Ann Banks was born enslaved on July 11, 1830, in Virginia. Her mother likely was an enslaved woman named Mathilda Banks or Bank, while her father’s name reportedly was Sheldon. Little is known of Banks’s early years. By 1852 she was owned by Hector Davis, a successful Richmond slave trader, and in that year gave birth to their first child together, Audubon Davis (sometimes Audobon). Over the next ten years, Banks had at least three more children with Davis: Virginia (sometimes Jennie), born in 1853; Matilda, born in 1854; and Victorine, born on November 28, 1858.
absence of laws against the rape of enslaved women, and the legal, physical, economic, and social vulnerability of Banks’s position, it is unlikely that her physical relationship with Davis was consensual. However, no direct testimony from either party exists, and historians have differing interpretations. The two never married, although later in life Banks used the name Ann Davis. Banks and Davis lived next door to Silas Omohundro, another trader who had children with a woman he enslaved, Corinna Hinton. Omohundro recorded several gifts made to “Ann Davis” or the Davis children in his account book. Davis also was friendly with Robert Lumpkin, another trader who lived with an enslaved woman, Mary F. Lumpkin.
In 1859, Davis purchased a brick house on Lombard Street in Philadelphia for $3,100, and by the next year Banks and their children were living there. Although census takers and the city directory described the family as white, it is unclear whether they attempted to pass as such. The 1865 Philadelphia directory described Banks, who now went by the name Ann Davis, as a “gentlewoman.” Early in the 1860s, Audubon Davis and possibly his sisters attended a Quaker school in Philadelphia. All of the Davis daughters could read and write. Their mother, however, could not.
Hector Davis died on January 7, 1863, in Richmond, and it is unclear whether Banks received immediate word of his passing. His will, drafted in March 1859, ordered that his “servant woman Ann” and her children be freed, and that $20,000 be invested in state bonds for their benefit. Banks was to receive one-fifth of the bonds’ interest with the remaining proceeds to go to the cost of raising the children. Unlike Silas Omohundro, Davis did not specifically acknowledge the children as his. He also gave $15,000 to his nieces and wards, Jennie, Sallie, and Betty Davis. The remainder of the estate he left to his sister, Ann Crouch.
The estate was not easily settled, and Ann Banks and the children lived with uncertainty for more than a decade. State bonds had become largely worthless with the end of the war, the wealth tied up in enslaved people disappeared, and the Traders Bank of Richmond, of which Davis was a charter member and president, burned in April 1865. The executor of the estate, R. D. James, who was Davis’s nephew and a member of one of his trading firms, invested much of the legatee’s bequests in Confederate bonds, which also lost their value.
James periodically sent Banks and her children money after Davis’s death, either through the Southern Express Company or personal contacts in Philadelphia, but they lived mostly on credit. Virginia Davis, the eldest daughter, wrote to James imploring for help. His response was dismissive: “I know the case is a hard one but I endeavored to protect your interests & what else could I do. I trust it will all work out one of these days.” On behalf of herself and her children, Banks filed exceptions in 1869 to James’s accounts of the estate in the Richmond City Chancery Court, as did Davis’s sister. Banks specifically objected to the $20,000 invested in Confederate bonds. The legal battles over Davis’s estate reached the U.S. Supreme Court in October 1876, but the most significant sums to reach Banks and the Davis children were likely from the sale of Davis’s property in Philadelphia. The family remained in that city, where Audubon Davis became a newspaper editor, attaining some notoriety for his reporting on a U.S. Senate committee sent to South Carolina to investigate the Ku Klux Klan.
Davis died October 16, 1907, at the Philadelphia home of her grandson, Hector Davis. She was buried in Northwood Cemetery.