Documenting the American South Logo
Colonial and State Records of North Carolina
Report by the United States Senate concerning William Lee Davidson's military service in the Revolutionary War
United States. Congress
January 21, 1857
Volume 22, Pages 118-120

34th Congress,
3d Session.
Rep. Com.
No. 314.


January, 21, 1857.—Ordered to be printed.

Mr. Evans made the following


[To accompany bill S. 512.]

The Committee on Revolutionary Claims, to whom was referred the petition of William L. Davidson, heir of General William Davidson, deceased, having had the same under consideration, report:

That the history of the military services of the father of the petitioner is fully set forth in Wheeler’s History of North Carolina, and in the Journals of Congress from 1775 to 1781. He was a member of the Mecklenburg convention, which, in May, 1775, made the first declaration of independence which emanated from the American people.

After the battle of Lexington when it became manifest that the difficulties between the colonies and Great Britain were to be decided by the sword, the convention of North Carolina raised six battalions for the common defence, and tendered their services to Congress. Of the 4th battalion, Thomas Polk was appointed Colonel, James Thackston lieutenant colonel, and William Davidson major. These appointments were made by the Congress of the United colonies, on the recommendation of the convention of North Carolina, on the 7th of May, 1776. The North Carolina troops were marched to the North, under General Nash, to reinforce the army under the command of General Washington.

In this arduous service he remained until November, 1779, when

-------------------- page 119 --------------------
the North Carolina troops were ordered to reinforce General Lincoln in South Carolina. In the meantime Major Davidson had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

As the troops passed through North Carolina, he obtained leave of absence for a short time to visit his family, whom he had not seen since he left them to join the northern army. It is stated in the petition, and there is no reason to doubt the fact, that when his furlough expired, he immediately repaired to Charleston to join his regiment; but when he arrived in the neighborhood, he found the city so closely beleaguered that it was impossible for him to go in.

When Charleston capitulated, in May, 1780, his regiment were made prisoners of war, and he, being out of active employment, repaired to Mechlenburgh, his native county, and raised a volunteer corps for the purpose of keeping in subjection the tories, who were numerous in that part of North Carolina and the adjoining parts of South Carolina. In this service he was actively engaged until after Gates’ defeat in August, 1780. In this battle General Rutherford, who commanded the militia of the Salisbury division, was taken prisoner, and his command was conferred by the government of North Carolina upon Colonel Davidson, who thus became a brigadier of militia, retaining at the same time his rank in the continental army, ready to resume his command when his regiment should be exchanged or again recruited.

In January, 1781, whilst General Greene was retreating through North Carolina, pursued by a superior force of the enemy under Lord Cornwallis, it became of great importance to retard the march of the enemy as much as possible, and to enable the American general to cross the Yadkin before he could be overtaken. To this end Colonel Davidson, by the order of General Greene, posted his command, consisting of 300 militia, at Cowan’s ford, on the Catawba river, which it was supposed was one of the passes by which the enemy would attempt to cross that river. This conjecture proved to be correct.

On the morning of the 1st of February, 1781, the enemy, in large force, appeared on the opposite side of the river. Their passage was resisted with great vigor and courage, and was effected at a heavy loss; but in the conflict the American commander was killed. In consideration of his gallant conduct, Congress, on the 20th day of September, 1781, passed a resolution requesting the Governor and council of North Carolina to erect a monumnet, at the expense of the

-------------------- page 120 --------------------
United States, not exceeding in value $500, to the memory of the late General Davidson, who commanded the militia of the district of Salisbury, in the State of North Carolina, and was killed on the 1 Feb., 1781, fighting gallantly for the defence of the liberty and independence of these States.

Under these circumstances, the petitioner claims for himself, and the other children of Colonel Davidson, the seven years’ half-pay, to which they conceive themselves entitled under the resolution of Congress of the 24th of August, 1780, which is in these words: “Resolved, That the resolution of the 15th day of May, 1778, granting half-pay for seven years to the officers of the army who should continue in the service to the end of the war, be extended to the widows of those officers who have died, or shall hereafter die in the service, to commence from the time of such officer’s death.” A subsequent part of the same resolution gives the allowance to the orphan children of the deceased officer, in case there be no widow or she should afterwards marry. From the facts herein stated, there is no doubt that, in consequence of the death of General Davidson, his widow, if he left one, and if none, his children, who were then orphans, were entitled to the seven years’ half-pay.”

He was one of those who were entitled to the seven years’ half-pay under the resolution of the 15th of May, 1778, and he was afterwards killed in battle acting under the orders of Major General Greene. His command of the militia, and bearing the commission of a major general of the militia, could not change the legality of the claim of his family, under the resolution of the 24th of August, 1780.

The committee, therefore, report a bill to pay to the petitioner, W. L. Davidson, for himself and the other children of his father, the halfpay of a lieutenant colonel of infantry for seven years. They are not orphans now, but they were at the death of their father. If they did not receive it then, they are entitled now. Such has been the uniform construction of the resolution, as appears from many acts passed within the last thirty years.