Alfred Moore, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

May 21, 2014



Alfred Moore was a North Carolina judge who became a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. Moore Square, a park located in the Moore Square Historic District in Raleigh, North Carolina was named in his honor. Moore County, established in 1784, also in the state of North Carolina, is named in his honor.

Moore was born on May 21, 1755, in New Hanover County, North Carolina. Moore’s father, Maurice, preceded him in the practice of law and served as a colonial judge in North Carolina. Alfred was sent to Boston to complete his education, but he returned to North Carolina and read law as an apprentice to his father before being admitted to the bar at the age of twenty.


Portrait of Justice Alfred Moore. No artist information available.

In 1775 the American Revolution broke out and Alfred served as a captain in the First Regiment, North Carolina Line, of which his uncle, James Moore, was colonel, and took part in the defense of Charleston, S.C. in June 1776. He resigned in 1777, but served in the militia against Cornwallis after the Battle of Guilford Court House. The war was costly to the Moore family. British troops captured the Moore plantation and burned the family home, and Alfred’s father, brother, and an uncle were among those who served and died.

At the end of the war Moore was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly, which eventually elected him to serve as Attorney General; a position he held from 1782 to 1791. As Attorney General in 1787 he argued the State’s case in Bayard v. Singleton [I NC (Mart) 5], which as decided (against the State) became an important early instance of the application of judicial review. Moore was an ardent Federalist favoring a strong national government and he took a leading role in securing North Carolina’s ratification of the United States Constitution after the state had initially rejected it in 1788. After North Carolina’s admission to the Union as the 12th state, Moore worked as a lawyer, was active in political affairs, and served as a judge of the superior court in 1798 and 1799. [1] He served in the North Carolina State legislature, but lost by a single vote in his run for the United States Senate.

Moore was nominated by President John Adams to a seat vacated by James Iredell. Moore’s service was terminated on January 26, 1804, due to resignation.

In 1799, Associate Justice James Iredell died suddenly. On December 4, 1799, President Adams responded to the vacancy by nominating Moore, who was then confirmed by the United States Senate on December 10, 1799, receiving his commission the same day. At 4 feet 5 inches tall he is the shortest justice ever to sit on the Supreme Court and, due to poor health, Moore’s contribution to the court was abbreviated. In his five years of service he wrote only one opinion, Bas v. Tingy, upholding a conclusion that France was an enemy in the undeclared Quasi-War of 1798–1799. Moore’s scant contribution led one Court observer to place him atop a list of the worst justices in the history of the Court.[1]

In the early 1780s, he married Suzanne Eagles. After leaving the Supreme Court in 1804, he helped found the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He died in Bladen County, North Carolina, on October 15, 1810. Moore was buried at the St. Philip’s Church at Winnabow, North Carolina, near Wilmington.


The inscription on his gravestone reads:


His summer home, Moorefields, built around 1785 in Orange County, North Carolina near Hillsborough, still stands, and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.


  1. Bernard Schwartz, “Ten Worst Supreme Court Justices”, A Book of Legal Lists (1997)

Brigadier General Jethro Exum Sumner, North Carolina patriot

March 18, 2014

Jethro Exum Sumner was a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.

Sumner was born in Virginia in 1733. He was active in the measures that preceded the Revolution, and in 1760 was paymaster of the provincial troops of North Carolina and commander at Fort Cumberland. He was also a commissioned officer in the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War. In 1776 he was appointed by the Provincial congress colonel of the 3rd North Carolina Regiment, and served under George Washington in the north. He was commissioned brigadier-general by the Continental Congress in 1779, was ordered to join General Horatio Gates in the south, and was at the Battle of Camden in 1780. He then served under General Nathanael Greene, and at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, September 8, 1781, made a bayonet charge, after which he was active in keeping the Tories in check in North Carolina until the close of the war.

Sumner was active after the war in the creation of North Carolina’s chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati, serving as its first president.


He died on March 18, 1785, in Warren County, North Carolina. Sumner County, Tennessee (originally part of North Carolina) was named for him.


Brigadier General William Lee Davidson, killed in action at the Battle of Cowan’s Ford

February 1, 2014

William Lee Davidson was a North Carolina militia general during the American Revolutionary War.


One of General Davidson’s pistols

His father moved with his family to Rowan County, North Carolina, in 1750, and William, the youngest son, born in 1746, was educated at Queen’s Museum (later Liberty Hall) in Charlotte.[1]

Active in the war from the beginning as adjutant to General Griffith Rutherford during the Snow Campaign in December 1775, he was promoted to major of the Fourth Regiment of the North Carolina line in 1776. He marched with the North Carolina line to the north and was at the Battle of Germantown, after which he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel of the Fifth Regiment of the North Carolina line. At Valley Forge with Washington, “Light Horse Harry” Lee, Daniel Morgan and others, he became friends with most of the influential military commanders in the Continental Line. Left without a command he had been ordered out for the purpose of preventing the British from crossing the Catawba. Griffith Rutherford appointed Davidson his second in command. Severely wounded at the Battle of Colson’s Mill on July 21, 1780, he did not participate in the Battle of Camden at which Rutherford was captured. Davidson was promoted to brigadier general and given command of Rutherford’s Salisbury District militia. He participated in resisting the entry of Lord Cornwallis into Charlotte in late September 1780. He was killed at the Battle of Cowan’s Ford in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina on February 1, 1781 while opposing the re-entry of Cornwallis into North Carolina. Davidson’s body was recovered after the battle and was buried at Hopewell Presbyterian Church located on Beatties Ford Road North of Charlotte.[2] [3] [4] [5] [6]


Congress voted $500 for a monument to him, but it has never been erected.[1]


  1. “Davidson, William”. Appletons’ Cyclopædia of American Biography, 1900
  2. William S. Powell, Ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill: 1991), Vol. 2, pp. 27-28
  3. Charles B. Baxley, “Battle of Cowan’s Ford”, SCAR, Vol. 3, No. 2, February 2006, p. 3
  4. Chalmers Davidson. Piedmont Partisan: The Life and Times of Brigadier General William Lee Davidson. Davidson: Davidson College, 1951
  5. O’Kelley, Patrick. Nothing but Blood and Slaughter: The Revolutionary War in the Carolinas: Volume Three 1781., 2005
  6. Muster Roll of 5th NC Division at Valley Forge

Private Isaac Garrison, survey companion of George Washington

January 28, 2014

Isaac Garrison was born in 1732 possibly in North Carolina. As listed in the DAR Patriot Index, Isaac was a recognized patriot in North Carolina during the Revolutionary period. He is on several tax lists for Surry County, North Carolina and also fought as a soldier in the Revolutionary War.

Isaac married his first wife (name unknown) in about 1767 when he would have been 35 years old. They had 4 children: Sarah, Isaac, John, and Mary.

His first wife having died, Isaac was married to Martha (last name unknown) in about 1783 in Surry County, North Carolina. Isaac and Martha had 4 sons and 4 daughters. Only the sons’ names are known: David, Joseph, William, and James.

According to family tradition, Isaac Garrison knew George Washington in his youth and went with him on surveying trips. He is also said to have known Daniel Boone well and supposedly went with him on trips into the Kentucky Territory. It was a source of pride with him that he had come from the same generation as George Washington and Daniel Boone and had outlived both of them.

Isaac Garrison is believed to have first served in the North Carolina troops under either General Francis Nash or Col. Edward Buncombe. Their troops were from Surry, Wilkes, and other Northern counties of North Carolina. And their men served in the Battle of Brandywine on Sept. 11, 1777 and in the Battle of Germantown on Oct. 4, 1777. Both Nash and Buncombe were mortally wounded at Germantown along with six other officers. After the deaths of these two commanders, it is believed that their regiments combined to become the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment.

The Pennsylvania Archives do give record that Isaac Garrison served as a private in Joseph Howell’s Company, 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment from July 1, 1777 to August 1778 when it became Capt. Peter Gosner’s Company. This company served at Valley Forge under General Nathaniel Greene. He continued serving in this company until 1781.

After the Revolutionary War ended, Isaac Garrison was granted land in the Lick Creek area of Rowan and Surry County, North Carolina. He came to own 981 ½ acres of land in Surry County, North Carolina. This land became part of Stokes County in 1789. He sold the last of his North Carolina property in 1791, when he moved to Grayson County, Virginia. He moved back to Stokes County in 1795 but stayed only a short time.

He then went westward to Hawkins County in eastern Tennessee, where he bought land from John Cotteral in 1798. There he purchased 200 acres in Puncheon Camp Valley. Amazingly, he left Hawkins County, Tennessee in 1832 at the age of 100 and came to Missouri with his sons Joseph, James, and William. Joseph settled on the Dry Auglaze in what is now Camden County. The other two settled in Greene County, Missouri, in a place known as “The Rich Woods” on Finley Creek, northwest of the present site of Ozark. This is where the Richwood Cemetery got its name in later years.

After 4 years of living in southwest Missouri, Isaac Garrison died in 1836 in what was Greene County, Missouri and now is in Christian County. He was 104 years old at his death. His marker is in the southwest corner of the Richwood Cemetery.


Monument to Isaac Garrison

The monument currently at Isaac’s grave, was placed there by Jack Farthing of Ozark, Darrell Garrison, and other members of the Isaac Garrison Family Association in about 1976. The DAR marker was placed by the Meyongo Chapter of DAR from Buffalo in about 1990. About 20 Garrison descendants were present at that grave marking ceremony. Ozark Mountain Chapter SAR held a dedication service on November 19, 1994 (an SAR insignia had been placed at his grave several years earlier.)

Source: RootsWeb

Archibald Maclaine, North Carolina Federalist

December 9, 2013

By Jessica Lee Thompson, North Carolina History Project

An influential supporter of the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, Archibald Maclaine may have been even more influential if not for his defense of Tories within the state. One of the original trustees of the University of North Carolina, Maclaine was known for his belief in the law and order and for his willingness to stand in the minority for issues he supported.

Although his father was of Scottish decent, Maclaine was born in Banbridge, Ireland on December 9, 1728. As a young man, Maclaine worked as a mercantile apprentice until he moved to America at age twenty-one. Originally landing in Philadelphia in June 1750, Maclaine left for Cape Fear, North Carolina the following month. On November 6, 1752, Maclaine married Elizabeth (Polly) Rowan, the stepdaughter of acting governor (1753-1754), Matthew Rowan, in Wilmington.


Sketch of Archibald Maclaine by Henry Bone after Unknown artist (1807) courtesy National Portrait Gallery

Maclaine worked in Wilmington as a merchant but his business eventually failed when his partner, John Maclaine, died. Shortly afterward, Maclaine studied law, despite his alleged minimal formal education. Maclaine quickly became an influential barrister in the colony and was appointed as a clerk for the Supreme Court.

Although Maclaine greatly respected many of the political officials under the British crown (such as his stepfather, Matthew Rowan), Maclaine defended the Patriot cause early and opposed the government’s actions during the Stamp Act crisis. In 1774 Maclaine served on the committee that issued Wilmington residents’ call for a Provincial Congress, was elected to that congress in 1775 and 1776, and was a member of the Safety Committee in 1776. Also in 1776, Maclaine sat on the committee responsible for drafting the constitution and the Bill of Rights. Maclaine served a member of the General Assembly from 1780 to 18781 and again from 1783 to 1787. Maclaine was nominated twice to serve as a delegate to the Continental Congress but he refused the proposal both times.

While Maclaine clearly stood with the Patriot cause, he also faced political repercussions for his opinions on how North Carolina law should treat Tories and Loyalist. For instance, during an August 1782 session of court in Bladen County, Maclaine was assaulted while defending a loyalist in court. A North Carolina Continental officer, Robert Raiford, burst into the Bladen County Court House at the head of thirty men and provided testimony that clerk John White was rumored to be “a damned Tory.” Maclaine believed that Raiford was drunk and told the sitting justices that Raiford’s remarks were “highly derogatory to its [the court's] Dignity, and that Rayford should be reproved.” Raiford then attacked Maclaine with a “horseman’s sword” which led to a small riot in the courthouse that left Maclaine with serious injuries.

The mob beat the court clerk for no apparent reason and then moved the riot out into the street. After electing “field officers,” the mob marched around the county apprehending Loyalists without any orders from a higher commanding officer.

A warrant was issued for Raiford’s arrest, but he had returned to Maj. Gen. Greene’s army where he had been put in command of the light infantry. A year later, Raiford was brought to trial, but he was acquitted.

Maclaine also associated himself with the Tory cause spending time and political capital in an attempt to obtain a safe return to North Carolina for his stepson, George Hooper, who had fled the state at the onset of the war.

Maclaine backed North Carolina’s participation in a constitutional convention and in 1788 he served as a delegate to the Hillsborough convention. Maclaine supported adoption of the constitution and voted in the minority at the Hillsborough convention. Maclaine wrote pamphlets arguing in favor of the adoption of the constitution under the pen name, “Publicola.”

Maclaine passed away on December 20, 1790, at his home in Wilmington. His daughter and son-in-law, Catherine and George Hooper, inherited Maclaine’s estate with a bequest for his wife.


John R. Maass, “The Cure for All Our Political Calamities: Archibald Maclaine and the Politics of Moderation in Revolutionary North Carolina”, The North Carolina Historical Review 85 (July, 2008); William Powell ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography: Vol. 4 L-O (Chapel Hill, 1996).

General Elijah Clarke, leader of Southern "frontier guerillas" against the British

December 5, 2013

Elijah Clarke (sometimes spelled Clark) was born in 1742 in Anson County, North Carolina, but some sources place his birth in 1736. He was the son of John Clarke of Anson County, North Carolina. He married Hannah Harrington around 1763. As an impoverished, illiterate frontiersman, he appeared in the ceded lands, on what was then the northwestern frontier of Georgia, in 1773.

Clarke was a Continental Army officer and hero in the American Revolutionary War. He fought in the southern theater and in the Battle of Kettle Creek.


Elijah Clarke, by Rembrandt Peele, courtesy University of Georgia

Clarke’s name appears on a petition in support of the king’s government in 1774. However, he subsequently joined the rebels and, as a militia captain, received a wound fighting the Cherokees in 1776. The following year, he commanded militia against Creek raiders. As a lieutenant colonel in the state minutemen, Clarke received another wound at the Battle of Alligator Bridge, Florida. Then on February 14, 1779, as a lieutenant colonel of militia, Clarke led a charge in the rebel victory at Kettle Creek, Georgia.

All of Georgia and most of South Carolina fell to the British in 1780. Elijah Clarke and thirty men passed through the Native American lands to continue the fight in the Carolinas. As a partisan, Clarke led frontier guerrillas in inflicting a heavy toll against the British and American Loyalists at Musgrove’s Mill, Cedar Springs, Wofford’s Iron Works, Augusta, Fishdam Ford, Long Cane, and Blackstocks. Although he was not present at the battles at King’s Mountain and Cowpens, his campaigns were partially responsible for both of those major patriot victories. Besides receiving several battle wounds, Clarke also survived smallpox and the mumps during the Revolution. The state of Georgia rewarded his services with a plantation. He also obtained thousands of acres of land grants, some by questionable methods, and participated in the notorious Yazoo land fraud of the 1790s.


After the war Clarke served in the state assembly from 1781 to 1790, on the commission of confiscated estates, and in the state constitutional convention of 1789. He also acted as a commissioner for Georgia’s treaties with Native American groups. As a general of militia, he led his men in defeating the Creeks at Jack’s Creek, in present-day Walton County, on September 21, 1787. However, Clarke grew impatient with the failures of the national and state government to bring peace to the frontier and took matters into his own hands. He tried to form an independent republic, known today as the Trans-Oconee Republic, by seizing Creek lands on the Oconee frontier. At least twice, he became involved in plots to invade neighboring Spanish East Florida.

Disenchanted with a settled Georgia, discredited, and almost bankrupt, Elijah Clarke died in Augusta on December 5, 1799. His burial site is now the Elijah Clarke State Park near Lincolnton, Georgia.


Elijah Clark State Park, Lincolnton, Georgia

Clarke County, on the former Oconee frontier, is named for him. Several of his descendants have been prominent in politics, including his son John Clark, governor of Georgia from 1819 to 1823.


  1. George R. Lamplugh, Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806, Newark, University of Delaware Press, 1986, pp. 64-68


  • New Georgia Encyclopedia, History & Archaeology, 1733-1775
  • Edwin Bridges, “To Establish a Separate and Independent Government,” Furman Review 5 (1974): 11-17
  • Louise F. Hays, “Chronology of Georgia, 1773-1800,” typescript, Georgia Department of Archives and History, Atlanta

Leonard Henderson, North Carolina jurist

October 6, 2013

Leonard Henderson was an American jurist who served as Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court from 1829 to 1833, and an associate judge of that court beforehand.

Henderson was born in Granville County, North Carolina on October 6, 1772. His father, Richard Henderson, was a pioneer, state Superior Court judge and politician. His brother, Archibald Henderson, was a state legislator and member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He read law under his father’s cousin, Judge John Williams.

On November 3, 1795, he was married to Frances Farrar, the niece of his law mentor, Judge Williams. The couple had four sons and two daughters: Archibald Erskine, William Farrar, MD, John Leonard, Richard, Frances Taylor and Lucy Sneed.

Henderson served as a state superior court judge from 1808 until 1816. When the North Carolina General Assembly created the state Supreme Court in 1818, it elected Henderson as one of the first members of the three-judge court. The judges of the Court elected Henderson their Chief in 1829 after the death of Chief Justice Taylor. Henderson was also a trustee of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Judge Henderson died in Williamsboro, in what is today Vance County, North Carolina, on August 13, 1833. He is buried in the Williams Family Cemetery at Henderson, Vance County, North Carolina.


Henderson, North Carolina; Hendersonville, North Carolina; and Henderson County, North Carolina are named for him.


  • The Heritage of Vance County. Vance County Historical Society. 1984. page 24
  • North Carolina Reports, NC Supreme Court, 1919

Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford

August 10, 2013

Griffith Rutherford was an officer in the American Revolution, a political leader in North Carolina, and an important figure in the early history of the Southwest Territory and the state of Tennessee.

During the French and Indian War, Rutherford became a captain of a local British colonial militia. He continued serving in the militia until the start of the revolution in 1775, at which time he enlisted in the North Carolina militia as a colonel. He was appointed to the post of brigadier general of the “Salisbury District” in May 1776, and participated in the initial phases of the Chickamauga Wars against the Cherokee Indians along the frontier. In June 1780, he was partly responsible for the Loyalist defeat in the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill. Rutherford was present at the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780, where he was taken prisoner by the British. After being exchanged in 1781, Rutherford participated in several other campaigns, including further attacks on the Chickamauga faction of the Cherokee.

Originally from Ireland, Rutherford immigrated with his parents to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Colony, at the age of eighteen. In 1753 he moved to Rowan County, in the Province of North Carolina, where he married Elizabeth Graham. An active member of his community, Rutherford served in multiple civil occupations. He was a representative of both houses of the North Carolina House of Commons, as well as an unsuccessful candidate for governor. Rutherford was an advocate of the anti-federalist movement, and was appointed President of the Legislative Council of the Southwest Territory in 1794. Rutherford retired to Sumner County, Tennessee, where he died on August 10, 1805, at the age of 84.



Memorial for Griffith Rutherford in Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Little is known about Griffith Rutherford’s early life. Born in Ireland in either 1721 or 1731[1] to John Rutherford, who was of Scots-Irish descent, and Elizabeth (née Griffin), who was of Welsh descent,[2] he appears clearly in records after his immigration to Philadelphia at the age of eighteen.[3] His parents died during the voyage from Ireland, and for a while he worked on a relative’s farm,[3] where he was taught how to survey land.[4] Around 1753, he moved to Rowan County, North Carolina Colony, and bought a tract of land about seven miles from Salisbury, the first of several land purchases he made during the 1750s.[5] In the following year he married his neighbor’s sister, Elizabeth Graham, who bore him ten children.[2][6] One of their sons, James Rutherford, later became a major during the Revolutionary War, dying in the Battle of Eutaw Springs.[7] Rutherford also became friends with Daniel Boone, with whom he often went on hunting and surveying expeditions.[8] After the French and Indian War, Rutherford became increasingly active in the community. He is listed as a member of the North Carolina General Assembly in 1766, a sheriff and justice of the peace of Rowan County from 1767 to 1769, and a tax collector.[9]

Rutherford began his long career as a soldier in 1760 during the French and Indian War. He was a participant of several battles and skirmishes during the war, most notably the Battle of Fort Duquesne (1758); the battle at Fort Dobbs (1760); and James Grant’s campaign against the Cherokee in the southern Appalachians (1761). By the end of the war, he had achieved the rank of captain.[10] Between 1769 and 1771, he embraced the cause against the rebels during the Regulator Movement, eventually commanding a local militia which participated in the Battle of Alamance (May 16, 1771). The following month, Rutherford retired to Salem to recover from an acute attack of gout.[11]

Rutherford entered the war in 1775 as a colonel in the North Carolina militia following his appointment to the Rowan County Committee of Safety.[12] Throughout that year, his regiment helped to disarm and disperse Loyalist groups in the South Carolina back country, most notably during the Snow Campaign in Ninety Six, South Carolina.[13] Rutherford represented Rowan County at the Fourth Provincial Congress in Halifax from April 4 to May 14, 1776, during which he helped develop and write the North Carolina Constitution and was promoted to brigadier general of the Salisbury District.[3][14] In the summer following the conference, he raised an army of 2,400 men to campaign against local Cherokee Indians,[14] who had been attacking colonists on the western frontier since their alliance with the British.

Rutherford’s regiment rendezvoused at Fort McGahey with the Guilford and Surry regiments under Colonels James Martin and Martin Armstrong on July 23.[14] From there, the three groups traveled through the Blue Ridge Mountains at the Swannanoa Gap, passed up the valley of Hominy Creek, and crossed the Pigeon River. They then passed through Richland Creek, near the present day town of Waynesville, North Carolina, and crossed the Tuckasegee River near an Indian settlement. They moved further onwards towards the Cowee Gap, where they had a small engagement with a band of Cherokee, in which one of Rutherford’s men was wounded. After that conflict, they marched to the Overhill Cherokee “Middle Towns” (on the Tennessee River), where he met General Andrew Williamson of South Carolina on September 14.[15] Williamson was on a similar mission and readily joined forces with the original three regiments.[15]


Map of the route taken by Rutherford, known today as the Rutherford Trace

The now four regiments skirmished with hostile Indians at Valley Town, Ellijay, and near the southern Watauga settlements (present day northeast Tennessee). Eventually, the Indian tribes were subdued at the cost of three fatalities to Rutherford’s regiment.[15] Casualties to the Indians, however, were severe. By the end of the conflict, the four regiments had destroyed 36 Indian towns, decimated acres of corn farms, and chased off most of the Indians’ cattle.[16] Afterward, Rutherford returned home by the same route.[15] He arrived back in Salisbury in October, where he disbanded his troops.[15]

British strategists viewed the Southern colonies, especially lightly populated Georgia, as the most vulnerable of all. Despite early victories won by the Patriots at Charleston and other settlements, the South became the focus of English attack starting in 1778. Governor Richard Caswell of North Carolina identified this threat and immediately ordered militia to regroup. Rutherford, who had been checking on Loyalists since his return to Salisbury in 1776, received word of this by October.[17] Governor Caswell and Rutherford met in Kingston, North Carolina, on November 25 to discuss the specifics of Rutherford’s assignment. Apparently a fleet of British ships were en route from New York, heavily endangering key coastal cities. Rutherford was able to amass a force which reached the border of South Carolina by early December. They proceeded to establish headquarters near Savannah in Purrysburg, South Carolina, the following month.[18]

With the cities of Savannah and Augusta taken by February, the campaign was severely weakened. Rutherford moved his troops near Augusta, where he supported General John Ashe during the Battle of Brier Creek on March 3.[19] Soldiers’ enlistments soon began expiring; by April 10 most of Rutherford’s forces returned to North Carolina.[20]

The loss of Charleston in 1780 was a huge blow to the Patriot cause and posed a significant threat to neighboring North Carolina, which lacked adequate defenses due to expiring enlistments. Rutherford saw this danger, calling back his remaining troops stationed in South Carolina and ordering all soldiers from Salisbury to rally near Charlotte, North Carolina. A force of 900 had accumulated by early June.[21][22]

After rallying troops at Charlotte, Rutherford received information that Loyalists were gathering at arms at Ramsour’s Mill—near present day Lincolnton, North Carolina—and issued orders for local officers to disperse the group before they evolved into an even greater threat. After collecting troops from Rowan and Mecklenburg counties, Rutherford moved his men to the Catawba River and crossed it at the Tuckasegee Ford on June 19. He sent word to Colonel Francis Locke, of Rowan County, to rendezvous with him about 16 miles (26 km) from Ramsour’s Mill, near the forks of the Catawba.[23] Locke accumulated a force of 400 men and encamped at Mountain Creek, which was 35 miles away from Rutherford’s position, though still approximately the same distance from Ramsour’s Mill as Rutherford’s position was. It was resolved by Locke and his officers that a junction with Rutherford was unrealistic given the distance between the two regiments and the limited amount of time before the Loyalist group grew too large to safely engage. Therefore, it was decided Locke’s forces would attack the Loyalist’s position immediately. Colonel Johnson, one of Locke’s subordinates, informed Rutherford of the new situation by 10:00 pm.[21]

Locke’s forces left their encampment late in the evening of June 19; arriving at the Loyalist position by early morning, June 20. The Patriots took the Loyalists by surprise. While at first bewildered and confused, the Loyalists retaliated by firing at Locke’s cavalry, who were forced to fall back. The Patriots eventually forced the Loyalists to retreat to their camp, though it was discovered that they were regrouping on the other side of the mill stream. At this point, since an immediate attack from the Loyalists was expected, messages were sent to Rutherford, who had advanced to within six miles of Ramsour’s, to immediately move forward.[23] Rutherford met Locke within 2 miles of Ramsour’s, where he was informed that the Loyalists were in full retreat.[23]


Battle of Camden. Rutherford and other North Carolina militia were positioned in the center of the American formation.

The losses at Savannah, Charleston and the Battle of Waxhaws had practically driven the Continental Army from the South. State defenses had been reduced to a number of partisan militia companies led by local leaders. In response to the loss of military presence, Congress sent Horatio Gates, who had distinguished himself at Saratoga, to reform the Continental Army in Charlotte, North Carolina.[24] Against the advice of his officers and without knowing the capabilities of his troops—some of which were untested in battle—Gates marched toward South Carolina on July 27 with a force of over 4,000 men. He aimed at capturing the crossroads town of Camden, North Carolina, which would have provided the Continental Army with a strategic control point for the South Carolina back country. Lord Rawdon, who was stationed there with 1,000 men, alerted Lord Cornwallis of Gates’ movements on August 9. Cornwallis arrived at Camden by August 13 with reinforcements, increasing the British presence there to over 2,000 men.[25]

The battle ensued at dawn on August 16, 1780. Rutherford was positioned in the center of the Continental formation with other North Carolina militia. During the battle, he was wounded and taken prisoner. He was detained for ten months at Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, Florida, and was later exchanged for another prisoner in 1781.[26][27]

Following his release, Rutherford returned to Salisbury in September 1781 to find his home ransacked by British troops.[27] In the summer of 1781, after a short reunion with his family, Rutherford took command of a North Carolina militia numbering 1,400 men. After training his new militia, he allegedly began to brutally attack Tory militias and communities alike—this according to several reports sent to his superior, General Greene.[28] This was much to the dismay of Greene, who told Rutherford that these methods would only bring more people to the Loyalist cause and that he should consider alternative strategies.[29] While these reports were later found to be untrue, Rutherford decided to redirect his forces from small Loyalist militias to the British encampment and surrounding militias at Wilmington, North Carolina, beginning with the Loyalist force at Raft Swamp.[30] During October and November, Rutherford continued to force the Loyalists into Wilmington, and eventually surrounded the city, successfully cutting off British communications and supply lines. The commanding British officer, Major Craig, was soon afterward informed of Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, and his forces at Wilmington were hastily evacuated.[15][31]

In 1782, following his success at Wilmington, Rutherford again fought the Chickamauga in the west.[3] He followed the same route he had taken seven years before, which his soldiers had marked. No known accounts were written of the campaign, though in the end it was a success.[32]

Rutherford had been elected to North Carolina’s senate in 1779 and continued to serve in this position until 1789. He was opposed to the restoration of Loyalist lands and supported and assisted in their confiscation while serving on the Council of State. Rutherford ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1783. He was an ardent anti-federalist during the national debate of the recently created United States Constitution. At the Constitutional Convention held at Hillsborough, North Carolina in 1788, he had reservations about the Constitution—as did other anti-federalists at the meeting. Rutherford asked if he could challenge some of the clauses.[33] While each clause was able to be challenged individually, regardless of opposition from federalist, Samuel Johnston, and others, Rutherford rarely spoke during the meetings.[33] His final decision to vote against the ratification of the Constitution led to the loss of his seat in the state senate. However, his reputation with his colleagues was relatively unaffected, and he was elected Councilor of the State.[34]

Rutherford acquired nearly 13,000 acres of Washington District land through trading off his 700 acres in Salisbury, government grants and purchasing Continental soldier’s tracts.[35] With his family and eight slaves Rutherford relocated to this area, in what is today Sumner County, Tennessee, in September 1792. Two years later, he was appointed President of the Legislative Council of the Southwest Territory.[26]

Rutherford died in Sumner County, Tennessee, on August 10, 1805.[36] He is buried in the Shiloh Presbyterian Church Cemetery at Rogna in Sumner County, Tennessee.


Griffith Rutherford’s grave marker in Shiloh Presbyterian Church Cemetery

These areas are all namesakes of Griffith Rutherford:[16]

  • Rutherfordton, North Carolina
  • Rutherford County, North Carolina
  • Rutherford County, Tennessee


  1. MacDonald p. 11
  2. Ashe p. 381
  3. Wakelyn p. 176
  4. MacDonald p. 13
  5. MacDonald p. 21
  6. MacDonald p. 22
  7. Ashe p. 382
  8. MacDonald p. 20
  9. Clark p. 575
  10. MacDonald p. 28
  11. MacDonald p. 50
  12. MacDonald p. 55
  13. MacDonald p. 56
  14. Hunter p. 176
  15. Hunter p. 177
  16. Wheeler p. 384
  17. MacDonald pp. 113–114
  18. MacDonald p. 118
  19. MacDonald p. 119
  20. MacDonald p. 121
  21. Lossing p. 597
  22. MacDonald p. 125
  23. Russell p. 154
  24. Harrison pp. 107–108
  25. Murray p. 50
  26. Hunter p. 178
  27. MacDonald p. 138
  28. MacDonald pp. 143–145
  29. MacDonald pp. 143–146
  30. MacDonald p. 147
  31. MacDonald pp. 151–152
  32. MacDonald p. 161
  33. MacDonald p. 168
  34. MacDonald p. 169
  35. MacDonald p. 176
  36. Macdonald p. 179


The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill

June 20, 2013

The Battle of Ramsour’s Mill took place on June 20, 1780, near present-day Lincolnton, North Carolina, during the British campaign to gain control of the southern colonies in the American Revolution. About 400 American militia defeated 1,300 Loyalist militiamen. The battle did not involve any regular army forces from either side, and was literally fought between neighbors. Despite being outnumbered, the Patriot militia defeated the Loyalists.

The battle was significant in that it lowered the morale of Loyalists in the south, weakening their support of the British.


American General Griffith Rutherford, encamped near Charlotte, North Carolina, learned on June 18, 1780 that a body of Loyalists was assembling at Ramsour’s Mill, to the west of Charlotte, near present-day Lincolnton.[2] Rutherford began moving his forces in that direction, and sent a message on June 19 to Lieutenant Colonel Francis Locke of the North Carolina militia and several other area militia leaders call up their men.

Locke had already gathered 400 men at Mountain Creek, about 16 miles from Ramsour’s Mill. Their intelligence told them that the Loyalist force was more than three times their size, but a decision was made to attack early the next day without receiving word of Rutherford’s movement. By daybreak on June 20 they were one mile from the Loyalist camp, which was on a hill about 300 yards east of the mill.

Loyalist John Moore had served with the British at the Siege of Charleston and returned to his home a few miles from Ramsour’s Mill with tales of battle. He called together a group of about 40 Loyalists on June 10 and shared with them instructions from Cornwallis that they should avoid organizing before British troops entered the area. News came to this meeting that a group of about twenty Patriots was looking for Moore and other Loyalist leaders. Moore and his men decided to find and confront them, but were unsuccessful. Moore told his men to return home, and instructed them to join him in a few days at Ramsour’s Mill. On June 13, 200 men arrived there, and the number grew in the following days, buoyed by news of the British victory at Waxhaws. By June 20, the encampment had grown to about 1,300 men.[3]

When the cavalry leading the Patriot column approached, the guards posted on the road fired their weapons and retreated to join their main body. After an initial cavalry charge, the Patriot infantry moved up. In the confusion of the battle, the Patriots were able to turn the Loyalist flank and gain control of the ridge. General Rutherford, then only a few miles from Ramsour’s Mill, received word of the action and immediately dispatched his cavalry to assist and hurried the infantry along.

According to firsthand accounts on file in the National Archives:[4]

Atop the ridge, Colonel Francis Locke was unable to reform his line and ordered a retreat. However, Captain John Dickey disobeyed Colonel Locke’s orders to retreat and led his company to an advantageous position, where their marksmanship soon turned the battle into victory. When ordered by his superior officer, Colonel Locke, to retreat, he soundly swore (Presbyterian elder that he was), that he would not retreat. Captain Dickey was credited with saving the day at the Battle of Ramsour’s Mill.

The soldiers thereupon composed a ballad, which for many years was sung about the countryside in the old man’s honor. Only one verse of this song is preserved in the National Archives in Washington:

“Old Colonel Locke kept pretty well back,

While brave Captain Dickey commenced the attack.

He, Colonel Locke, ordered us to retreat and reform,

Which made our old hero mightily storm.”

One affidavit in the National Archives Pension Files recites that Captain Dickey called out, “Shoot straight, my boys, and keep on fighting; I see some of them beginning to tumble.”

The Loyalists were in disarray and many fled. When Rutherford reached the field he was met by a white flag, where the Loyalists requested a truce in order to deal with the dead and wounded. Rutherford, whose entire force had not yet arrived, demanded an immediate surrender. In the time that the discussions went on, most of the remaining Loyalists fled, and only 50 were taken prisoner.

Casualties were difficult to accurately assign to each side since almost no one was wearing any sort of uniform. Estimates place the number of dead on each side at 50 to 70, with about 100 wounded per side. The battle, in which muskets were reportedly sometimes used as clubs due to the shortage of ammunition, was reported to be fought between “neighbors, near relations, and friends”.[5]

The battle so badly demoralized the area Loyalists that they never organized again in that area. Moore and about 30 men joined Cornwallis at Camden, where Moore was threatened with charges for disobeying Cornwallis.


  1. National Archives Revolutionary War Pension and Service Records
  2. Moore, p. 266
  3. Russell, pp. 153-154
  4. National Archives: Revolutionary War Pension application W3962 and firsthand affidavits from the Pension Files
  5. Russell, p. 154


  • The Concise Illustrated History of the American Revolution; Eastern Acorn Press, 1972. The National Historic Society.
  • Moore, John Wheeler (1880). History of North Carolina: from the earliest discoveries to the present time, Volume 1. Alfred Williams.,M1.
  • Russell, David Lee (2000). The American Revolution in the Southern colonies. McFarland. ISBN 9780786407835.
  • National Archives: Revolutionary War Pension application W3962 and firsthand affidavits from the Pension Files

The Mecklenburg Resolves

May 31, 2013

The Mecklenburg Resolves, or Charlotte Town Resolves, was a list of statements adopted at Charlotte, in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina on May 31, 1775; drafted in the month following the fighting at Lexington and Concord. Similar lists of resolves were issued by other local colonial governments at that time, none of which called for independence from Britain. It is argued that the Mecklenburg Resolves have been mistaken for the unproven “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.”

The Mecklenburg Resolves document was created by the Mecklenburg Committee of Safety on or after May 20, 1775 and adopted by that same committee on May 31, 1775.[1] This was just weeks after what are now considered the first battles in the American War for Independence at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.


The date of a Mecklenburg Declaration is immortalized on the flag of North Carolina.

The Resolves proclaimed that “all Laws…derived from the Authority of the King or Parliament, are annulled and vacated,” and that the Provincial government “under the Great Continental Congress is invested with all legislative and executive Powers…and that no other Legislative or Executive does or can exist, at this Time, in any of these Colonies.”[2][3]

Captain James Jack is reputed to have relayed The Resolves document to the North Carolina delegation made up of Richard Caswell, William Hooper, and Joseph Hewes meeting at the Continental Congress. There, the delegates received it, but decided not to present it at that time to the Congress as a whole.[4] These resolves were drafted only a month following the outbreak of civil unrest at Lexington and Concord. Similar lists of resolves were issued by other localities at the time and throughout the next 14 months (such as the Tryon Resolves in then neighboring Tryon County). None of these actually called for independence.[5]

The Mecklenburg Resolves left the door open to a reconciliation if Parliament were to “resign its unjust and arbitrary Pretentions [sic] with respect to America”, in which case the resolutions would no longer be in force. Although a display of defiance, the Mecklenburg Resolves were not, by any means, a declaration that the people of Mecklenburg County were free and independent of The Crown.[5]

The original ratified document of the “Mecklenberg Resolves” (or alleged “Mecklenburg Declaration”) was said to have burned in an 1800 fire at a private residence where it was being kept.[4][6]

There are no published extemporaneous accounts of who signed the Mecklenburg Resolves.


Seal of North Carolina showing date of the Mecklenburg Resolves.

Proof that the Mecklenburg Resolves existed was acquired in the mid-19th century. In 1838, the case for the authenticity of the Mecklenburg Resolves, as opposed to a declaration of independence; was bolstered with the discovery by historian Peter Force of an abbreviated list of resolutions adopted in Mecklenburg County on May 31, 1775. These differed widely from the purported text of the alleged declaration of May 20.[7] Then, in 1847, the complete text of The Resolves was found in the archives of the South Carolina Gazette. The newspaper had reported the committee’s result and published the text, on June 13, 1775. The article gave the date of adoption of the Mecklenburg Resolves as May 31, 1775.[8] It also did not list any of the signers.

According to North Carolinian folklore, citizens of Mecklenburg County assembled in Charlotte on May 20, 1775, and wrote a declaration of independence from Britain, known as the “Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence”. Some claim it to be the first ‘declaration of independence’ in America.[4] Such a declaration would have antedated the less freedom-seeking Resolves by eleven days (a contradiction in logic); and would have preceded the Declaration of Independence by over a year.

Conclusive evidence of an independence-seeking document has not been found, even in extant newspapers of the time.[5]

Following the 1800 fire, several reported attempts at that time to re-create the text of the burned document added to the confusion and controversy. This is especially true because some of the “re-created text” now borrowed actual passages from the United States Declaration of Independence. The text of the supposed declaration was created not only from an attempted reconstruction cobbled together decades after the events of 1775 from the memories of the few surviving signers (including John McKnitt Alexander), but also from the descendants of the May 1775 drafting committee relying on passed-down family lore.[9]

Many historians believe the story of a declaration of freedom was concocted by surviving document signers many years after the event, who were simply embellishing–or mistakenly remembering–the actual events surrounding the adoption of the Mecklenburg Resolves. Following the fire that destroyed the originals, references to the Resolves and the Declaration are used increasingly more interchangeably, until the time of the Massachusetts Essex Register News publication (1819) of the purported text of a “Declaration”. The background information for this article was also supplied by McKnitt’s son—two years after his death. Each statement printed in the Essex Register article begins with the word, ‘Resolved’. The article was denounced as a hoax at the time by Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.[4]

The controversy over the Mecklenburg Declaration entered a new phase with the discovery of the text of Mecklenburg Resolves. It was then asked how can one account for two very different sets of resolutions supposedly adopted only eleven days apart by the same committee? How was it possible that citizens of Mecklenburg County declared independence on May 20, and then met again on May 31, to pass less revolutionary resolutions? For skeptics of the Mecklenburg Declaration, the answer was that the Declaration was a misdated, inaccurate recreation of the authentic Resolves. Supporters of the Declaration maintain that both documents are genuine, and were adopted to serve different purposes.[10]

Nonetheless, the North Carolina government has endorsed the story, and the date of the Mecklenburg Declaration, and not the “Mecklenburg Resolves” is memorialized on the State Seal and the North Carolina Flag (see illustrations).[5]


  1. A Study of Evidence, at eBooks on-line
  2. Mecklenburg Resolves, Preamble and Resolution 2; in Legette Blythe’s and Charles Raven Brockman’s Hornet’s Nest: The Story of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County (Charlotte, NC: Public Library of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, 1961) p.429
  3. “The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence”; Henderson; The Journal of American History; 1912. Henderson notes that it had been previously thought that Governor Martin had sent a copy of the Mecklenburg Declaration on to England, but it is “now established beyond doubt” that he had sent a copy of the Resolves.
  4. Graham, George Washington (1905). The Mecklenburg Declaration Of Independence, May 20, 1775, And Lives Of Its Signers. The Neale Publishing Company. Retrieved 3 February 2011.
  5. Mecklenburg Resolutions Reject the Power of the British in North Carolina; History Channel on-line
  6. Note: Six additional official copies of the document that the state was keeping in storage along with the original version of The Resolves also burned.
  7. Hoyt, Mecklenburg Declaration, 18.
  8. Hoyt, Mecklenburg Declaration, 18–19.
  9. Note: After the original documents relating to the Mecklenburg Resolves were destroyed by fire in 1800, Alexander attempted to recreate them from memory. Alexander made some rough notes which still survive (internal evidence indicates that these notes were written after the 1800 fire). Like some of his contemporaries, Alexander mistakenly remembered the radical Mecklenburg Resolves as being an actual declaration of independence. This misconception led Alexander (or perhaps another unknown writer), to borrow language from Jefferson’s well-known Declaration of Independence when attempting to recreate the Mecklenburg Declaration as was written in his rough notes. Also, the eleven day discrepancy between the two documents (May 20 and May 31) may be the result from some confusion in reconciling Old Style and New Style dates. See Hoyt; Mecklenburg Declaration; Pp: 28–30, 140–41, 150, 160, 171.
  10. Hoyt; Mecklenburg Declaration.


  • Hoyt, William Henry; The Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence: A Study of Evidence Showing that the Alleged Early Declaration of Independence is Spurious; New York; Knickerbocker Press; 1907.

Battle of Alamance: the first battle of the American Revolution?

May 16, 2013

The Battle of Alamance was the final battle of the War of the Regulation, a rebellion in colonial North Carolina over issues of taxation and local control. In the past, historians considered the battle to be the opening salvo of the American Revolution[1] and locals agreed with this assessment.[2] However, modern historians reject this, since there does not seem to have been any intent to rebel against the king or crown, merely to protest taxation and corrupt local government.[3][4] Named for nearby Great Alamance Creek, the battle took place in what was then Orange County and has since become Alamance County in the central Piedmont about six miles south of present-day Burlington, North Carolina.


Site of the Battle of Alamance, including red flags marking militia positions, the 1880 monument to the battle, the visitor center of Alamance Battleground.

In the spring of 1771, Governor William Tryon left New Bern, mustering and marching approximately 1,000 militia troops west to address a rebellion that had been brewing in western counties for several years, but which had included only minor, scattered acts of violence, followed by refusal to pay fees, disruption of court proceedings, and continued harassment of government officials. About 2,000 so-called Regulators had gathered, hoping to gain concessions from the governor by intimidating him with a show of superior force. Funded by council member and wealthy merchant Samuel Cornell for £6,000,[5] on May 11, Tryon left the county seat of Hillsborough with his militia to confront the Regulators, who had made camp south of Great Alamance Creek in western Orange County (present-day Alamance County).[6]

On the evening of May 15, Tryon received word that the Regulators were camped about six miles away. The next morning, at about 8:00, Tryon’s troops set out to a field about one-half mile from the camp of the Regulators. He formed two lines, and divided his artillery between the wings and the center of the first line. The Regulators remained disorganized, with no leadership – no officer ranked higher than Captain – and no anticipation of an attack, expecting that their superior numbers would frighten Tryon’s militia.

Tryon sent one of his aide-de-camps, Captain Philmore Hawkins, and the Sheriff of Orange County with a proclamation:

Alamance Camp, Thursday, May 16th, 1771.

To Those Who Style Themselves “Regulators”: In reply to your petition of yesterday, I am to acquaint you that I have ever been attentive to the interests of your County and to every individual residing therein. I lament the fatal necessity to which you have now reduced me by withdrawing yourselves from the mercy of the crown and from the laws of your country. To require you who are now assembled as Regulators, to quietly lay down your arms, to surrender up your leaders, to the laws of your country and rest on the leniency of the Government. By accepting these terms within one hour from the delivery of this dispatch, you will prevent an effusion of blood, as you are at this time in a state of REBELLION against your King, your country, and your laws.

(Signed) William Tryon.

While the terms were being read, Tryon’s troops began to move forward. Shortly after that, Tryon was informed the Regulators had rejected his terms. Herman Husband, a Quaker, realizing violence was about to take place, left the area.

By midday the hour had expired, Tryon sent one final warning:

GENTLEMEN AND REGULATORS: Those of you who are not too far committed should desist and quietly return to your homes, those of you who have laid yourselves liable should submit without resistance. I and others promise to obtain for you the best possible terms. The Governor will grant you nothing. You are unprepared for war! You have no cannon! You have no military training! You have no commanding officers to lead you in battle. You have no ammunition. You will be defeated!

Some of the Regulators petitioned the governor to give up seven captured Regulators in exchange for two of his men the Regulators had captured the previous day. Tryon agreed, but after a half an hour, the captured officers did not appear. He became suspicious his positions were being flanked and ordered the militia to march within 30 yards of the Regulators.[7] Shortly thereafter, a large crowd of Regulators appeared in front of the militia, waving their hats and daring the militia to open fire.

About this time, two men left Tryon’s camp who had been attempting to negotiate a peace between the two sides: Reverend Dr. Caldwell and Mr. Robert Thompson. Caldwell made it to the field between the two lines, but was warned by the Regulators who sensed the governor was about to open fire. Thompson was detained by Tryon as a prisoner. Tryon, in a moment of anger, took a musket from a militiaman and shot Mr. Thompson dead. Realizing what he had done, he sent a flag bearer named Donald Malcolm with a white flag in hopes of calming things quickly. The flag bearer was himself fired upon by the Regulators, who called out, “Fire and be damned”.


“The Battle of Alamance,” from the Neglected History of North Carolina by W.E. Fitch, 1905 (pp. 206-232). Image courtesy of Texas A&M faculty, Wallace L. McKeehan.

The Regulators lacked the leadership, organization, and ammunition that Tryon had, but the early course of the battle went well for them. They employed what was referred to as “Indian style” fighting, hiding behind trees and avoiding structure and lines. This allowed two of the Regulators, brothers named McPherson, to capture one of Tryon’s three cannons. Unfortunately for them, the Regulators had no ammunition and it could not be used.[8]

A man considered one of the principal military leaders of the Regulators, Captain Montgomery, was killed by a shell at about the same time a bullet hit Tryon’s hat. The governor sent a second white flag, but the aide-de-camp was killed while Regulator Patrick Muller called for his fellow insurgents to cease fire. Outraged at the disregard of a second white flag, the governor rallied his troops against the insurgents, whose ammunition was running out. Many of the Regulators fled the field. Delays prevented the 300 reinforcements under Captain Benjamin Merrill from arriving in time. Some of the Regulators remained behind to continue firing upon the militia. Tryon ordered the woods to be set on fire.[8]

Losses for both sides are disputed. Tryon reported nine dead and 61 wounded among the militia. Other historians indicate much greater numbers, between 15 and 27 killed.[9] Both sides count nine dead among the Regulators and dozens to over one hundred wounded.

Tryon took 13 prisoners. One of them, James Few, was executed at the camp, and six were executed later in nearby Hillsborough. Many Regulators traveled on to frontier areas beyond North Carolina. The governor pardoned others and allowed them to stay on condition they pledge an oath of allegiance to the royal government.[8]

The battle took place in what was then Orange County. During the American Revolution a decade later, the same section of Orange County (subdivided into Alamance County in 1849) saw several minor skirmishes, including the infamous Pyle’s Hacking Match in 1781. Recent archaeological studies at the site have shown that the area now known as Alamance Battleground was also the site of another skirmish in the Revolutionary War and of a Civil War era Confederate encampment.[10]


Battle of Alamance marker, photograph by Bill Coughlin, July 31, 2010

Visitors to Alamance Battleground State Historic Site may view the field of battle, memorialized in 1880 with a granite monument and a second monument in 1903. Today the site contains exhibits, period cannon, and colored flags representing troop positions. The visitor’s center offers exhibits, artifacts, and a presentation on the battle. Visitors may also tour the onsite Allen House, a restored frontier farmstead of the period.


  1. Lutie Andrews McCorkle, “The North Carolina Booklet”, Vol III, No. 7, p. 29, 1903
  2. “First Battle of the Revolution”. The Historical Marker Database.
  3. “The Colonial Period”. Website of Alamance County, North Carolina.
  4. “Revolution”. Website of Alamance County, North Carolina.
  5. “Colonial Williamsburg’s latest buy: Money”, Virginia Gazette, Oct 31, 2010
  6. “Alamance Battleground: Overview”. North Carolina Historic Sites website.
  7. Patrick O’Kelley, Nothing But Blood and Slaughter: Military Operations and Order of Battle of the Revolutionary War in the Carolinas, Vol 1, 1771–1779, pp. 15–23
  8. “Some Neglected History of North Carolina”, by William Edward Fitch, first edition, published 1905
  9. Williamson’s History of North Carolina, Vol. 2, p. 150
  10. “Search of Alamance Battleground yields archaeological jackpot”. Times-News. December 3, 2010

Joseph Hewes, signer of the Declaration of Independence

January 23, 2013

Joseph Hewes was a native of Princeton, New Jersey, where he was born on January 23, 1730. Hewes’ parents were members of the Society of Friends, commonly known as Quakers. Immediately after their marriage they moved to New Jersey, which became Joseph Hewes’ home state. Hewes attended Princeton but there isn’t any evidence that he actually graduated.[1] . What is known is that he became an apprentice of a merchant and in fact became a very successful merchant. After finishing his apprenticeship he earned himself a good name and a strong reputation, which would serve him well in becoming one of the most famous signers of the Declaration of Independence for North Carolina, along with William Hooper and John Penn. Hewes moved to Edenton, North Carolina at the age of 30 and won over the people of the colony with his charm and honorable businesslike character. Hewes was elected to the North Carolina legislature in 1763, only three years after he moved to the colony. After being re-elected numerous times in the legislature, Hewes was now focused on a new and more ambitious job as a continental congressman.


Joseph Hewes, signer of the Declaration of Independence

By 1773, the majority of North Carolina was in favor of independence. North Carolina elected Hewes to become a representative of the Continental Congress in 1774. The people of North Carolina thought that he would best represent them because of his activism for the American cause of independence, which appealed to people in other states as well. However initially, Joseph Hewes was not in favor of independence but came to accept the idea due to the urging of his constituents in North Carolina. In later years John Adams wrote of the struggles that Hewes experienced as he set about serving in the Continental Congress:

“For many days the majority depended on Mr. Hewes of North Carolina. While a member one day was speaking and reading documents from all the colonies to prove that public opinion, the general sense of all, was in favor of the measure, when he came to North Carolina and produced letters and public proceedings which demonstrated that the majority in that colony were in favor of it, Mr. Hewes, who had hitherto constantly voted against it, started suddenly upright and lifting both hands to heaven as if he had been in a trance, cried out, “It is done and I will abide by it.” I would give more for the perfect painting of the terror and horror upon the face of the old majority at that critical moment than for the best piece of Raphael. The question, however, was eluded by an immediate motion for adjournment”.[1]

Though the people of the United States wanted independence, Hewes found it much harder in Congress to convey his opinion without being laughed at or scolded. Even in the year leading up to the revolution, more than two-thirds of the Continental Congress still believed that ties between King George and the colonies could stay intact. Hewes was barely able to speak in Congress because he was usually interrupted by those who disagreed with him. Nevertheless he was actively involved in many committees, most of which favored the revolution. One such committee was the Committee of Correspondence, which advocated ideas that supported independence. One of the ideas that Hewes contributed to this committee was the following statement:

“State the rights of the colonies in general, the several instances in which these rights are violated or infringed, and the means most proper to be pursued for obtaining a restoration of them.”

Traditionally the Quakers were pacifists. Ironically, Hewes was not only one of the few people in favor of a war against Britain but was one of the few Quakers in Congress. The Quakers not only opposed war, but strongly opposed the committees that supported war too. Despite Joseph Hewes’ obvious departure from Quaker principles, he did continue to have a relationship with his family and visited his mother, a Quaker minister, when he was able.[2] There isn’t any record of Mr. Hewes ever relinquishing his Quaker membership nor is there any evidence that he was disowned by any Friends Monthly Meeting. Upon his death, he left sizable bequests to not only his family but also to several Quaker institutions.[1]


Secretary of Naval Affairs

At the beginning of the year 1776, Hewes was appointed as the new Secretary of the Naval Affairs Committee. John Adams often said that Hewes “laid the foundation, the cornerstone of the American Navy.” Alongside General George Washington, Hewes became one of the greatest military achievers in American history. He was also involved with the secret committee of claims, which further promoted the independence of the colonies. Hewes was one of the primary reasons why North Carolina submitted to independence before any other colony.

Hewes was initially faced with an ill equipped navy of which to fight the British Navy. To remedy this, he provided his own extensive fleet of ships, outfitted them, and chose the most capable of men to captain these ships. John Paul Jones was one of these captains for whom Hewes was instrumental in providing a command. Hewes served until 1779.

After Hewes signed the Declaration of Independence, he retreated to his home in New Jersey because of his ailing health. Despite his health problems, Hewes ran for re-election in Congress but failed to win. In 1779 he finally served his last few months as a congressman and on November 10, 1779, Joseph Hewes died just before his fiftieth birthday. All of the Continental Congress came to his funeral the following day and mourned the great loss that the country had suffered. A 1779 inventory signed by Hewes, as well as a 1780 newspaper account of his estate sale, both indicate that Hewes owned slaves. Hewes kept a diary in the last years of his life. Before he died, he wrote that he was a sad and lonely man and had never wanted to remain a bachelor. The girl he loved had died a few days before their wedding and he never married leaving no children to inherit his money and estates.

Although Hewes never had an opportunity to see the Colonies become fully recognized as the United States, he is seen somewhat as a Moses of his time in that he led his nation to independence but never saw the day that the country was free. Not many people think of Hewes as playing a vital role in the creation of the country or credit him with many of his achievements but Joseph Hewes was undoubtedly one of the most important people of his time and a true revolutionary.

Hewes was a member of Unanimity Lodge No. 7, visited in 1776, and was buried with Masonic funeral honors.



Samuel Johnston, Governor of North Carolina

December 15, 2012

Samuel Johnston was a planter, lawyer, and statesman from Chowan County, North Carolina. He represented North Carolina in both the Continental Congress and the United States Senate, and was the sixth Governor of North Carolina.


6th Governor of North Carolina

Johnston was born in Dundee, Scotland, on December 15, 1733, but came to America when his father (Samuel, Sr.) moved to Onslow County, North Carolina in 1736. Samuel Sr. became surveyor-general of the colony where his brother, Gabriel Johnston, was Royal Governor. Young Samuel was educated in New England, then read law in Carolina. He moved to Chowan County and started his own plantation, known as Hayes near Edenton.

Johnston was admitted to the bar and began the practice of law in Edenton. In 1759 he was elected to the colony’s general assembly and would serve in that body until it was displaced in 1775 as a part of the Revolution. As a strong supporter of independence, he was also elected as a delegate to the first four provincial congresses and presided over the Third and Fourth congresses in 1775 and 1776.[2] In the time after the Royal Governor Josiah Martin abdicated in 1775, he was the highest ranking official in the state, until Richard Caswell was elected president of the Fifth Provincial Congress.

Johnston is frequently cited as having served in the North Carolina Senate in 1779, but this is not confirmed by a careful perusal of the Senate Journals. He may have been elected but he certainly did not attend. In Johnston’s own words, after 1777 he “had nothing to do with public business” during the Revolution except for his later service in the Continental Congress.[3] Under the new state Government, Johnston was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1783 and 1784.

North Carolina sent Johnston as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1780 and 1781. Johnston was elected the first President of the United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of Confederation, but he declined the office, as reported July 10, 1781:

Mr. [Samuel] Johnston having declined to accept the office of President, and offered such reasons as were satisfactory, the House proceeded to another election; and, the ballots being taken, the hon. Thomas McKean was elected.

Thomas Rodney’s letter to Caesar Rodney of Delaware dated the same day reported of Johnston’s decision to decline the U.S. Presidency:

Congress has been endeavouring some time past to elect a new President, Mr. Huntington having often applied for leave to go Home on Account of his health and private affairs, and Yesterday Mr. Johnston of N. Carolina was appointed but he declined it on Account of his Bad State of health, and Today Mr. McKean was appointed and prevailed on to serve Till October next at Which Time he says he is determined To decline serving in Congress any longer.

The reasons for Johnston’s refusal to not serve are unclear, but some historians claim the letter of July 30, 1781 clearly indicated he was in no position to accept an office which offered no salary:

Having no prospect of being relieved or supplied with money for my expenses and my disorder, which abated a little on the first approach of warm weather, returning so as to render me of little use in Congress I left Philadelphia the 14th, for which I hope I shall be held excusable by this state.

Johnston’s letter to James Iredell only one month earlier gives support to that conclusion with him writing:

I thought about this time to be making preparations for leaving this place, but none of my colleagues appearing to relieve me, several States being unrepresented in Congress, and affairs of the first magnitude being now on the tapis, I thought it inconsistent with my honor to leave the State unrepresented at so interesting a period. Notwithstanding my anxious impatience to return to my family, I have determined to stay till I am relieved, or at least till the States are more fully represented in Congress. I don’t doubt but you and my sister will offer such reasons to Mrs. Johnston as will reconcile her to this measure. I hope she will keep up her spirits and if I should not return before the sickly season, I wish you would prevail on her to take the children down to the sea-side, if it can be done with safety; but as I have hopes of returning before that time, it will be unnecessary to say any thing on the subject till the season approaches.

The uncertainty of a letter’s getting safe to you, lays me under great restraints. I can only mention in general that the King of France has given us under his own hand very lately, the most unequivocal assurances of his friendship and support, and is at this time exerting his interest and influence at the different courts in Europe to bring our affairs to a happy and speedy conclusion; and I have in my own mind the most perfect confidence in these assurances. We shall suffer much in this campaign; it will be very bloody, but I hope it will be the last. I may be disappointed, but was I at liberty to commit my reasons to writing, you would not hesitate to subscribe to my opinion.

Our prospects are very fair in Europe, but it is necessary we should exert ourselves here, for every advantage we gain this summer will count as so much solid coin. We are in daily expectation of hearing from the General, who has been lately at Connecticut to consult the officers of the French army and navy. My hopes and expectations of a favorable issue to our troubles are very sanguine; but human affairs are governed by such a variety of whimsical circumstances, that we should always be prepared to stand the shock of that disappointment which the best concerted measures are constantly subject to. Present my love to my sisters, the children, and all friends. Let my brother see this and the newspapers, when you have an opportunity. I present my best wishes to him, and his family. I wish much to hear from you and him, and am, with the most sincere affection and esteem,

On June 27, just 13 days before his election to the Presidency, Johnston wrote:

I was only yesterday favored with the letters which you were so obliging as to write me the 14th of April and 10th of May last. I have wrote to you frequently by casual opportunities, but cannot have any confidence of your having received my letters. I write by this opportunity to my brother, and must refer you to his letter and the enclosed newspaper for news. I am sorry people were in such haste to remove themselves and property from Edenton. I rather could have wished they had thought of defending it, which would have been attended with less risk and expense in my opinion, for till the conquest of Virginia is effected, which I flatter myself will not speedily take place, I scarcely think you will be molested with any considerable invasion, and if the plundering parties meet with opposition they will grow sick of the business. However, every one will and has a right to judge for himself on these occasions. So far as it respects me, I am perfectly satisfied, and shall ever consider myself under the highest obligations to you on this occasion for your friendly attention. I have been detained here longer than I expected from unavoidable circumstances, which I shall have the pleasure of communicating when I can see you. I hope to leave this place some day next week but as it will be necessary for me to take a pretty extensive circuit to avoid the enemy’s horse, and the weather being too warm for me to make long days’ journeys at this season, I cannot form to myself any judgment respecting the time I shall arrive with you. I am truly sensible what anxiety and distress you must all have sustained in your alarming situation. I have often wished to have been with you on the occasion; indeed my mind has been so much in that country, that it has rendered me almost incapable of attending to any thing elsewhere. This will probably be a very important, though perhaps not a decisive campaign. I am not perfectly informed of the plan on which it will be conducted on our part, nor is it proper that I should communicate so much as I do know to paper. Should a few fortunate events cast up in our favor, I hope there will be no more of it after this summer-if otherwise, God knows where it will end, for America can never submit. Pray remember me most affectionately to my sister and the children. I grow every day more impatient of being absent from my friends; and had I not believed my services, or rather my vote essentially necessary here for some time past, no importunity should have detained me.

Johnston served as Governor of North Carolina from 1787 to 1789. He presided over both conventions called to ratify the U.S. Constitution. The first in 1788 rejected the Constitution in spite of Johnston’s strong support. He called another convention in 1789 which did complete ratification. After statehood Johnston resigned as governor to become one of the state’s first two United States Senators, serving from 1789 until 1793. In 1800 he was made a Judge in the Superior Court of North Carolina, an office he held until his retirement in 1803.

Samuel Johnston died on August 17, 1816, at his home, Hayes Plantation, near Edenton in Chowan County, and is buried in the Johnston Burial Ground there. The plantation house is privately owned, but was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973. It is now within Edenton. However the current house was completed by his son, James C. Johnston, a year after Samuel’s death.

Samuel Johnston’s personal collection of books, which he bequeathed to his son James Cathcart Johnston, is preserved in a full-scale replication of Hayes Plantation’s library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That octagonal shaped historic room is on permanent exhibit in the North Carolina Collection Gallery in Wilson Library.


It is apprehended that Jews, Mahometans, pagans, etc., may be elected to high offices under the government of the United States Those who are Mahometans, or any others who are not professors of the Christian religion, can never be elected to the office of President, or other high office, but in one of two cases. First, if the people of America lay aside the Christian religion altogether, it may happen. Should this unfortunately take place, the people will choose such men as think as they do themselves. Another case is, if any persons of such descriptions should, notwithstanding their religion, acquire the confidence and esteem of the people of America by their good conduct and practice of virtue, they may be chosen. I leave it to gentlemen’s candor to judge what probability there is of the people’s choosing men of different sentiments from themselves.

—Elliot’s Debates, Vol. IV, pp. 198-199, Governor Samuel Johnston, July 30, 1788 at the North Carolina Ratifying Convention


  1. “Officers of the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of North Carolina, the first 100 years”. Raleigh, North Carolina, USA: Grand Lodge of North Carolina.
  2. Connor, Robert; ed.. “A Manual of North Carolina Issued by the North Carolina Historical Commission for the Use of Members of the General Assembly Session 1913″. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  3. Samuel Johnston to William McCormick, August 1, 1783 Audit Office 13/121/5

Hugh Williamson, signer of the Constitution of the United States

December 5, 2012

Hugh Williamson was an American politician. He is best known for representing North Carolina at the Constitutional Convention.

Williamson was a scholar of international renown. His erudition had brought him into contact with some of the leading intellectuals of the Patriot cause and, in turn, with the ferment of political ideas that eventually found expression in the Constitution. During the American Revolution, Will served as physician and natural scientist to the American war effort. His experiences in that preeminent event of his generation transformed the genial scholar into an adroit politician and a determined leader in the campaign for effective national government. This leadership was evident not only at the Convention in Philadelphia but also, with telling effect, during the ratification debates in North Carolina.

Williamson’s career demonstrates the rootlessness that characterized the lives of many Americans even in the 18th century. Born on the frontier, he lived for significant periods of his long life in three different regions of the country. This mobility undoubtedly contributed to the development of his nationalistic outlook, an outlook strengthened by wartime service with interstate military forces and reinforced by the interests of the planters and merchants that formed his North Carolina constituency. These experiences convinced him that only a strong central government could adequately protect and foster the political, economic, and intellectual future of the new nation.


Hugh Williamson

Williamson was born December 5, 1735, in Chester County in what was then the frontier region of Pennsylvania. His fragile health as a youth weighed against his beginning a career in the family’s clothier business. His parents instead sent him to a private academy and, in 1754, to the College of Philadelphia (today’s University of Pennsylvania). Williamson graduated in the school’s first class,[1] on May 17, 1757,[2] five days before his father died.[3] After teaching Latin in Philadelphia Academy, Williamson moved to Connecticut and obtained a preacher’s license, but factional disputes among the local clergy and a resurgence of ill health led him to abandon a career in the ministry. Upon completing a master’s degree at Penn in 1760, Williamson joined his alma mater’s faculty as a professor of mathematics.

In another career shift four years later, Williamson turned to the study of medicine. Armed with a degree from the prestigious University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, he returned to Philadelphia to open a private practice. At the same time, he pursued a number of independent scientific and educational projects, and his work in these areas eventually led to membership in the American Philosophical Society as well as acclaim in Europe’s intellectual circles.

Interest in science and education indirectly led Williamson to politics and the Patriot cause. Sailing for England in 1773 to raise funds for a local educational project, Williamson stopped en route at Boston. There he witnessed the famous Boston Tea Party, in which Patriots dressed as American Indians destroyed a cargo of tea in protest over a newly enforced Parliamentary tax on imported commodities. On reaching London he was summoned before the Privy Council to testify on this act of rebellion and on colonial affairs in general.

Williamson came of age politically during this encounter. In response to questions by Council members, who were in the process of formulating punitive measures against Massachusetts, he bluntly warned that repression would provoke rebellion. He then went on to express the argument that was becoming the core of the Patriot position: Americans were entitled to the full rights of Englishmen, including representation in the decisions of the English government. This testimony brought him to the attention of other Americans in London. A mutual interest in scientific matters cemented a solid working relationship with Benjamin Franklin, and Williamson soon found himself joined with the famous American scientist and others in appealing for support among those Englishmen who, in opposition to their own government, sympathized with American claims.

Williamson continued on to the Netherlands where, taking advantage of the cover afforded by his attendance at meetings on scientific and educational subjects, he organized the publication of pamphlets and other papers that supported the Patriot cause. While there he learned that the colonies had declared their independence. Narrowly avoiding capture at sea, he rushed back to Philadelphia in early 1777 and volunteered for service in the Medical Department of the Continental Army. The Department had no opening at that time, so Williamson decided to form a partnership with a younger brother to import medicines and other scarce items from the West Indies through the British blockade. Believing that he could best contribute to the war effort by using his contacts and reputation in this manner, Williamson made Edenton, North Carolina, his base of operations. Settlement in North Carolina soon led to his establishing a medical practice to serve the planters and merchants of the region.

These various activities brought Williamson to the attention of North Carolina’s political leaders. Facing the threat of a British invasion of the region from the sea and bases in Florida, the state legislature voted to raise a force of 4,000 men to assist South Carolina. When Governor Richard Caswell, with the rank of major general, took to the field at the head of these citizen-soldiers, he named Williamson to serve as the state’s Physician and Surgeon General, a post Williamson held until the end of the war.

The capture of Charleston, South Carolina in 1780 not only marked a stunning defeat for American forces, but also signaled the end of the first phase in a new British war strategy. Under this strategy British forces would continue to tie down Washington’s main army in the north while a Royal army under General Charles Cornwallis would advance northward. Using Savannah, Georgia and Charleston as their bases of operations, the British expected their regular units to push through North Carolina and Virginia while a militia composed of local Loyalists secured areas captured by the regular forces. If successful, this strategy would have led to the conquest of the colonies from the south. To counter Cornwallis’ efforts, the Continental Congress sent Horatio Gates to command a small force composed of a division of continentals, Caswell’s units from North Carolina, and a group of hastily assembled Virginia militia units.

Gates attempted to attack the British advance base near Camden, South Carolina, but his tired militia units, which were still forming when the battle began, were routed, and the Americans suffered another defeat. Williamson, who witnessed the disaster, volunteered to pass behind enemy lines to care for the American wounded. He spent two months on this mercy mission. When smallpox threatened the prison camp, he argued strenuously with Cornwallis and other British officers over the proper method to combat the disease. His perseverance and scientific reputation paid off. The British followed his advice, and an epidemic was averted.

In the fall of 1780 Williamson returned to the field. Major General Nathanael Greene, Gates’ replacement, had begun his brilliant campaign to recover the south through the joint efforts of continentals and militia. While his main force engaged the British in a series of battles, the militiamen concentrated on picking off small outposts and isolated enemy parties. Francis Marion, nicknamed “Swamp Fox”, and others who operated mainly in South Carolina are most remembered for this type of guerrilla warfare, but North Carolina units also adopted these tactics. Williamson was attached to a force under Brigadier General Isaac Gregory whose mission was to limit British activity in eastern North Carolina. Gregory established his base in the vast reaches of the Dismal Swamp where he could pin the British down in Wilmington without jeopardizing his small force. Williamson’s bold innovations in preventive medicine, especially his strenuous efforts to indoctrinate raw troops in the importance of sanitation and diet, kept the command virtually free of disease during the six months that it inhabited the swamp-—a rare feat in 18th-century warfare.

In 1782 Williamson’s neighbors elected him to the lower house of the North Carolina legislature, where he served for several terms. He sat on numerous committees, including those formed to regulate veterans’ rights, and he authored the state’s copyright law. His fellow legislators also chose Williamson to serve in the Continental Congress in 1782. Appointment to this national body represented a natural political progression for Williamson, who was evolving into a champion of federalism. His experiences during the Revolution, especially his exposure to the pressing need for interstate cooperation during the 1780 and 1781 campaigns in the Carolinas, had convinced him of the military importance of strong national government. This interest increased when he came to realize the economic benefits that might accrue from binding interstate association. In 1786 North Carolina chose Williamson to attend the Annapolis Convention, a meeting called to settle economic questions affecting the middle Atlantic states. Although he arrived too late to play a role in the Maryland proceedings, he was prepared to discuss interstate issues the following year when his state appointed him as a representative at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

Williamson, a faithful attendee at Convention sessions, lodged with Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, two of the country’s best-known nationalist leaders. His intellectual stature and international background also propelled him into a leadership role in the North Carolina delegation. A capacity for hard work and his innate good humor made him invaluable to the Federalists as they worked out the many political compromises necessary for consensus on the new instrument of government. On 11th July 1787, Williamson proposed the three fifths compromise. It failed to pass (4:6), but a substantially similar motion was passed two days later.

Shortly before the Convention adjourned, Williamson wrote a series of public letters in defense of a strong federal system. These “Letters of Sylvius” addressed many of the practical concerns of his state, where the rural and frequently debt-ridden farmers favored minimal government regulations, while the mercantile-planter group from the seaboard region wanted an economy strictly regulated by a central government. Using simple examples, Williamson explained to both groups the dual dangers of inflationary finances and of taxes that would stunt the growth of domestic manufacture. He exhorted North Carolinians to support the Constitution as the basis for their future prosperity. The ratification process, he explained, would decide whether the United States would remain a “system of patchwork and a series of expedients” or become “the most flourishing, independent, and happy nation on the face of the earth.”

Following adjournment in Philadelphia, Williamson returned to New York to participate in the closing sessions of the Continental Congress and to serve as one of the agents settling North Carolina’s accounts with that body. These duties caused him to miss the Hillsboro Convention, where North Carolina first considered and rejected the Constitution, but he played a major role at a second convention that met in Fayetteville in 1789. Here he participated in a successful effort to rally support for the Constitution.

Williamson’s neighbors elected him to represent them in the first federal Congress. He served two terms before retiring and settling in New York City, where he continued to pursue a wide range of scholarly interests. He wrote extensively about his research, joined numerous learned societies, and contributed to many charities. He also served as one of the original trustees of the University of North Carolina.

Thomas Jefferson described Williamson’s role at the Philadelphia Convention in the following terms: “he was a useful member, of an acute mind, attentive to business, and of an high degree of erudition.”

Williamson married Maria Apthorpe in January 1789 and died in New York City on May 22, 1819. They had two sons, both of whom died young (the older one at the age of 22 in 1811, the younger, shortly thereafter, according to Hosack’s Memoir of Hugh Williamson).



John Baptista Ashe, Revolutionary War veteran and "Anti-Federalist" Congressman from North Carolina

November 27, 2012

John Baptista Ashe was a planter, soldier, and statesman from North Carolina. He was born in Rocky Point township of Pender County, North Carolina in 1748, the son of Samuel Ashe. During the American Revolutionary War, he served in the North Carolina Line of the Continental Army, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was at Valley Forge and fought in the Battle of Eutaw Springs.


Lieutenant Colonel John Baptista Ashe

Ashe was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons and served as Speaker of that body. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1787. In 1789, Ashe was a delegate and Chairman of the Committee of the Whole of the state convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. That same year, he served in the North Carolina Senate.

Ashe was elected to the First United States Congress and the Second United States Congress as an “Anti-Administration” candidate, serving from 1790 to 1793.

In 1802, the North Carolina General Assembly elected Ashe Governor, but he died on November 27, 1802, before he could take office. He is buried in Halifax.

His namesake and nephew, John Baptista Ashe, served in Congress as a Representative from Tennessee.


Brigadier General Francis Nash, "the ablest North Carolina officer in the field"

October 7, 2012



Francis Nash (1742 – October 7, 1777) was a brigadier general killed at Germantown in the War for Independence.

Nash was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia. At an early age he became prominent as a North Carolina merchant, attorney, and justice of the peace; experiences which eventually led to a seat in the North Carolina House of Commons. His brother was Abner Nash. His wife was Sarah Moore Nash, daughter of Maurice Moore of North Carolina.


Historical marker in Prince Edward County, Virginia

During the War of the Regulation (or the Regulator Movement from 1764-1771), Nash was a lawyer working in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and was, along with Edmund Fanning, charged and found guilty of extorting money from the local residents. He served as a captain in the Orange County militia, and participated in the Battle of Alamance, fighting against the Regulators.

In 1775, the Provincial Congress elected Nash lieutenant colonel of the First North Carolina Regiment, Continental Army. After taking part in the expedition to aid Charleston in 1776 and 1777, Nash (now in command of the North Carolina Brigade) marched north to join General George Washington’s Army and commanded the 1st North Carolina Regiment at the Battle of Brandywine. He was mortally wounded while leading his brigade in the Battle of Germantown on October 4, 1777 and died on October 7. He was buried in the Towamencin Mennonite Meetinghouse Cemetery in Towamencin Township, Pennsylvania on October 9, 1777.


Monument erected by the citizens of the community in their honor.

Nash was regarded by Washington as a brave and valuable soldier. The governor of North Carolina described him as “the ablest North Carolina officer in the field” and at his death was described as “one of the most enlightened, liberal, and magnanimous gentlemen that ever sacrificed his life for his country.”

The cities of Nashville, Tennessee, Nashville, Georgia, Nashville, North Carolina, Nash County, North Carolina, and General Nash Elementary School in Towamencin Township, Pennsylvania were named in his honor.


James Iredell, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court

October 1, 2012



James Iredell was one of the first Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States. He was appointed by President George Washington and served from 1790 until his death in 1799. His son, James Iredell, Jr., became governor of North Carolina.


Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court

James Iredell was born on October 5, 1751, in Lewes, England, the oldest of five children of a Bristol merchant. The failure of his father’s business (and health) impelled James to immigrate to the Colonies in 1767 at the age of 17. Relatives assisted him in obtaining a position in the customs service as deputy collector, or comptroller, of the port of Edenton, North Carolina.

While working at the customs house, Iredell read law under Samuel Johnston (later governor of North Carolina), began the practice of law and was admitted to the bar in 1771. The grandson of a clergyman, he was a devout Anglican throughout his life and his writings display an interest in spirituality and metaphysics beyond a simple attachment to organized religion.

In 1773, Iredell married Johnston’s sister Hannah and the two had four children. The following year (1774) he was made collector for the port.

Although employed by the British government, Iredell was a strong supporter of independence and the revolution. In 1774 he wrote To the Inhabitants of Great Britain in which he laid out arguments opposing the concept of Parliamentary supremacy over America. This essay established Iredell, at the age of 23, as the most influential political essayist in North Carolina at that time. His treatise Principles of an American Whig predates and echoes themes and ideas of the Declaration of Independence.

After the revolution began, Iredell helped organize the court system of North Carolina, and was elected a judge of the superior court in 1778. His career advanced through a number of political and judicial posts in the state, including that of attorney general from 1779-1781. In 1787 the state assembly appointed him commissioner and charged him with compiling and revising the laws of North Carolina. His work was published in 1791 as Iredell’s Revisal.


Profile of James Iredell

Iredell was a leader of the Federalists in North Carolina, and a strong supporter of the proposed Constitution. In the 1788 convention at Hillsborough, he argued unsuccessfully in favor of its adoption. (North Carolina later ratified the Constitution after Congress amended it through the addition of the Bill of Rights.)

On February 10, 1790, George Washington nominated James Iredell to the post of Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and two days later he was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission.[1] At the age of 38, Iredell was the youngest of the early Supreme Court Justices.

The case load of the first Supreme Court was light. In fact, the court did not hear its first case until 1791 when it decided West v. Barnes. The decision was unanimous, but Iredell requested that Congress change the harsh statute governing the West decision. The Justices gathered to hear arguments only twice a year, and we have only a handful of opinions written by Justice Iredell in his years on the court. Of those, two of the most significant are:

  • Chisholm v. Georgia (1793): At issue was whether the citizens of one state (South Carolina) could sue another state (Georgia) for repayment of Revolutionary War bills. Iredell was the lone dissent from the majority opinion that held that a state may be sued in federal court without its consent to the suit.
  • Calder v. Bull (1798): At issue was whether an act of the Connecticut legislature violated the Constitution because it was an ex post facto law, forbidden pursuant to Article I, Section 9, Clause 3.

In the Chisholm case, public and political opinion agreed with Iredell against the other Justices. The outcry and strong reaction of people against the Chisholm decision would lead to its reversal by the adoption of the Eleventh Amendment in 1798.

In the unanimous decision in Calder, the Court held that the Clause applied to criminal cases only, deciding that the legislature’s act was not unconstitutional. More importantly, Calder raised the question of whether “principles of natural justice” constituted law. Iredell’s opinion indicated that only those actions of a state that explicitly violated a textual provision of the Constitution could be declared void. He stated: “The principles of natural justice are regulated by no fixed standard; the ablest and the purest men have differed upon the subject; and all the court could properly say, in such an event, would be, that the legislature (possessed of an equal right of opinion) had passed an act which, in the opinion of the judges, was inconsistent with the abstract principles of natural justice.”

Justice Iredell’s opinion in Calder helped establish the principle of judicial review five years before it was tested in Marbury v. Madison (1803). The Supreme Court has followed Iredell’s approach throughout its subsequent history.

His charge to the federal grand jury in Fries Case is commonly cited as evidence that the Framers’ Intent was to limit the scope of the First Amendment to freedom from prior restraint. He praised Sir William Blackstone’s narrow interpretation of freedom of the press, noted that the Framers were very familiar with Blackstone’s work, and observed that “unless his explanation had been satisfactory, I presume the amendment would have been more particularly worded, to guard against any possible mistake.”

The Judiciary Act of 1789 divided the United States into 13 districts, each district having a court in one of 13 major cities. It also established three circuits, or appeals courts—one each in the eastern, central and southern United States. The Supreme Court Justices were required to “ride circuit,” or travel to the various circuits and hear cases, twice each year. Partially as a result of the heavy travel burden, Justice Iredell’s health failed and he died suddenly on October 20, 1799, in Edenton, North Carolina. He was 48. Iredell County, North Carolina, was established in 1788 and was named for him.[2]


  1. Marcus, Maeva, and James Perry, eds. “The Documentary History of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1800,” vol. 1. Columbia University Press, 1985, pp. 33, 63.
  2. About Iredell County, North Carolina

Further reading

  • Abraham, Henry J. (1992). Justices and Presidents: A Political History of Appointments to the Supreme Court (3rd ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506557-3.
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). The Supreme Court Justices: Illustrated Biographies, 1789–1995 (2nd ed.). (Supreme Court Historical Society, Congressional Quarterly Books). ISBN 1568021267.
  • Flanders, Henry. The Lives and Times of the Chief Justices of the United States Supreme Court. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1874 at Google Books.
  • Frank, John P. (1995). Friedman, Leon; Israel, Fred L.. eds. The Justices of the United States Supreme Court: Their Lives and Major Opinions. Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0791013774.
  • Hall, Kermit L., ed. (1992). The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195058356.
  • Higginbotham, Don, ed. (1976). The Papers of James Iredell. 2 vols., Raleigh, N.C.: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, Dept. of Cultural Resources. ISBN 0865260427.
  • Martin, Fenton S.; Goehlert, Robert U. (1990). The U.S. Supreme Court: A Bibliography. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Quarterly Books. ISBN 0871875543.
  • Urofsky, Melvin I. (1994). The Supreme Court Justices: A Biographical Dictionary. New York: Garland Publishing. pp. 590. ISBN 0815311761.

Richard Caswell, Revolutionary War militiaman, two time governor of North Carolina

August 1, 2012


Richard Caswell (August 3, 1729 – November 10, 1789) was the first and fifth governor of the U.S. State of North Carolina, serving from 1776 to 1780 and from 1784 to 1787.


A lawyer and surveyor by training, Caswell represented North Carolina in the Continental Congress of 1774 and 1775. As a Patriot officer in the American Revolutionary War, Caswell led North Carolina militiamen in the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge. In 1780 he was also commissioned as a major general of North Carolina troops. At the Battle of Camden, his troops panicked and fled the field, leaving the Continentals behind to suffer defeat.

Caswell was president of the provincial congress that wrote the first North Carolina Constitution in 1776. As the congress adjourned, it elected Caswell as acting governor. He took the oath of office on January 16, 1777. Under the new constitution, the state Legislature (“General Assembly”) re-elected him as the first Governor in April 1777. He stepped down in 1780, as the constitution allowed only three consecutive one-year terms. He then assumed command of all of North Carolina’s militia, which he commanded at the American defeat at Camden, 16 August 1780.

He served as the state’s comptroller and as a member of the North Carolina Senate between his two gubernatorial terms. Caswell was also chosen to be one of North Carolina’s delegates to the United States Constitutional Convention of 1787, but he did not attend.

At the time of his death in 1789, he had returned once again to the North Carolina General Assembly, this time serving as Speaker of the Senate.

Caswell County, North Carolina and Fort Caswell were named for him.


  1. “Officers of the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of North Carolina, the first 100 years”. Raleigh, North Carolina, USA: Grand Lodge of North Carolina.

William Hooper, Signer of the Declaration of Independence and supporter of the Constitution

June 27, 2012

William Hooper was a lawyer, politician, and a member of the Continental Congress representing North Carolina from 1774 through 1777. Hooper was also a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence, along with fellow North Carolinians Joseph Hewes and John Penn.


Hooper, born June 28, 1742[1], was the first child of five, born in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 28, 1742. His father, William Hooper, was a Scottish minister who studied at the University of Edinburgh prior to immigrating to Boston, and his mother, Mary Dennie, was the daughter of John Dennie, a well-respected merchant from Massachusetts. Hooper’s father had hoped that Hooper would follow in his footsteps as an Episcopal minister,[2] and at the age of seven placed Hooper in Boston Latin School headed by Mr. John Lovell, a highly distinguished educator in Massachusetts. In 1757, at the age of fifteen, Hooper entered Harvard University where he was considered an industrious student and was highly regarded.[3] In 1760 Hooper graduated from Harvard with honors, obtaining a bachelors of arts. However, after graduating Hooper did not wish to pursue a career in the clergy as his father had hoped. Instead, Hooper decided on a career in law, studying under James Otis, a popular attorney in Boston who was regarded as a radical. Hooper studied under Otis until 1764, and once completing his bar exam decided to leave Massachusetts in part due to the abundance of lawyers in Boston.

In 1764 Hooper moved temporarily to Wilmington, North Carolina, where he began to practice law and became the circuit court lawyer for Cape Fear. Hooper began to build a highly respected reputation in North Carolina among the wealthy farmers as well as fellow lawyers. Hooper increased his influence by representing the colonial government in several court cases. In 1767, Hooper married Anne Clark, the daughter of a wealthy early settler to the region and sheriff of New Hanover County.[4] The two had a son, William, in 1768, followed by a daughter, Elizabeth, in 1770 and then another son, Thomas, in 1772.[5] Hooper quickly was able to move up the ranks, first in 1769 when he was appointed as Deputy Attorney of Salisbury district, and then in 1770 when he was appointed Deputy Attorney General of North Carolina.

Initially Hooper supported the British colonial government of North Carolina. As Deputy Attorney General in 1768 Hooper worked with Colonial Governor William Tryon to suppress a rebellious group known as the Regulators who participated in the War of the Regulation. The Regulators had been operating in North Carolina for some time, and in 1770 it was reported that the group dragged Hooper through the streets in Hillsborough during a riot. Hooper advised that Governor Tryon use as much force as was necessary to stamp out the rebels, and even accompanied the troops at the Battle of Alamance in 1771.[6]

Hooper’s support of the colonial governments began to erode, causing problems for him due to his past support of Governor Tryon. Hooper had been labeled a Loyalist, and therefore he was not immediately accepted by Patriots. Hooper eventually was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly in 1773, where he became an opponent to colonial attempts to pass laws that would regulate the provincial courts. This in turn helped to sour his reputation among Loyalists. Hooper recognized that independence was likely to occur, and mentioned this in a letter to his friend James Iredell, saying that the colonies were “striding fast to independence, and ere long will build an empire upon the ruins o Great Britain.”[7]

During his time in the assembly Hooper slowly became a supporter of the American Revolution and independence. After the governor disbanded the assembly, Hooper helped to organize a new colonial assembly. Hooper was also appointed to the Committee of Correspondence and Inquiry. In 1774 Hooper was appointed a delegate to the First Continental Congress, where he served on numerous committees. Hooper was again elected to the Second Continental Congress, but much of his time was split between the congress and work in North Carolina, where he was assisting in forming a new government. Due to matters in dealing with this new government in North Carolina, Hooper missed the vote approving the Declaration of Independence on the Fourth of July, 1776; however, he arrived in time to sign it on August 2, 1776.[8]


by Ole Erekson, Engraver, c1876, Library of Congress

In 1777, due to continued financial concerns, Hooper resigned from Congress, and returned to North Carolina to resume his law career. Throughout the Revolution the British attempted to capture Hooper, and with his country home in Finian vulnerable to British attacks, Hooper moved his family to Wilmington. In 1781 the British captured Wilmington, to where Cornwallis and his forces fell back after the Battle of Guilford Court House,[9] and Hooper found himself separated from his family. In addition, the British burned his estates in both Finian and Wilmington, so Hooper was forced to rely on friends for food and shelter during this time, as well as nursing him back to health when he contracted malaria. Finally, after nearly a year of separation, Hooper was reunited with his family and they settled in Hillsborough, North Carolina, where Hooper continued to work for the North Carolina assembly until 1783.

After the Revolution Hooper returned to his career in law, but he lost favor with the public due to his political stance. Hooper fell in line with the Federalist Party due to his influential connections, his mistrust of the lower class, and his widely criticized soft dealings with Loyalists,[10] toward whom he was generally forgiving. This kind and fair treatment made some even label him a Loyalist. Hooper was again called to public service in 1786, when he was appointed a federal judge in a border dispute between New York and Massachusetts, though the case was settled out of court. In 1787 and 1788 Hooper campaigned heavily for North Carolina to ratify the new United States Constitution, but by this time Hooper had become quite ill, eventually dying on October 14, 1790[1], at the age of 48.[11] He was laid to rest in the Presbyterian Churchyard in Hillsborough, North Carolina. His remains were later reinterred at Guilford Courthouse National Military Ground.


William Hooper’s original grave in Hillsborough, North Carolina


  1. B.J. Lossing, Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (Aledo, Tex.: WallBuilders Press, 2007), 201
  2. Dennis Brindell Fradin, The Signers: The 56 Stories Behind the Declaration of Independence (New York: Walker and Co., 2002), 112
  3. Lossing, Lives of the Signers, 202
  4. Fradin, The Signers, 112
  5. A.C. Goodwin, “Brief Biography and Genealogy of William Hooper,” (2 Dec. 1998),
  6. Charles W. Snell, “Signers of the Declaration of Independence: Biographical Sketches,” United States Department of the Interior, National Parks Service (4 July 2004)
  7. Harold D. Lowry, “William Hooper. Society of the Descendants of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, 2006,”
  8. Fradin, The Signers, 112.
  9. Gordon S. Wood, The American Revolution: A History (New York: Modern Library, 2002), 86
  10. Snell, Signers of the Declaration.
  11. Lossing, Lives of the Signers, 204.


William Richardson Davie, Governor of North Carolina

June 15, 2012


William Richardson Davie was a military officer and the tenth Governor of North Carolina from 1798 to 1799, as well as one of the most important men involved in the founding of the University of North Carolina. He was a member of the Federalist Party and may be considered a Founding Father of the United States.


10th Governor of North Carolina

Davie was born June 20, 1756 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 (later thought to be where Andrew Jackson was born). He was named for his maternal uncle, William Richardson, a prominent Presbyterian minister in South Carolina, although unlike many historians have concluded, Davie was not adopted outright by his maternal 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 the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), from which he graduated with honors in 1776.

After leaving New Jersey, 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 Brigadier General Allen Jones of Northampton County, NC. Jones’s force advanced toward Charleston, South Carolina, with intentions to aid the port city as it prepared its defenses against possible British assault. That threat receded, so Davie and the rest of Jones’s men returned to North Carolina after marching as far south as Camden, South Carolina.

Davie resumed his studies in Salisbury, but in the spring of 1779, he closed his law books again to reenter military service. This time, though, Davie did not volunteer for an existing force; he helped to raise and train a local cavalry troop. For his work in forming “a Company of Horse in the District of Salisbury,” he received a lieutenant’s commission in April from North Carolina Governor Richard Caswell. Davie did not remain in that junior rank for long. In May 1779, he and his company were attached to the legion of General Casimir Pułaski, who earlier in the year had moved from Pennsylvania to South Carolina to help bolster American positions in and around Charleston. Promoted to the rank of major under Pulaski, Davie assumed command of a brigade of cavalry. On June 20, 1779, just two days shy of his twenty-third birthday, Davie led a charge against British forces at the Battle of Stono Ferry outside Charleston. He suffered a serious wound to his thigh in that engagement, fell from his horse, and narrowly escaped capture. While convalescing from his injuries, Davie resumed his legal studies back in Salisbury. Soon he completed or “stood” his examinations and in November 1779 obtained a license to practice law in South Carolina. In the late spring and summer of the following year, Davie, now fully recovered, again formed an independent company of cavalry. He led that mounted force in several actions during the summer of 1780.


Posthumous portrait of Davie by Charles Willson Peale

Shortly after the Battle of Hanging Rock, Davie received word of a new army moving into South Carolina under General Horatio Gates. At the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780 Gates was soundly defeated. While the Continentals fought hard, his militia largely fled without much if any of a fight. Gates and what remained of his army fell back into North Carolina. Davie narrowly missed the battle. Instead of retreating north along with Gates and the remnants of the American army, Davie moved south towards the enemy and Camden to recover supply wagons and gather intelligence on enemy movements. In the time between Camden and the Battle of Kings Mountain, in October 1780, Davie’s cavalry was the only unbroken corps between the British army and what was left of the Continental forces.

Davie’s most audacious action as a cavalry officer came at the Battle of Charlotte on September, 26, 1780. Ordered to cover the American army retreat and hinder the British invasion of North Carolina, Davie, now a colonel, and 150 of his mounted militia set up defense in what was then the small village of Charlotte, North Carolina. He dismounted several of his men and had them take station behind a stone wall at the summit of a hill in the center of town. Other dismounted soldiers where scattered on the flanks with a reserve of cavalry. At about noon, the British army under General Lord Cornwallis appeared. Cornwallis’ forces numbered at least 2,000 Redcoats and loyalists. After three charges of British cavalry and infantry moving on his right flank, Davie and his men retreated northward. Cornwallis subsequently occupied Charlotte, but he remained there less than two weeks, withdrawing his forces from the “hornets nest” after receiving news of the defeat of Loyalist forces by backcountry militia at the Battle of Kings Mountain on October 7, 1780. As Cornwallis’s army marched back toward South Carolina, Davie directed his men to shadow and skirmish with enemy units and to disrupt and intercept their communications.

Davie’s military service in the Revolution changed dramatically after December 1780, when General Nathanael Greene arrived in North Carolina to take command of the American army in the “Southern Department.” Headquartered in Charlotte, Greene desperately needed more provisions and equipment for his soldiers as he prepared to counter the certain return of Cornwallis to North Carolina. Davie’s leadership skills and knowledge of the region’s terrain and inhabitants impressed Greene, who in January 1781 persuaded the experienced cavalry officer to relinquish his field command so that he could serve as the army’s commissary-general. In that position Davie spent the final stages of the war carrying out the crucial but often thankless tasks of locating, organizing, and transporting supplies for General Greene’s ever-needy troops, as well as for North Carolina’s militia.

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 served as Grand Master of the North Carolina Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons from 1792 to 1798.[1]

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 John 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 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.


Davie (at right wearing Masonic apron) laying the cornerstone of Old East.

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[2] as he was the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of North Carolina at the time.[1] 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.

After his unsuccessful run for the House of Representatives Davie retired from public life to his 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 [1]. 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.

Davie died at his Tivoli estate on November 29, 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 Allen Jones.

Davie County, North Carolina, established in 1836, is named in his memory, as are schools in Davie County and Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, and a park in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. His Tivoli plantation is now part of the Landsford Canal State Park in Chester County, South Carolina.


  1. “Officers of the Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of North Carolina, the first 100 years”. Raleigh, North Carolina, USA: Grand Lodge of North Carolina.
  2. Wheeler, John H. (1851) (Google e-Book). Historical sketches of North Carolina [from 1584 to 1851, compiled from original records, official documents and traditional statements ; with biographical sketches of her distinguished statesmen, jurists, lawyers, soldiers, divines, etc.]. 1 (1 ed.). Philadelphia: Lippincot, Grambo, & Co.. p. 117.
  • William Richardson Davie: Soldier, Statesman, and Founder of the University of North Carolina, R. Neil Fulghum. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: The North Carolina Collection, 2006
  • Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Robert Sobel and John Raimo, eds. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. (ISBN 0-930466-00-4)
  • “Finding a forgotten Founding Father,” Charlotte Observer, June 21, 2006. [2]
  • University of Groningen biography [3]
  • “Political Career of William R. Davie”. Our
  • William R. Davie, Blackwell P. Robinson. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1957


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