William Richardson Davie

8th Governor of the State of North Carolina - 1798 to 1799

Date Born: June 20, 1756

Date Died: November 29, 1820

Place Born: Egremont, England

Place Buried: Lancaster County, SC

Residence: Halifax County

Occupation: Lawyer


From birth in England, early years in the Waxhaw settlement in South Carolina, education at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), and service in the colonial army, William Richardson Davie returned to North Carolina to study law in Salisbury. He enlisted in the colonial army, became seriously wounded, and organized a troop of cavalry and two companies of mounted infantry. With these troops, he was instrumental in keeping the Loyalists at bay in western North Carolina.

Following the Revolutionary War, he settled in Halifax, NC and became a circuit riding lawyer. He was instrumental in the state adopting the U.S. Constitution and the General Assembly chartering the state university in 1786. He helped choose the site, the professors, the course of studies, and the discipline regulations. For that support he is known as the Father of the University of North Carolina.

On the Chapel Hill campus, his role in the founding of the university is noted by the commemorative "Davie Poplar." He was elected governor in 1798, to serve one term. His spent his retirement days at "Tivoli" on the Catawba River in South Carolina.


William Richardson Davie was born on June 20, 1756, the son of Archibald Davie and Mary Richardson, in Egremont, Cumberland, England. Davie studied at Queen's Museum, later Liberty Hall, in Charlotte, then matriculated to the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), from which he graduated with honors in October of 1776.

Davie began to study law in Salisbury, North Carolina, under Spruce Macay (pronounced "Muh-coy"), who would later provide Andrew Jackson with his own legal training.

In December 1778, Davie left Salisbury to join 1,200 militiamen led by Brig. Gen. Allen Jones of the Halifax District Brigade of Militia. On April 4, 1779, he was a Lieutenant in Pulaski's Legion for a very short duration. He was then a Lieutenant under Capt. Robert Bartley of the Rowan County Regiment of Militia, who was soon court-martialed for "intemperance."

In May of 1779, William Richardson Davie was made a Captain of the Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia, and was immediately placed under the new command of Col. François DeMalmedy who hastily pulled together the NC Light Dragoons Regiment. They rode to join Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln in South Carolina, where he saw action at the skirmish at Charleston Neck, and was wounded at the battle of Stono Ferry, SC.

He was then promoted to Major under Col. Robert Irwin and Col. Caleb Phifer in the Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia. Immediately after the Fall of Charleston, SC on May 12, 1780, he was given command of his own unit, called the Independent Corps of Light Horse, and he led the first assault on the British forces at Hanging Rock, SC on July 31st, then returned to the same location with Col. Thomas Sumter on August 6th.

On September 5, 1780, William Richardson Davie was commissioned by the Board of War as a full Colonel over a new regiment known as the NC State Cavalry - Western District. He led this rapidly growing unit against the British at the battle of Charlotte and at Wahab's Plantation in SC. Since it was only authorized for three months, this regiment was disbanded in December of 1780.

On January 16, 1781, the NC Board of War appointed him as the new Commissary General for the state of North Carolina, replacing Col. Thomas Polk who had recently resigned. On February 13, 1781, the state legislature formally approved this appointment. Col. Davie was with Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene at the battle of Guilford Court House on March 15, 1781. The Commissary General position was eliminated in May of 1782.

In February of 1783, William Richardson Davie married Sarah Jones, daughter of Allen Jones and Mary (Haynes) Jones of Halifax, NC. They had six known children.

After the American Revolution, William Richardson Davie moved to Halifax and rose to prominence in North Carolina as a traveling circuit court lawyer and orator.

William Richardson Davie 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. He also served as Grand Master of the North Carolina Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons from 1792 to 1798.

Earlier, in 1786, he was first elected to represent the town of Halifax in the NC House of Commons of the:
- 11th General Assembly that met from 1786-1787
- 12th General Assembly that met in 1787
- 14th General Assembly that met in 1789
- 16th General Assembly that met from 1791-1792
- 18th General Assembly that met from 1793-1794
- 19th General Assembly that met from 1794-1795
- 21st General Assembly that met in 1796
- 23rd General Assembly that met in 1798

It was this last General Assembly that elected William Richardson Davie as the next governor of North Carolina. He was re-elected for a second term. During his administration, North Carolina settled boundary disputes with South Carolina and Tennessee to the west.

He resigned as the state's chief executive when President John Adams enlisted him in 1799 to serve on a peace commission to France, where bilateral negotiations resulted in the Convention of 1800.

As a member of the NC General Assembly, William Richardson 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 state's first university. A portrait of Davie hangs in the chambers of the Dialectic Society, the oldest student organization at the university.

William Richardson Davie died at his Tivoli estate on November 29, 1820, and he was buried at the Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church in Lancaster County, SC.


William Richardson Davie was born in Egremont, England on June 20, 1756. Around 1763 he immigrated to South Carolina, where he lived with an uncle. His education was attained at Queen's Museum College in North Carolina, and at Princeton University, where he graduated in 1776. He went on to study law, however, his legal career was temporarily interrupted with the outbreak of war. Davie entered the army as a lieutenant in Pulaski's Legion in April 1779. Promoted to captain shortly afterward. Davie was wounded at Stono Ferry on June 20, 1779. After recovering he led a small regiment of North Carolina militia dragoons and was awarded the rank "colonel-commandant of the cavalry" by the North Carolina Assembly. During the 1781 campaign he served as Nathanael Greene's commissary-general. After his military service, he established a successful legal practice in Halifax. Davie first entered politics as a member of the North Carolina House of Commons, a position he held from 1786 to 1798. He took an active role in the 1787 federal constitutional convention, as well as participating in the 1788 and 1789 state conventions, where the later convention ratified the federal constitution. He also was instrumental in founding the University of North Carolina, and in 1810 was bestowed with the title of "Father of the University". Davie next won election to the governorship in 1798. During his tenure, a boundary disagreement with South Carolina was negotiated; and a land grant scandal was dealt with. After leaving the governor's office, Davie secured an appointment to serve as peace commissioner to France. His last bid for political office, came in 1803, when he ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Congress. Governor William R. Davie passed away on November 29, 1820, and was buried in Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Churchyard in Lancaster County, South Carolina.
Click Here to view/download an Adobe PDF file of the small book, entitled "William Richardson Davie: A Memoir," by J.G. de Roulhac Hamilton, PhD., published in 1907.

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