William Richardson Davie (1756 - 1820) MP

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Nicknames: "General Davie"
Birthplace: Egremont, Cumbria, England
Death: Died in Landsford, Chester, South Carolina, United States
Occupation: Lawyer, military officer, political leader, and education supporter
Managed by: Richard Arthur Neary
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About William Richardson Davie

A Patriot of the American Revolution for NORTH CAROLINA with the rank of COLONEL. DAR Ancestor # A030145

William Richardson Davie was a military officer, the tenth Governor of North Carolina, the founder of the University of North Carolina, and Grand Master of the North Carolina Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons from 1792 to 1798. He was a member of the Federalist Party and may be considered a "Founding Father of the United States."

Early Life

Davie was born in England, but immigrated to the American colonies in 1763 when his father, Archibald Davie, brought him to the Waxhaw region near Lancaster, South Carolina. He was named for his maternal uncle, William Richardson, a prominent Presbyterian minister in South Carolina. He is commonly, but incorrectly, believed to have been adopted by his uncle; however, when William Richardson died, Davie, as his nephew, inherited 150 acres of land and a large library.

As an adolescent, Davie studied at Queen’s Museum, later Liberty Hall, in Charlotte, then matriculated to Princeton University (then the College of New Jersey), from which he graduated with honors in 1776.

Revolutionary and Post-Revolutionary Era

For detailed information on his military career, please visit his Wikipedia page.

Legal & Political Career

After the war, Davie rose to prominence in North Carolina as a traveling circuit court lawyer and orator. He was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons on multiple occasions from 1786 through 1798. He served as a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, leaving before he could sign the document, and argued for its passage at the North Carolina State Conventions in 1788 and 1789.

Davie was elected governor of North Carolina by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1798. During his administration, the state settled boundary disputes with South Carolina and Tennessee to the west. He resigned as the state's chief executive when President Adams enlisted him in 1799 to serve on a peace commission to France, where bilateral negotiations resulted in the Convention of 1800.

Davie remained active in the state militia and in the newly-formed United States Army; he served in the state militia during the 1797 crisis with France (immediately preceding the Quasi-War) and was appointed brigadier general in the Army by President John Adams. After his return to North Carolina, Davie continued to be active in Federalist politics. He ran unsuccessfully for the United States House of Representatives against Willis Alston in the 1804 election. (Alston, elected as a Federalist in 1798, joined the Democratic Republican Party during the Jefferson administration).

University of North Carolina

As a member of the North Carolina General Assembly, Davie sponsored the bill that chartered the University of North Carolina. Davie laid the cornerstone of the University in October 1793 in a full Masonic ceremony as he was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina at the time. He is recognized as the university's founder and served on its board of trustees from 1789 to 1807. Davie also received the institution's first honorary degree in 1811, an LL.D., and was given the title "Father of the University." The "Davie Poplar" tree on the campus is, as legend has it, where Davie tied his horse in the late 1790s to pick out the site for the Tar Heel state's first university.

A portrait of Davie hangs in the chambers of the Dialectic Society, the oldest student organization at the university.

Later Life

After his unsuccessful run for the House of Representatives, Davie retired from public life to his plantation estate, Tivoli, in South Carolina. During the 1812 presidential election, Virginia Federalists who refused to support the candidacy of dissident Democratic-Republican DeWitt Clinton against incumbent Democratic-Republican James Madison nominated presidential electors pledged to Rufus King for president and Davie for vice president. This Federalist slate was defeated by a wide margin). During the War of 1812, Davie served in the army as well, but declined an offer from President James Madison to command the American forces.

Davie was keenly interested in thoroughbred horses. In 1809, he purchased a champion race horse from William Ransom Johnson, a native of North Carolina who was known in American racing circles as "The Napoleon of the Turf." The horse, "Sir Archy," cost Davie the then-staggering sum of $5,000. That price reflected the horse's greatness and his promise as one of the foundation sires in American racing. Nearly a century and a half later, in 1955, as further testament to Sir Archy's standing, the stallion was among the first class of horses inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Death & Tributes

Davie died at Tivoli in 1820. He was preceded in death by his wife, the former Sarah Jones, whom he married in 1782. Davie is buried at Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church in South Carolina. Sarah, who died at the age of 39 in 1802, is buried in the Old Colonial Cemetery in Halifax, North Carolina, and was the daughter of delegate Allen Jones.

Davie County, North Carolina, established in 1836, is named in his memory, as is William R. Davie Middle School in Roanoke Rapids, William R. Davie Elementary School in Davie County. and William R. Davie Park, in Mecklenburg County.

Additional Readings

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Gov. William Richardson Davie's Timeline

1756
June 20, 1756
Egremont, Cumbria, England
1781
1781
Age 24
Stokes Co. NC
1783
February 1783
Age 26
1820
November 18, 1820
Age 64
Landsford, Chester, South Carolina, United States
????
- 1776
Princeton, New Jersey, United States
????
- present
Charlotte, North Carolina, United States
????
Lancaster, Lancaster, South Carolina, United States