Guest Blogger: Isabel Nowak Anthropology Major C’23, “The History of Beaver Dam”

Isabel Nowak is a junior anthropology student at Davidson College. In spring 2021, they spearheaded archival research in Dr. Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire’s Ethical Archaeology seminar which investigated the silenced history of Beaver Dam Historical Park.

Hello! My name is Isabel Nowak, and Spring semester 2021, I was enrolled in a seminar with Dr. Maxime Lamoureux-St-Hilaire where my peers and I investigated the local Beaver Dam historical park. Beaver Dam’s history isn’t super well-publicized, so I thought I’d share some of it here.

 The first major player in our story is William Lee Davidson, not to be confused with his father General William Lee Davidson, who died in the Battle of Cowan’s Ford a month after his son’s birth in 1781. In 1808, Davidson purchased 451 acres on Beaver Dam Creek (hence the name of the property), where he established a plantation. The actual house that still stands today was not completed until 1829.

 Sometime between October 1847 and December 1848, William Lee Davidson moved to Alabama, and in preparation, he sold his tract on Beaver Dam Creek to Joseph Patterson, who moved in with his wife and son. Patterson died suddenly in 1858, and his son John subsequently inherited the property. The Pattersons were gone by 1880, and following decades were full of exchanges (usually to settle debt), and over time, the property was divided up.

In 1937, then-owner Caldwell Hovis sold 8.5 acres consisting of the plantation house and immediate area to Dr. Chalmers G. Davidson, who restored the house from 1945 to 1975, when he moved in. The house was listed as a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Site in 1977 and placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.

Davidson College purchased the house and 8 acres of the adjoining lands in 1998 due to the land’s significance to the college’s past. Indeed, in 1935 a committee of the Concord Presbytery met at the plantation house and decided on the location of what came to be Davidson College, named after William Lee Davidson’s father, General William Lee Davidson. However, not many sources mention Beaver Dam’s darker history.

Excerpt of the Will of William Lee Davidson including a list of enslaved people.
List of enslaved people held by Joseph Patterson

Jim, Linda, Aaron, Martha, Jim, Sarah, Harriet, Horace, John, Phebe, Rose, and Amy. Jane, Darky, Tilly, Lee, Taylor, Frances, Dallas, and Mary. These are the enslaved peoples referred to by name in the will/probate records of William Lee Davidson and Joseph Patterson respectively. According to census records corresponding to years he occupied Beaver Dam, William Lee Davidson owned 15 slaves in 1820, 21 in 1830, and 26 in 1840. Joseph Patterson owned 25 slaves by 1850. We don’t know a lot about the enslaved people that lived and worked on the Beaver Dam plantation. There are no written records of most of them. But, hopefully, this investigation into Beaver Dam will raise awareness of its history, and the people who lived and died there.

Speak Your Mind

*