Born on October 6, 1842 in Rutherford County, Tennessee, Samuel Davis grew up in the comfortable environment of an upper middle class family. The oldest son of Charles Lewis and Jane Simmons Davis, he attended the local Smyrna schools until leaving home in 1860 to attend Western Military Academy in Nashville.
Sam remained in school only a short time before the Civil War started in 1861. Like many other young men, Sam joined the army before Tennessee had officially seceded from the Union. He enlisted in Co. I of the 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment in April 1861. The 1st Tennessee participated in the Cheat Mountain campaign in western Virginia under Robert E. Lee in 1861. In 1862, they moved west and took part in the battles of Shiloh, Perryville, and Stones River.
Early in 1863, Sam became a member of "Coleman's Scouts." By 1863, the Union Army occupied much of Middle Tennessee. Sam and his fellow scouts worked behind enemy lines disrupting communications and collecting information on the troop movements of the Union forces for the Confederate Army. Even though they wore Confederate uniforms and traveled with passes signed by Confederate General Braxton Bragg, the Union army considered them spies if captured.
Around November 20, 1863 as Sam traveled toward Chattanooga, he was captured by Federal troops near Minor Hill, Tennessee. Sam carried papers that contained critical information on troop movements near Nashville and Pulaski, as well as eleven newspapers and various personal items for General Bragg. Among the papers found concealed on Sam was information that could have only come from the desk of Union General Grenville Dodge. Convinced that one of his own officers was supplying information to the Confederates, Dodge decided to put pressure on Sam to identify his spy. He offered Sam his freedom in exchange for this information. Sam refused, so General Dodge ordered a court martial.
The court charged Sam with being a courier of mails and of being a spy. Sam admitted to being a courier, but pled not guilty to the charge of spying. The military court convicted Samuel Davis on both charges, and sentenced him to hang. On the gallows, General Dodge offered Sam one last chance to save his life by revealing the source of the papers he carried. Sam stated with his last words that "I would die a thousand deaths before I would betray a friend," and was hanged on November 27, 1863.
Visitors to the historic Sam Davis Home in Smyrna will see the home much as it was when Sam lived there. The home, built around 1810 by Moses Ridley and renovated in 1850 by the Davis family, contains over one hundred original family pieces. The floors, doors, and most of the woodwork are also original to the 1850 house. The home is located on a 160-acre farm where cotton is still grown. The house and grounds were purchased by the state of Tennessee in 1927 and opened for tours in 1930.