Death of a Great General




              DC060-18 General William Lee Davidson was born in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in 1746; four years later, his family, Scotch-Irish immigrants, uprooted and moved to North Carolina in Rowan (now Iredell) county where Davidson volunteered for the first ever regiment in North Carolina dedicated to the state’s independence. He was quickly elected major of the regiment under General Nash and joined Washington’s army, where he successfully fought against the British and was promoted lieutenant-colonel and commandant. Following this promotion he successfully defeated the insurgents at Colson’s Mill in North Carolina. Although he was injured in the battle, he recovered over a period of two months and was able to rejoin the ranks and become promoted yet again to brigadier-general of the state militia. He then joined Generals Sumter and Greene and Colonel Davis in resisting the march of General Cornwallis and his British army at the Catawba River in modern day Huntersville, NC. Davidson and his army, consisting of a mere 300 men, guarded Cowan’s Ford in North Carolina as Cornwallis and thousands of his men approached and began to cross the ford. Unfortunately, he was shot through the chest that night on January 31st, 1781 and died on the battlefield the following day (1).


Davidson’s body was removed from battle and brought to General Wilson’s home, for whom Wilson county is named, and buried at the Hopewell Presbyterian Church at midnight for fear of the body’s immediate desecration by the British (2).

Although Cowan’s Ford was an American loss in the Revolutionary War, Davidson’s army succeeded in delaying the advancement of Cornwallis and his British army so that General Greene could better prepare for battle at Guilford Court House. Cornwallis was later defeated at Yorktown (3). After three decades of fighting, he finally surrendered to the Americans and French on Oct. 19, 1781 (4).



            WLD_wallet  Several relics were discovered on Davidson’s body by the British and taken from him before he was buried. His four-by-ten inch wallet (left), actually the size of a small briefcase, contained 28 documents with details of military campaigns as well as letters from George Washington and Gen. Nathaniel Greene requesting support from the public for Davidson’s military recruitment. The wallet was being kept in England until Reverend Jeff Lowrance, a pastor at Hopewell Presbyterian Church who had organized commemorations of the battle in years past, who decided to try to bring it back to North Carolina – Davidson’s home state. He was able to facilitate the wallet to come back on loan by speaking with officials in both countries. Finally, the wallet made it to the Davidson Town Hall for a public ceremony in pistol2001, before being transported to the Guilford Courthouse National Military Park in Greensboro for one year as part of an exhibit of the Battle of Cowan’s Ford. The exhibit also included several other relics from General Davidson, including one of his pistols (right) and a sword from his family, which came from a Davidson College Archives loan (5). At the end of the year, the wallet was returned back to the London Public Records Office. 


Cited Sources:

1. Davidson, General William Lee Collection. Manuscript number DC060. Finding aid. Davidson College Archives. Davidson, NC.

2. Davis, Louise. “Gen. Nash Died Revolutionary War Hero.” The Tennessean Panorama. Sunday, Nov. 23, 1980. Print.

3. Davidson, Chalmers G. “Hall of Fame: Gen. William Lee Davidson, 1746-1781.” Davidson College Archives, Davidson, NC.

4. Depriest, Joe. “Battle of Cowan’s Ford anniversary.” Charlotte Observer. Jan. 20, 2008. Web.

5. Giduz, Bill. “Alumnus Reclaims College Namesake’s Revolutionary War ‘Wallet’ for USA.” Davidson News & Events. Davidson College, Davidson, NC. June 27, 2001.