Davie, William Richardson

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Davie, William Richardson

DAVIE, WILLIAM RICHARDSON. (1756–1820). Patriot officer, commissary general of the Southern army under General Nathanael Greene, governor of North Carolina. Born in Egremont, England, on 20 June 1756, Davie was taken by his father to the Waxhaws settlement in South Carolina in 1763 to be adopted by his maternal uncle, William Richardson, a Presbyterian clergyman. In 1776 Davie graduated from Princeton with first honors, and settled in Salisbury, North Carolina, to study law. He served in the militia for three months under General Allen Jones in 1777 and 1778. In 1779, as a captain of militia, he led operations against the Loyalists in North Carolina. Promoted to major, he raised a troop of cavalry and joined General Casimir Pulaski's division. He was seriously wounded at Stono Ferry, South Carolina, on 20 June 1779. Early the next year, after a slow recovery, he raised another troop of cavalry and operated north of Waxhaws Creek, sometimes with Thomas Sumter, in the bloody partisan warfare that followed the surrender of Charleston. He particularly distinguished himself at Hanging Rock during the engagement there on 6 August 1780. After this he received a promotion to colonel. After the Patriot defeat at Camden he is credited with using his little command, in contradiction to the orders of General Horatio Gates, to save valuable supplies. He scored a bold success at Wahab's Plantation on 21 September, and then, with only 20 men, brought General Charles Cornwallis and his entire army to a temporary halt at Charlotte, North Carolina, on 26 September 1780. When the British withdrew into South Carolina, Davie harassed their flanks and rear.

Having proved himself to be an exceptional commander, Davie was bitterly disappointed when Greene singled him out to be his commissary general. When Davie protested that he knew nothing of money and accounts, Greene said, "Don't concern yourself. There is no money and hence no accounts." Despite overwhelming difficulties and an acute distaste for the work, Davie measured up to Greene's expectations. In 1782 he settled at Halifax, North Carolina, and married Sarah Jones, the wealthy daughter of his former commander and the niece of Willie Jones. He had been licensed to practice law in 1780, and became a prominent lawyer. He represented Halifax in the legislature from 1786 to 1798, was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, was an ardent Federalist, and was largely responsible for the establishment and organization of the University of North Carolina. He became commander of the state's troops in 1797 and brigadier general in the U.S. army during the crisis of 1798–1800. He became governor of North Carolina in 1798, and was peace commissioner to France the next year. Defeated for election to Congress in 1803, Davie left politics and retired to his plantation, "Tivoli," in Lancaster County, South Carolina, where he died on 5 November 1820.

SEE ALSO Charlotte, North Carolina; Hanging Rock, South Carolina; Jones, Allen; Jones, Willie; Wahab's Plantation, North Carolina.


Robinson, Blackwell P. William R. Davie. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1957.

William R. Davie Papers. North Carolina Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, N.C.

                              revised by Michael Bellesiles

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