Brigadier General William Lee Davidson was the first
person killed in a skirmish with Lord Cornwallis’ much superior troops at
Cowen’s Ford on the Catawba River.
British troops were in hot pursuit of General Nathaniel Green’s tattered
forces. If "the Fighting Quaker" and his men had been defeated and or
captured it would probably have meant the end of the Southern Army during
the Revolutionary War.
General Davidson had been sent back home to the
Mecklenburg County area because he was very popular there. He was expected
to recruit volunteers for the local militia in an attempt to block or at
least slow down Cornwallis’ army. Several historians make the case that
Davidson’s sacrifice did buy enough time for General Greene to escape
Cornwallis. He thus went on to help win the war.
Three of General Davidson’s friends found his body that afternoon. He had
been stripped naked! The British troops had proceeded north and were near
Davidson’s home church, Centre Presbyterian. Our of fear that the British
might further desecrate the young general’s body, his friends decided to
bury him in the cemetery of the nearby Hopewell Presbyterian Church.
Former Pastor Jeff Lowrance with
Mario Aleppo from London, with the
wallet at Hopewell on its way to
Guilford Courthouse Museum
widow was sneaked past the British so that she could attend the torchlight
service that night. She returned home to care for the eight fatherless
children including the general’s namesake who was less than a month old at
the time of his father’s death.
This William Lee Davidson II grew up to donate the land for a new college
the Presbyterian denomination was organizing in 1837. In gratitude the
college was named to honor the general, Davidson College. Later a county in
North Carolina would also be named in memory of General Davidson. In the
late 1910’s the archivist and librarian at that same college was writing a
biography about General Davidson. This Chalmers Davidson was distant kin. He
wrote the British Archives known as the Public Records Office inquiring
about whether they possessed any material about the general in their
Cornwallis collections. The PRO did not respond until 1963 when it was
announced that they had found General Davidson’s wallet along with the
twenty-seven documents contained therein. They were gracious to send copies
of those documents to the Davidson College Library.
Thirty-seven years later the Reverend Jeff Lowrance serving Hopewell
Presbyterian Church announced that he had arranged a pulpit exchange with a
church in Shrewsberry, England. Soon Gary Knox, a realtor and history buff
in the town of Davidson telephoned the Reverend Lowrance and challenged him
to bring General Davidson’s wallet back home.
Through the archivist at Davidson College the pastor discovered that the
Guilford Courthouse Battleground in Greensboro was putting totally new
exhibits in their visitor center about the Southern Campaign of the
Revolutionary War. They were treating the Battle at Cowen’s Ford as the
beginning of that whole campaign. The Battleground was delighted at the
prospect of displaying the wallet in their exhibit. Their site would also
provide the security and the environmental conditions necessary to meet the
PRO’s requirements for a loan.
The Reverend Lowrance and his family made a wondrous visit to see the
wallet in Kew Gardens. There he began the negotiations that resulted in the
loan of the wallet for a one-year period to the Guildford Courthouse
Battleground. Usually, such loans are only three months.
There were numerous obstacles in the process including
having to raise ten thousand dollars to bring the wallet home. It arrived at
Charlotte Douglas International Airport on July 3, 2001 to much fanfare.
After stops at the Hopewell Cemetery and Davidson College, an entourage
delivered it to the Guilford Courthouse Battleground for the official
opening of the new exhibit on July 4th. It was on display there until July