William Richardson Davie

1756–1820

William Richardson Davie was an American Revolutionary War Hero, a Founding Father, and the 10th Governor of North Carolina.

William Richardson Davie, American Revolution, Portrait, Peale

William Richardson Davie. Image Source: UNC University Libraries.

William Richardson Davie was a politician and soldier who rose to prominence during the American Revolutionary War as an officer in the North Carolina Militia. Davie is most famous for voting for the United States Constitution during the 1787 Constitutional Convention. In 1798, he was elected as the 10th Governor of North Carolina.

William Richardson Davie Quick Facts

  • Born — William Richardson Davie was born on June 20, 1756, in Egremont, England.
  • Died — Davie died on November 29, 1820, at the age of 64.
  • Buried —  He was buried at Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church in South Carolina.
  • Spouse — Davie married Sarah Jones in 1782 and settled in Halifax, North Carolina.
  • Famous For — Davie is most famous for supporting the United States Constitution. He was a capable military leader during the American Revolutionary War, served as the 10th Governor of North Carolina, and helped negotiate an end to the Quasi-War.

William Richardson Davie Overview and History

Early Life and Military Service

Born in Egremont, England, on June 20, 1756, William Richardson Davie, the son of a manufacturer, moved to South Carolina’s Waxhaws District with his family in 1763. He received a quality education at a local academy and graduated with honors from the College of New Jersey in 1776. Afterward, he returned home to pursue a legal career and serve in the local militia.

Davie Joins the Continental Army

In April 1779, Davie led a cavalry troop and served with the command of Colonel Casimir Pulaski. Davie fought in the Battle of Stono Ferry (June 20, 1779), where he sustained severe injuries. It took several months for Davie to recover before returning to the field in the spring of 1780.

Davie Forms a Cavalry Troop

Davie raised and funded his own cavalry troop, and coordinated operations with General Thomas Sumter. Following the American victory at the Battle of Hanging Rock (August 6, 1780), Davie was promoted to the rank of Colonel.

Sumter’s 1780 Campaign in South Carolina

Following the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780, General Charles Cornwallis sent Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton and his British Legion in pursuit of Sumter and his forces. Tarleton surprised and routed Sumter at the Battle of Fishing Creek (August 18, 1780)

With Sumter on the run, Davie found himself leading the only organized Patriot military force in the South. On September 21, 1780, he planned and executed an American victory at the Battle of Wahab’s Plantation in North Carolina. With 80 cavalry and 70 riflemen, Davie carried out a surprise attack on a detachment of the British Legion, led by Major George Hanger. Davie and his men inflicted heavy casualties on Hanger’s force and captured nearly 100 horses.

Battle of Charlotte

At that time, Cornwallis was leading his army toward Charlotte, North Carolina. On September 21, Davie 20 riflemen ambushed the British advance guard on the outskirts of Charlotte, forcing them to retreat. Davie’s action successfully slowed the British advance, but Cornwallis eventually took possession of the city.

General Nathanael Greene’s Arrival

After the crushing defeat of the Southern Army at Camden, General Nathanael Greene was placed in command of the Southern Department. Greene arrived in North Carolina in December 1780, with a contingent of troops from the Continental Army.

Greene appointed Davie as his commissary general. Although Davie was reluctant to accept the position at first, he agreed. His efforts were instrumental in ensuring that Greene’s army remained supplied and operational for the rest of the war.

Post-War Activities

After the war, Davie resumed his legal career and entered into politics, running for the state legislature in 1786. Two years later, he played a significant role in the Constitutional Convention. He was a Federalist and supported the ratification of the Constitution. In 1789, Davie helped establish the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Governorship and Military Service

In 1799, he was elected as the Governor of North Carolina. During that time, President John Adams and the United States were embroiled in the XYZ Affair, which led to the Quasi-War. As Adams prepared for hostilities, Davie received an appointment as a Brigadier General in the U.S. Army. Eventually, Davie served as a peace commissioner in France and participated in the Convention of 1800 which ended hostilities.

Retirement and Death

Davie retired to his plantation in Lancaster County, South Carolina. During the War of 1812, Davie was offered a commission as a Major General by President James Madison, but he declined the offer. Davie died on November 29, 1820.

William Richardson Davie Interesting Facts

  • In 1776, Davie was adopted by his uncle, William Richardson, who was a Presbyterian minister.
  • Davie’s most significant victory came at the Battle of Wahab’s Plantation (September 21, 1780).
  • Davie earned a license as a lawyer in 1780 and became a prominent lawyer.
  • Davie served in the state legislature from 1786 to 1798.
  • He represented North Carolina at the 1787 Constitutional Convention and voted in favor of the U.S. Constitution. Although he did not sign the document, he is often considered to be a Founding Father due to his support.
  • Davie was elected Governor of North Carolina in 1798.
  • He retired from politics in 1803 and spent his time at “Tivoli,” his plantation in Lancaster County, South Carolina. 

William Richardson Davie APUSH Review

William Richardson Davie is associated with APUSH Unit 3: 1754–1800, which is part of our Guide to AP US History (APUSH).

Note: This is “First Look” article, introducing William Richardson Davie to American History Central. It will be expanded in the future to include more information about his life career, and accomplishments.