Richardson Davie, the "Father of the University of North
Carolina," was born on June 22, 1756, in the Parish of
Egremont, County Cumberland, England. His parents, Archibald
and Mary Richardson Davie, were Scottish but had moved to the
northwest of England prior to his birth. The future soldier
and statesman immigrated with his parents and siblings to the
Waxhaws region of South Carolina around the time he was eight
The exact reasons for the Davie family leaving England are
open to speculation. Some conjecture has centered on Davie's
uncle and namesake, William Richardson. Coming to America in
the early 1750s, Richardson was ordained by the Presbyterian
Church in 1758. After a brief mission trip among the Cherokee
Indians, he accepted a call to serve the Waxhaw Presbyterian
Church in Craven County, South Carolina. Richardson wisely
invested and nurtured an inheritance and his income as minister,
so by the early 1760s he was a well-established member of the
Waxhaws area. This material prosperity, however, did not diminish
Richardson's disappointment that he and his wife remained childless.
In an attempt to fill the void, Richardson convinced his sister,
Mary, and her family to move to the backcountry of South Carolina
Davie enjoyed a comfortable childhood and the beginnings of
a classical education while growing up near his uncle. He attended
Queen's College, later Queen's Museum, in Charlotte before
enrolling in the College of New Jersey (now known as Princeton
University). Graduating in 1776, Davie moved to Salisbury,
North Carolina, to study law in the office of Spruce Macay.
The mounting conflict of the Revolutionary War forced Davie
to suspend his studies and immediately involve himself as a
Whig partisan fighter in the North Carolina Piedmont. Eventually,
he would climb to the rank of commissary general, serving Nathaniel
Greene's Southern Army during the last years of hostilities.
As did many Revolutionary War leaders, Davie translated military
success and prowess on the battlefield into achievement in
the world of politics. After the conflict, he moved to Halifax,
North Carolina, to practice law and was elected as a representative
to the General Assembly. In 1787 he was selected by the legislature
as one of North Carolina's delegates to the Federal Convention
in Philadelphia, which drafted the United States Constitution.
Although Davie did not stay to sign the final document, he
successfully fought for North Carolina's eventual ratification.
It was in the General Assembly, however, that Davie would
earn the title by which he is still known today. He proved
to be the major force in satisfying the requirements of Section
41 of North Carolina's constitution, which stated, "all
usefull [sic] learning shall be duly encouraged and promoted
in one or more universities." In 1789 Davie introduced
a bill to establish the University of North Carolina and led
the charge to secure its passage. Furthermore, his involvement
with the University did not end with its creation: he served
on the Board of Trustees, presided at the cornerstone laying
ceremony of the first building, helped to formulate its first
curriculum, consulted on selecting faculty members, procured
additional financial support, donated books and other artifacts,
and took part in the many other activities needed to launch
the University. Even after moving back to South Carolina in
late 1804, Davie continued to correspond with and give advice
to the University's trustees.
Although Davie would go on to serve as North Carolina's governor
from 1798 to 1799 and as a minister plenipotentiary to France
from 1799 to 1800, his main contribution to his adopted country
and state remains as "Father" of the nation's first
Suggestions For Further Reading:
Blackwell P. Robinson. William R. Davie. Chapel Hill:
University of North Carolina Press, 1957.
R. D. W. Connor, Hugh T. Lefler, and Louis R. Wilson, Eds. A
Documentary History of the University of North Carolina,
1776-1799 (2 vols.). Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press, 1953.
William D. Snider. Light on the Hill: A History of the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Chapel
Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.
Kemp Plummer Battle. History of the University of North
Carolina. Raleigh: Edwards & Broughton, 1912. Available
online through Documenting the American South at http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/battle1/menu.html