Mary Pearl Davison, daughter of James McCluney Davison Jr. and Estella Martin Tiller, was born in Woodville, Greene County, Georgia on January 4, 1877. She was the third of four children—James Martin Davison, Joseph Robert Davison, Mary Pearl Davison, and Temperance Estelle Davison. She went by Pearl and is my 3rd cousin, 3x removed. Our nearest common relatives are Robert L. Hobbs Sr. and Mary Marion Caldwell.
Mary Pearl Davison, age 25
When Pearl was just nine days old, her one-year-old brother Joseph died on January 13, 1877. Joseph was buried at Greensboro City Cemetery in Greensboro, Greene County, Georgia. Three years later, she lost her father when he died in Greene County from heart disease on May 2, 1880. He was buried beside Joseph at Greensboro City Cemetery. James left his estate to Pearl’s mother and their three remaining children, share and share alike. He requested that the children be educated, supported, and maintained out of the proceeds of his estate in common, until they became of age or married. The will was witnessed by my 2nd great grandfather, Thomas P. Janes. At the time of their death, the family was apparently living with Pearl’s maternal grandmother in District 148 of Greene County.
After spending hours looking for the Davison family in the 1880 census records, I finally found them on a June 3 record. I knew they were “family” number 70 because the 1880 Federal Census Mortality Schedule for Greene County that recorded the death of Pearl’s father showed he lived with family 70. After searching through every district in Greene County, it finally dawned on me they may have moved in with Pearl’s grandmother. After all, the death of her father left her mother alone to raise three young children, ages 6, 3, and 1. She needed help. I found family number 70 with the head of household listed as Tempy Teller (age 54). Tempy shared her home with Tempy David (age 25 and a farmer), James (age 6), Mary (age 3), and Temperance (age 1). Pearl’s grandmother was Temperance (Newsom) Tiller so there they were, finally!
1880 Greene County, Georgia census (click to enlarge)
On June 18, 1900, Pearl and her family continued to live in Woodville. At age 23, Pearl had been working as a school teacher for five years, as was her sister Estelle. Her brother James, age 26 and a lawyer, was the head of the household. Her widowed mother was enumerated as having had four children, three of which were living. Pearl’s widowed grandmother, Temperance Tiller, lived in the home, as did an aunt named Ann H. Newsome. The household also had two white servants—Shadrack Terrell (age 26) and Simon Daniel (age 23). Pearl married her childhood sweetheart, James “Mercer” Reynolds, son of John Leonard Reynolds and Emerette “Emma” Ellington Moody, in Woodville on February 19, 1903 in a ceremony performed by gospel minister C. A. Owens. Although their marriage certificate recorded their wedding day as February 19, Pearl’s obituary would later list the date as February 4.
Reynolds-Davison marriage license
Mercer Reynolds and Pearl Davison (ca. 1903)
Pearl and Mercer had five children together—Mary Estelle Reynolds, Martin Reynolds, James “Mercer” Reynolds Jr., Jack Davison Reynolds, and William Reynolds.
Shortly after their marriage, Pearl and Mercer moved to Natchez, Adams County, Mississippi where Mercer had been “named manager of the Southern Cotton Oil Company.” Their daughter Estelle was born in Mississippi in 1905. Shortly after her birth, Pearl and Mercer moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee where he had taken a job as manager of the Lookout Oil and Refining Company. Pearl was the matron of honor for the June 5, 1906 wedding of her sister Temperance in a ceremony took place in Greene County. This gave Pearl a chance to visit with her mother. By the end of October that year, Pearl’s mother reciprocated and paid a visit to their Chattanooga home. Their son Martin was born there in February 1907; Mercer Jr. was born there in November 1909.
On April 21, 1910, Pearl, Mercer, daughter Estelle, and sons Martin and Mercer Jr. lived on Georgia Avenue in the St. Elmo neighborhood, located at the foot of Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. Mercer worked as a manager at a cotton oil mill. Son Mercer Jr. was four months old. Estelle was the only child attending school. Two significant events took place in 1912—the July birth of son Jack in Chattanooga and the September death of Pearl’s sister Temperance and her infant daughter, who only lived a few hours. Temperance, who was listed as Estelle in her obituary, and her daughter were buried at Greensboro City Cemetery. Mercer’s business interests were picking up by July 1913 with the formation of the Planters Gin Company in Chattanooga (he held half interest and was the president), but Pearl and Mercer still found time to travel home to Georgia to visit family. Possibly distraught from the death of Pearl’s sister, brother-in-law George Merritt took his own life on January 14, 1916, leaving 8-year-old son George an orphan. George apparently went to live with Pearl and her family in Chattanooga. The house would grow by one more when Pearl’s son William (Bill) was born in November 1916. When Mercer submitted his World War I draft registration card about 1917, he listed his home address as 550 Vine Street, Chattanooga, Tennessee. At the time, he worked at the Lookout Oil and Refining Company in Alton Park, Tennessee.
On January 16, 1920, Pearl and her family lived on Vine Street in Ward 7 of Chattanooga. Mercer worked at refining cotton seed. Her 12-year-old nephew, George Merritt, continued to live in the home. Pearl’s brother James died from pneumonia on February 15, 1920 and was buried at Greensboro City Cemetery.
On April 14, 1930, Pearl and her family still lived on Vine Street in Chattanooga. Their home was valued at $20,000 and had a radio. George no longer lived in the home. Mercer was a proprietor in a cotton mill, Estelle a teacher in a public school, and Martin a clerk at an electric supply store. A joyous event took place at the home on June 20, 1931—the marriage of her only daughter Estelle to Kay Tipton. The home must have been large as the marriage was witnessed by 100 people in the living room. Pearl and Mercer traveled to Southampton, England in April 1933. They arrived back at Ellis Island, New York on April 13 aboard the S.S. Manhattan. The Reynolds family were apparently big fans of Studebakers. On November 5, 1933, the Chattanooga Daily Times reported that Mercer Jr. accepted “delivery of a 1934 President Regal Studebaker sedan for his father.” The article goes on to say it was the 15th Studebaker they had purchased, the first one being in 1910. April 1935 was a happy time for the Reynolds family when Mercer Jr. took a bride, Charlotte Virginia Crabtree, one of “last season’s debutantes.” Pearl and Mercer hosted a dinner at the Hotel Patten for the couple on April 22 to celebrate the upcoming nuptials. The wedding took place at the First Baptist Church in Chattanooga on April 27. In January 1937, they traveled to Havana, Cuba aboard the S.S. Cuba, returning to the Port of Tampa, Florida on January 23, 1937. A month later, Pearl was taking care of her daughter-in-law Charlotte who was recuperating at the Reynolds home after an appendectomy at Erlanger Hospital. Pearl’s daughter Estelle and young daughter Kay traveled from Kansas City, Missouri for a visit with Pearl and Mercer in June 1937. Son Bill, a sophomore at Vanderbilt University in Nashville came for a visit that month as well. Pearl and Mercer hosted all five of their children and their families, along with nephew George Merritt, for Christmas dinner in 1937. A parent’s worst nightmare took place the evening of April 1, 1939. Pearl’s son Martin, a salesman with the Tennessee Electric Power Company, had dinner with his parents at their Chattanooga home. After the meal, Martin went to his room and took his own life. Mercer called a neighbor, Dr. J. Hamilton Taylor, who came to the home and stayed with Martin until he passed away. Martin had attended Georgia School of Technology and had been working with the power company for about nine years. He was active in several local clubs—the Mountain City club, the Engineers’ club, and the Chattanooga Golf and Country club. He had not felt well earlier in the week but Pearl and Mercer had no idea he would take his own life nor what brought him to take this action. Martin was buried on April 2 in section K, lot 124, grave number 2SE at Forest Hills Cemetery in Chattanooga following a service at the First Baptist Church. He was only 32 years old and single.
On April 10, 1940, Pearl, Mercer, and son Jack lived in the same house on Vine Street in Chattanooga. Nephew George Merritt, his wife Velma, and 8-year-old daughter Maryllyn lived next door. Mercer was the president of a cotton chemical company. Son Jack was a chemist in the cotton chemical industry, probably working for his father. George was a proprietor at a drug store. Three of Pearl’s sons served in the U.S. Army during World War II—Mercer Jr., Jack, and Bill. Bill, a private at Camp Cross, South Carolina, was able to come home for a visit in October 1941. In February 1942, Pearl and Mercer visited Bill at Camp Claiborne in Louisiana. They made stops in New Orleans and Florida before going home to their Vine Street home.
Pearl and Mercer celebrated 50 years of marriage on February 19, 1953 with a dinner at their Vine Street home. This would be the last anniversary together for the couple. Mercer had been ill for just over two years. Bedridden the last three months of his life, he lapsed into a coma mid-December 1953 and died of congestive heart failure at the age of 79 on January 13, 1954. Mercer was buried on January 14 in section K, lot 124, grave number NT001 at Forest Hills Cemetery. Upon his death, he was remembered by the Kingsport News in Kingsport, Tennessee on January 14, 1954 as an “industrialist who pioneered in the development of the chemical cotton industry.” Mercer’s estate was left to Pearl and their children. Pearl was specifically left their Chattanooga home and “all interest in property jointly owned by the two, free of estate or death taxes.” He also left her stock in the Southern Chemical Cotton Company. The 5,000-acres of land in Greene County, Georgia was to be managed by his three sons and son-in-law for the benefit of the four children.
Pearl died at home at the age of 82 from malnutrition due to senility and cerebral arteriosclerosis (hardening of the walls of the arteries in the brain) on July 22, 1959. She was buried on July 24 in section K, lot 124, grave number NT002 at Forest Hills Cemetery in Chattanooga. Son Mercer Jr. was the informant on her death certificate. Pearl was survived by daughter Estelle, sons Mercer, Jack, and Bill, and six grandchildren. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made to the Children’s Home.
Photo by SteveL, Find A Grave ID 47040641
During his lifetime, Mercer’s career soared in the chemical cotton industry. He bought and ran several businesses through the years and held several patents in the chemical cotton field. According to the book “History of Greene County” by Thaddeus Brockett Rice, Mercer was a native of Woodville. He would go on to discover “the process of solidifying cotton seed oil thereby making it possible to ship the oil in blocks instead of barrels or tank cars.” According to an article published in the Chattanooga Daily Times on January 14, 1954, Mercer was a pioneer in “many important developments in the production of vegetable oil compounds.” He was also interested in developing power resources of the Tennessee River and according to the same article, “became one of the South’s experts in the field of hydroelectric power development.” He was recognized for his work by President Herbert Hoover who “named him as a member of a commission to investigate and make recommendations concerning the development of water-power resources along the Tennessee River.” Mercer became active in highway development, joining the Dixie Highway Association and the Chattanooga Automobile Club. He served on the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, including holding the office of president. In addition to his business activities, Mercer was a member of several country clubs. He purchased thousands of acres of land in Greene County and built a family retreat that he named “Linger Longer.” The family used the retreat for many years as a getaway to hunt and fish. The land on which Linger Longer stood was eventually merged with land purchased by Mercer’s cousin James Madison Reynolds Sr. and used to develop Reynolds Plantation (now called Reynolds Lake Oconee), a luxury resort in Greensboro. Years later, the land would leave the family but because of Mercer’s ambitions and achievements, Pearl, Mercer, and their family were able to live a very comfortable life that was enriched by the many social activities they were involved in.
Photos of Pearl Davison and Mercer Reynolds used with permission of Ian Mackenzie.
- Chattanooga City Directory, 1942.
- Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, February 13, 1937.
- Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, February 13, 1937, December 26, 1937, October 28, 1941.
- Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, November 5, 1933, February 25, 1942.
- Chattanooga, Tennessee, City Directory, 1942, 1944, 1952.
- Federal Census Mortality Schedule Greene County, Georgia, 1880.
- Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/143490704/mary-pearl-reynolds: accessed 26 September 2021), memorial page for Mary Pearl Davison Reynolds (4 Jan 1877–22 Jul 1959), Find a Grave Memorial ID 143490704, citing Forest Hills Cemetery, Chattanooga, Hamilton County, Tennessee, USA; maintained by woowoo (contributor 49949980). Tombstone photo by Steve L., Find A Grave ID 47040641.
- Forest Hills Cemetery website; http://foresthillscemetery.net/.
- Jack D. Reynolds, U.S., World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946.
- Jack Davison Reynolds and Bill Reynolds, U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1898-1929.
- James Davison Certificate of Death no. 4992, Georgia State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, 1920.
- James Davison will, Greene County, Georgia; Georgia, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1742–1992.
- List of United States Citizens, Florida, U.S., Arriving and Departing Passenger and Crew Lists, 1898-1963.
- Lt. and Mrs. Mercer Reynolds Jr., Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, August 1, 1943.
- Martin Reynolds, Certificate of Death no. 7745, State of Tennessee, Dept. of Public Health, Division of Vital Statistics.
- Mercer Reynolds Jr., U.S. WWII Draft Cards Young Men, 1898-1929.
- Mercer Reynolds Sr. Dies; Pioneer in Chemical Cotton, Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, January 14, 1954
- Mercer Reynolds Sr. to Mark Anniversary, Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, February 19, 1953
- Mercer Reynolds Sr., The Jackson Sun, Jackson, Tennessee, January 14, 1954.
- Mercer Reynolds, Certificate of Death no. 54-00716, State of Tennessee, Dept. of Public Health, Division of Vital Statistics.
- Mercer Reynolds, U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010.
- Mercer Reynolds, World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918.
- Miss Crabtree and Mr. Reynolds Married in Saturday Ceremony, Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 28, 1935.
- Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds Have Dinner for Bridal Couple, Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 22, 1935.
- Mr. Mercer Reynolds and Miss Pearl Davison, marriage license, State of Georgia, County of Greene; Georgia, Marriage Records From Select Counties, 1828–1978.
- Mrs. Pearl Davison Reynolds, Certificate of Death no. 59-16932, State of Tennessee, Dept. of Public Health, Division of Vital Statistics.
- Mrs. Reynolds, 82, Dies at Home, Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, July 23, 1959.
- Reynolds Ends Life at Home: Son of Manufacturer Goes From Dinner Table to His Room, Shoots Self, Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, April 2, 1930.
- Reynolds’ Estate is Left to Family, Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, January 23, 1954.
- Rice, Thaddeus Brockett, History of Greene County, Georgia, 1786-1886, Carolyn White Williams (Editor), 1961.
- Services held for Mrs. Kay Tipton, Madisonian, Madison, Georgia, July 17, 1975.
- Six Stand Ginnery and Large Warehouse, Walker County Messenger, LaFayette, Georgia, April 3, 1914.
- St. Elmo website; http://www.st-elmo.org/.
- Tennessee, Birth Records (ER Series), 1908-1912, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CS9W-S4CC-D?cc=2515873&wc=Q64L-WMM%3A1590122617: accessed 3 October 2021), 007794323 > image 1086 of 2712; citing The Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.
- The Atlanta Georgian, Atlanta, Georgia, June 2, 1906, June 7, 1906. and October 31, 1906.
- The Augusta Daily Herald, Augusta, Georgia, September 25, 1912.
- Tipton-Reynolds Rites Solemnized, Miss Estelle Reynolds Weds Macon Attorney, Chattanooga Daily Times, Chattanooga, Tennessee, June 21, 1931.
- United States Federal Census, Chattanooga, District 19, Hamilton County, Tennessee, 1930.
- United States Federal Census, Chattanooga, Hamilton County, Tennessee, 1940.
- United States Federal Census, Chattanooga, Ward 7, Hamilton County, Tennessee, 1920.
- United States Federal Census, District 148, Greene County, Georgia, 1880.
- United States Federal Census, St. Elmo, District 0086, Hamilton County, Tennessee, 1910.
- United States Federal Census, Woodville, Greene County, Georgia, 1900.
- Walker County Messenger, LaFayette, Georgia, July 25, 1913 and July 26, 1914.