Born in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, JOHN WILLIAM DAVIS attended public schools in Rehoboth and a private school in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. He went on to engage in a number of occupations, including mechanical masonry, teaching, and grain dealing. He was a member of the Pawtucket Town Council, serving as its president for two years. He also served in the Rhode Island Senate for a number of terms and was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as Appraiser of Foreign Merchandise for the Providence U.S. Customs District. A Democrat, he defeated Republican Governor George P. Wetmore for governor in 1887 with the help of votes from Republicans dissatisfied with their party leadership. During Davis's gubernatorial administration, the Women's Suffrage Amendment to the state constitution was approved, the boundary line between Rhode Island and Connecticut was established, election laws were revised to prevent fraud, and orphanages were made subject to regulation. Davis was defeated for reelection in 1888 as well as in his comeback attempt of 1889, but won election to a second term in 1890. During his second administration, the governor was given authorization to appoint a commission to revise and codify general statutes, and funds were appropriated for completion of a Soldiers' Home. After being defeated again for reelection, Davis was elected to the Rhode Island Senate for a second time and also served as Mayor of Pawtucket in 1897.
Mohr, Ralph S. Governors for Three Hundred Years (1638-1954): Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. State of Rhode Island, Graves Registration Committee, August 1954.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 9. New York: James T. White & Company.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.