The American Revolution in North Carolina

William Lee Davidson

Adjutant/Captain in the 1st Rowan County Regiment of Militia - 1775-1776
Major in the 1st Rowan County Regiment of Militia - 1776
Major in the 4th NC Regiment (NC Continental Line) - 1776-1777
Lt. Colonel in the 5th NC Regiment (NC Continental Line) - 1777
Lt. Colonel in the 7th NC Regiment (NC Continental Line) - 1777-1778
Lt. Colonel in the 3rd NC Regiment (NC Continental Line) - 1778
Lt. Colonel over the 1st NC Regiment (NC Continental Line) - 1779-1780
Brigadier General (Pro Tempore) over the Salisbury District Brigade of Militia
(September 1780 to February 1781)

On October 22, 1775, William Lee Davidson was appointed as an Adjutant, with the rank of Captain, under Col. Griffith Rutherford in the newly-created 1st Rowan County Regiment of Militia. Capt. William Lee Davidson was with Col. Rutherford at the battle of Ninety-Six, SC (11/19-11/21/1775); at the battle of Great Cane Brake, SC (12/22/1775); and, in the infamous Snow Campaign, SC (12/23-12/30/1775).

In early 1776, William Lee Davidson was appointed as a Major under Col. Francis Locke in the 1st Rowan County Regiment of Militia. This regiment is known to have not marched towards the coast for the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge - they were ordered to remain at home to guard against potential Loyalist uprisings.

On April 15, 1776, the NC Provincial Congress appointed William Lee Davidson as a Major under Col. Thomas Polk in the newly-created 4th NC Regiment, which was soon placed on the NC Continental Line. Maj. William Lee Davidson was with this regiment at the battles of Brandywine Creek, PA (9/11/1777) and Germantown, PA (10/4/1777).

On October 4, 1777, William Lee Davidson was promoted to Lt. Colonel under Col. Edward Buncombe (POW at this point in time) in the 5th NC Regiment (NC Continental Line), replacing Lt. Col. Henry Irwin, who was mortally wounded/killed at the battle of Germantown, PA on October 4, 1777. Soon thereafter, he was re-assigned to the 7th NC Regiment (NC Continental Line) under Col. James Hogun, exact date unknown.

On June 1, 1778, Lt. Col. William Lee Davidson was transferred to the 3rd NC Regiment (NC Continental Line) under Col. Jethro Sumner. On that date, all other officers of the 7th NC Regiment were sent home to rebuild. Lt. Col. William Lee Davidson was with the 3rd NC Regiment at the battle of Monmouth, NJ on June 28, 1778.

On January 9, 1779, Lt. Col. William Lee Davidson was given command of the 1st NC Regiment (NC Continental Line), when Col. Thomas Clark was transferred to the 5th NC Regiment. Why he was given command of the regiment and not promoted to full Colonel is lost to history. This Author has never uncovered a reasonable answer to this question, but it also applied later that same year to Lt. Col. Robert Mebane, who was given command of the recreated 3rd NC Regiment and also not promoted to full Colonel.

By the end of 1779, the eintire NC Continental Line was in terrible shape, both in the Northern and Southern theaters. All northern regiments were ordered to march southward and they were in North Carolina by January of 1780 preparing for the anticipated British invasion of Charlestown. Col. Thomas Clark was given command of the 1st NC Regiment once again, and Lt. Col. William Lee Davidson was left without a Continental command. What happened officially is currently not known to this Author.

However, in early 1780, William Lee Davidson showed up as a Colonel leading part of the Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia. It is possible that he was appointed as the second Colonel in the recently-created 2nd Mecklenburg County Regiment, alongside Col. Caleb Phifer, but available records are silent on all of this. It just becomes a fact - there were now four full Colonels leading the large number of Militia units in Mecklenburg County - George Alexander, Robert Irwin, Caleb Phifer, and William Lee Davidson. However, William Lee Davidson refused to give up his commission as a Lt. Colonel in the NC Continental Line - perhaps he merely led part of the Mecklenburg County Regiment as an "Acting Colonel of Militia." However, since he was a Continental officer, most Militia leaders quietly deferred to his judgement and decisions.

Col. William Lee Davidson led part of the Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia at the battle of Colson's Mill on July 21, 1780, where he was severely wounded. A month earlier, he and his men were "hours late" for the famous battle at Ramseur's Mill on June 20, 1780.

On September 5, 1780, the NC General Assembly appointed William Lee Davidson as Brigadier General (Pro Tempore) over the Salisbury District Brigade of Militia, a temporary assignment while Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford was imprisoned as a result of the battle of Camden, SC on August 16, 1780. The NC General Assembly made this appointment knowing full well that the Board of War had earlier appointed Henry William Harrington as Brigadier General (Pro Tempore) in July to lead the Salisbury District Brigade of Militia while Rutherford was marching to join up with Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates. After appointing Davidson, the NC General Assembly and the Board of War never bothered to inform Harrington, who retained his temporary rank until December, when he finally resigned in disgust.

William Lee Davidson acceded to "retirement at half pay for life" on January 1, 1781, and therefore was no longer a NC Continental officer.

Brig. Gen. (Pro Tempore) William Lee Davidson led the Salisbury District Brigade of Militia at the battle of Cowan's Ford on February 1, 1781, where he was killed by a British sniper who was focused on Davidson's blue jacket, part of his Continental uniform that he was so proud to wear. This simple fact is probably what caused his death on that fateful day.

William Lee Davidson, the son of George Davidson and Margaret Ware, was born in 1746 in Lancaster County, PA. He married Mary Brevard on December 10, 1767 in Rowan County, NC, and they had six known children - Margaret Lee, Pamela, John Alexander, Jean, Ephraim Brevard, and William Lee Jr. He was killed on February 1, 1781 at the battle of Cowan's Ford, along the boundary of Lincoln and Mecklenburg County, NC.

Click Here for a brief online biography of William Lee Davidson provided by Wikipedia.com.

Click Here for some genealogical information on William Lee Davidson and his descendents on Rootsweb.


William Lee Davidson was a well-known Patriot leader in the southern Piedmont area. He served as an officer in George Washington's Continental Army at Valley Forge, then led Militia forces in his home state. After British Lt. General Charles, Lord Cornwallis captured Charleston, SC in early 1780, he marched towards North Carolina and attacked Charlotte in September.

Brig. Gen. (Pro Tempore) William Lee Davidson rallied several hundred patriots to battle them at Cowans Ford, slowing the British retreat while American forces retreated to Guilford Court House. The battle that the Americans and British fought there a month later weakened the Redcoats and hastened their surrender.

At the conclusion of the battle of Cowans Ford, searchers found Brig. Gen. Davidson's body stripped naked by the British. His friends and wife buried him hastily by torchlight five miles away at Hopewell Presbyterian Church on Beatties Ford Road, intending to hide the body from British troops who may have sought it for further desecration at his home church, Centre Presbyterian Church.

Davidson College was named in honor of Brig. Gen. William Lee Davidson, a local Revolutionary War hero who died at the battle of Cowan's Ford in 1781. His son, William Lee Davidson II, provided the initial acreage for the college. The descendants of General Davidson have settled throughout the United States, but primarily in Tennessee, North Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, and Florida.


July 21, 1780: Battle at Colson's Mill. About 200 Tories were camped at a farm near Colson's Mill, close to the junction of the Rocky and Pee Dee Rivers. A force of about 400 commanded by Col. William Lee Davidson attacked and defeated them. Of the Patriots, Col. Davidson and one other were wounded. Of the Tories, 3 were killed, 4 to 5 wounded, and 10 taken prisoner.
Davidson County, North Carolina was formed in 1822 from Rowan County. It was named in honor of Brig. Gen. (Pro Tempore) William Lee Davidson, a gallant soldier of the Revolution, who was killed at Cowan's Ford. When Major General Nathanael Greene retreated across North Carolina before Cornwallis in 1781, he stationed troops under Davidson at Cowan's Ford on the Catawba River to delay the British army. The British attacked the Americans, killing Brig. Gen. Williem Lee Davidson, and therefore forced a passage.


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