so many good books on Georgia since then by Colin Campbell, Ed Cashin, Hardy Jackson, Heard Robertson, Gordon B. Smith, and others, all of whom were my friends. I even researched for Alexander A. Lawrence. Georgia has many special sources such as the Telamon Cuyler Collection. the Georgia Historical Society Library, the Lamar Institute of Georgia (archaeological reports online), and the Digital Library of Georgia Newspapers.

National sources include the Papers of the Continental Congress, the Lyman C. Draper Collection, Founding Fathers Online, Southern Campaigns of the American Revolution (online), and the papers of generals/politicians (published or not). Even beyond that, the articles etc. that I find on JSTOR and HathiTrust; books through Amazon and Worldcat; and the manuscripts through Google is one of the great contributions to history research.

Which of your own JAR articles is your favorite or most rewarding? Why?

No such thing as a simple investigation. Some of my projects go on for years and years despite my commitment to publication.

My first or second publication was an article on anonymous letters describing a Georgia plantation that were published by the anonymous author of American Husbandry (1775). Thirty years later, I finally figured out the author and circumstances of the letters and book. That proved an incredible story of the American Revolution as explained in “The Mystery Book and the Forgotten Founding Father,” July 17, 2014, my favorite article for JAR.

Other than your own contributions, what are some of your favorite JAR articles?

Too many to say. I start reading one article and that leads to several more, like going through a box of chocolates. Please keep up the good work everyone!

What books about the American Revolution do you most often recommend?

The books by my friend Dr. Robert M. Calhoon and by Nathaniel Philbrick, but we live in such a golden age of great reading on the American Revolution that includes the JAR. I often refer to works by Atkinson, Braisted, Fleming, Hoock, Unger, Wood, and so many others. But I do not forget the classic works by such authors as Draper, Ketchum, Siebert etc.!

What new research/writing projects are you currently working on?

My interests go beyond the American Revolution but I am finishing an article on the origins of the Southern Strategy and working on a history of the secrets of the story of Austin Dabney, hero and the first African American to receive a pension and, for forty years, the only member of his race to receive a federal pension.

If I can ever catch up on so many things I have started, I would like to write an article separating the hard facts from the misunderstandings and myths of the battle of King’s Mountain. Such an article will not be popular in some circles.

What other hobbies/interests do you enjoy? What do you do for a living?

Tell me an untold story about Georgia but only if it is true. Be sure that it is funny but also ironic.

My great love is uncovering the untold stories of my beloved Georgia but I also like to discover new sources for family and historical research, then let everyone know about these tools. My bibliography refers to more than 1,300 publications, many of them genealogical or local history publications but others in prominent academic journals.

I am a history professor at a community college where I also run a library and program on family history research. Whenever I can, I combine tourism with my research.

Why is Journal of the American Revolutionimportant to you?

It publishes the stories that need to be told and with proper documentation but without the ugly, too often petty and political, restrictions of so much of today’s formal, narrow, and repetitious academic writing. I wish that every historical period and place had a Journal of the American Revolution-like publication.

Is there an article, or subject area, that you would like to see appear in JAR?

I would like articles on research sources such as the Emmett Collection and on libraries such as the David Library. Also, I would like to see more articles by me but that would require my finding the time to write and submit them!


  • Mr. Davis, I have enjoyed every book I have had the good fortune to read that you have authored. Thank you for digging into so much Georgia history. It is a very frustrating place to research, especially the earlier burned out counties. Your works and the authors who pen here at JAR are a treasure. Maybe someday you can write the earliest history of New Savannah, New Windsor, Augusta and the settlers/Indians who shaped the GA/SC landscape of the earliest days up to the American Revolution, quite forgotten by time.

  • Carole, I agree. EMPIRE OF SMALL PLACES and the books by Ed Cashin are a good start but the story is so much bigger. Andrew McLean, for example, seems to have ran everything in Augusta and he was so connected that he was above the American Revolution. Also see “Some Residents of Augusta, 1774-1783,” GEORGIA GENEALOGICAL MAGAZINE 36 (4) (1996): 300-305

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