Four generations in Milford

| 11 Feb 2016 | 02:48

By Ginny Privitar
— The history of the Davis-Bailey family of Milford is bracketed by the service of two of its men in wartime. One gave his life for his country, and was the only Milford resident to die in the Korean War.

In honor of Black History Month, the Columns Museum is featuring an exhibit on four generations of this distinguished family with a number of photographs and newspaper clippings.

The artifacts trace the Davis-Bailey's history from slavery all the way to the 1990s, telling the story of a family whose history is woven into the fabric of Milford's own.

Matriarch born free
The matriarch, Sarah Showers, was born a free woman to John J. and Maria Showers of Newton, N.J., in 1855, when slavery was still legal in many states.

An 1880 census shows Sarah, at age 25, married to Abraham (or Abram) Davis, and the mother of two children, Maggie, age 4, and Azariah, age 11 months. Another daughter, Phebe, was born in 1883.

At some point, Sarah moved to Milford, where her brother, John Showers, was already living.

During her life, Sarah worked as both a live-in servant and as a laundress. Abraham survived the Civil War. After his death, Sarah applied for his army pension and used the money to buy a house on High Street. After Sarah, three more generations of her family lived in the house.

Sarah died sometime between 1910 and 1915. She was a member of the predominately white Methodist Episcopal Church, where her memorial service was held. She was buried in Milford Cemetery.

The family extrovert
Next in the family history comes Sarah’s daughter, Phebe Bailey. Not much is known about her, but photographs of her show a young woman both beautiful and stylish.

A lot more is known about Phebe’s daughter, Beatrice Bailey. She was known as an extrovert who enjoyed people, conversation, and a cold beer. She was at one time a taxi-driver and reportedly a great story-teller.

In an interview with Sarah Smith Ducksworth, former Mayor Merritt Quinn remembered "Bea" for her love of life and genuine love for people.

In 1931, Bea had a child out of wedlock, Milton W. Bailey, whom she cherished. As a teenager, Milton was the only black member of the basketball team and also a member of the “Handicraft Club.”

He joined the Army and was sent to Korea during the war as a member of the infantry. While in the service he wrote many letters home to his mother, Bea, and grandmother, Phebe. He was declared dead or missing in action on July 17, 1951. An obituary clipping illustrates what his death meant to Milford, the only hometown death from that war.

Having lost her son in the service, Bea was now a Gold Star Mother honored by her community. Photographs show her marching or riding in a car in local parades to honor veterans. She was held in high regard by the Milford community.

Bea herself died on Christmas Day, 1991, at age 70. Her obituary shows how much a part of Milford the family, and Bea in particular, had become. Her memorial service on Dec. 30 attracted a large turnout. According to a newspaper clipping, approximately 50 members of the VFW and American Legion were in attendance, as well as Commissioners Margaret Mary Jones and Randolph “Skip” Gregory, Mayor Ray Orben and Sheriff Harry Geiger were there as well.

The Columns Museum is located at 608 Broad St. in Milford and may be reached at 570-296-8126. For more information visit

Editor's note: The Courier is indebted to Lori Strelecki of the Columns Museum for her help with this article, and to Sarah Smith Duckworth, who researched and compiled a history of the Davis-Bailey family.