William Davis was born in 1812 and grew up in southern Indiana, which was untamed frontier back then. Raised in a very religious home, Davis gave his life to Christ at age 16. He preached his first sermon one week after turning 17, and was given a circuit of churches. For a while, he traveled to his churches on foot. When that became too difficult, he hired himself out at $8 a month until he could buy a horse and saddle.
On May 26, 1830, proudly sitting atop his new horse, William Davis headed south to Harrison County, on the Kentucky border, to attend the first session of the Indiana Annual Conference. He was received as a minister and was assigned to the Tanner’s Creek circuit. Two years later, when the Wabash Conference was organized, he was elected as the presiding elder (like a superintendent). Though Davis was only 22 years old, historian John Lawrence said Davis had “the prudence, the foresight, and firmness” of someone much older.
In 1846, Davis reflected on his 16 years as an itinerant minister.
“My time has been spent chiefly on the frontiers, among poor people. If I could lead some of my rich brethren along the Indian trails, or more dimly-beaten paths, to the cabins in the woods, and introduce them to meanly-clad parents, surrounded by almost naked children, and let them worship and mingle their prayers, songs, and tears around the same altar, they too would love those poor brethren….I do love the poor pioneer brethren in their cabins, and sympathize with the missionary who breaks to them, at great personal sacrifices, the bread of life.”
Lawrence said of Davis, “No one, perhaps, has ever heard a hasty or ill-advised remark from his lips. He speaks slowly and distinctly, and often eloquently.”