WASHINGTON, WILLIAM. (1752–1810). Continental officer. Virginia. Born 28 February 1752 on his family's plantation in Stafford County, Virginia, Washington was studying for the ministry when the Revolution started. On 25 February 1776 he was commissioned captain in the Third Virginia Continentals, in which he served during the New York and New Jersey campaigns, seeing combat for the first time at Harlem Heights. Leading the attack on cannon in King Street with Lieutenant James Monroe at Trenton, he was wounded in the hand by a musket ball. Promoted to major in the Fourth Continental Dragoons on 27 January 1777, Washington served at the Battles of Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. After the Tappan massacre in New Jersey on 28 September 1778 that decimated the Third Dragoons of Colonel George Baylor, Washington's cousin—General George Washington—put him in command of the remnants on 20 November 1778.
Late in 1779 Washington moved south with his rebuilt regiment. During the initial phase of the Charleston campaign Washington skirmished with Tarleton on several occasions, getting the better of him at Rantowles on 27 March after also defeating the North Carolina Loyalists under Colonel John Hamilton. Washington was lucky to escape with his life at Monck's Corner and then Lenud's Ferry a few weeks later. After Charleston fell, Washington and Lieutenant Colonel Anthony White (of Moylan's regiment) withdrew into eastern North Carolina to recover and recruit.
Washington scored a clever victory at Rugeley's Mills, South Carolina, on 4 December 1780 and struck next in his Hammond's store raid on 27-31 December. This was the start of operations that led to Morgan's victory at Cowpens on 17 January 1781, where Washington distinguished himself in the battle and closed the action with a dramatic personal encounter with Tarleton witnessed by John Marshall. In the "Race to the Dan" and Greene's counteroffensive, Washington's cavalry was prominent, bringing up the rear of the retreat or leading the advance. After performing with valor at Guilford and Hobkirk's Hill (where only fifty-six of his remaining eighty-seven men were mounted), he was wounded and captured in the Battle of Eutaw Springs on 8 September 1781. While a prisoner in Charleston, Washington married Jane Elliott and stayed in the city after the British left at the end of 1783. He served seventeen years in the South Carolina legislature but refused to consider running for governor. On 19 July 1798, during the French crisis, he was commissioned brigadier general and served until 15 June 1800. He died at his home in Charleston on 6 March 1810.
SEE ALSO Cowpens, South Carolina; Eutaw Springs, South Carolina; Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina; Hammonds Store Raid of William Washington; Hobkirk's Hill (Camden), South Carolina; Lenud's Ferry, South Carolina; Monck's Corner, South Carolina;Rugeley's Mills; Tappan Massacre, New Jersey; Tarleton, Banastre.
Haller, Stephen E. William Washington: Cavalryman of the Revolution. Westminster, Md.: Heritage Books, 2001.
revised by Michael Bellesiles