A Patriot from Colonial North Carolina

The Hicks family has passed down the legend of Colonel Thomas Burwell Davis, an ancestor who served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution. In 2019 they decided to find out how much of the story is true about their Patriot Ancestor.

Burwell Davis was born 14 August 1756 in Granville County, North Carolina located along the Virginia-North Carolina state line. The Davis family came to the area during the Colonial Period, and land records show that they were able to keep the same land in their family for many generations. 

Davis lived in the same community for his entire life, though the name of the county changed three times during his lifetime. When Burwell Davis was born, the community was called Granville County, named for the Earl of Granville, who the locals felt was a British tyrant. In 1764, Bute County was formed from a division of Granville County. In 1779, the North Carolina General Assembly voted to remove the colonial reference to the British Earl of Bute, and renamed the community Warren County, after American Revolutionary War hero, General Joseph Warren. 

During the 1760s, the residents of this farming community on the Virginia-North Carolina border were known for their patriotism. It was said “There are no Tories in Bute,” as the citizens strongly sided with the cause of the American colonists. When war broke out, many local men joined the Continental Army to fight against the British.

In the fall of 1778, Burwell Davis joined the regiment of militia under Colonel Thomas Eaton and General John Ashe at the Bute County Courthouse. He served for a period of six months, seeing action at Briar Creek, South Carolina, and supported American troops who were fighting in Savannah, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina. He was discharged and returned home in May of 1779. 

Burwell Davis was drafted a second time in March 1781. He donated a horse to the Continent Army in order to shorten his period of service. Davis served under Captain Thomas Alston of Warren County and Colonel Malmedy, a French immigrant to Rhode Island who was given command of the North Carolina Light Dragoons. After two months, Davis was discharged and returned home in May 1781.

The American Revolution ended on 3 September 1783, when U.S. and British representatives signed the Treaty of Paris. Burwell returned home and started a family. He enjoyed telling his children and grandchildren stirring scenes of his time as a soldier and of life in Colonial America.

Census records from 1790 to 1840 show that Burwell Davis grew in prosperity with each passing decade. At the time of the 1790 U.S. Census, he lived near to his father, Peter Davis. Burwell was the head of a small household, perhaps consisting of himself (free white male age 16 and over), his wife Patsy (free white female), one male child (free white male under age 16), one daughter (free white female), as well as one enslaved person.

By the 1840 U.S. Census, Burwell was the head of a household which contained 40 people. His Will, written 27 June 1842, named many of his children and the enslaved persons who were living in his household. He requested that his estate be kept together for the support of his son, Samuel Davis, and his daughter, Jane Powell. He bequeathed to each of his children a “negro” along with “their increase from this day.”  Additionally, each of his sons received a large tract of land.

On 29 August 1832, Burwell Davis “appeared in open Court before the justices,” and made a statement about his service during the American Revolution. Burwell’s pension record states that his rank was “Private,” and he qualified for a pension of $26.66 per year. Neither his pension record nor his statement at the pension interview mention whether he was ever married nor do they name any other family members. Additionally, the name of the justice who signed the statement of Burwell Davis was Peter R. Davis, but no relationship between the two men was referred to in the document. 

Upon his death in 1846, Burwell Davis was buried in the Shady Grove Methodist Church Cemetery. His headstone reads: 

Burwell Davis

Col. Thomas 

Eaton’s Regt.

Rev. War

His obituary relates that he “commanded in a very high degree the esteem and regard” of his fellow citizens. He was looked upon as a relic of revolutionary times, and the generation “which achieved our country’s freedom and independence.” 

In 1917, the Warren Record did a series of articles on the history of Warren County. They discuss whether it was Burwell Davis, or his father, Peter Davis, who has the honor of being the patriarch of the Davis family in Warren County. The article states that Peter Davis was married twice, and it names ten of his children. The article states that Burwell Davis was married to Patsy Hawkins of Halifax, North Carolina. The couple had eight children: Sallie, Dick, Jennie, Samuel, Nancy, Edward, John S. and Isham. The article continues to say that Burwell Davis was by no means an ordinary man. He was raised in the colonial era and attended school only six months where he learned “reading, writing and ciphering.” As an adult, he “had a great thirst for knowledge,” spending many hours improving his mind by reading books and building an impressive library. Burwell was known as one of the best informed and most interesting men of his day in the county. 

Conclusion

In an affidavit, Burwell Davis states that he was born 14 August 1756, in Bute County, an area known today as Warren County, North Carolina. He was a Patriot during the American Revolutionary War, serving on two different occasions, for a total of eight months, and was discharged with the rank of “Private.”

No records could be found for Colonel Thomas Burwell Davis. However, many “family memories” posted to the Internet name Burwell Davis as “Colonel Thomas Burwell Davis,” perhaps due to misreading the headstone where the name “Colonel Thomas Eaton” is written below that of Davis. 

Bibliography

Burwell Davis Obituary, The Raleigh Register (Raleigh, North Carolina), 01 Sept 1846, p. 2, col 3; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/55557522 : accessed 10 March 2019).

Burwell Davis household, 1790 U.S. Census, Warren, North Carolina, page 64; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 March 2019), citing National Archives microfilm publication M637, roll 7.

Federal Writers’ Project, North Carolina: A Guide to the Old North State (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1939).

“North Carolina Probate Records, 1735-1970,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : accessed 19 March 2019), entry for Burwell Davis; Warren County Courthouse, North Carolina.

North Carolina, Secretary of State, Granville Proprietary Land Office: Land Entries, Warrants, and Plats of Survey 1748-1763 Lewis Davis 1754 (North Carolina State Archives: Raleigh, North Carolina).

Peter Davis household, 1790 U.S. Census, Warren, North Carolina, page 64; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 10 March 2019), citing National Archives microfilm publication M637, roll 7.

T. J. Taylor, “Old Times in Warren: Burwell Davis,” The Warren Record (Warrenton, North Carolina), 16 March 1917, p. 1, col 1-2; digital images, Newspapers.com (https://www.newspapers.com/clip/55547825 : accessed 10 March 2019).

U.S., Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files (NARA microfilm publication M804, 2,670 rolls). 1832 application of Burwell Davis, aged 76; Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Record Group 15. National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital image, Ancestry.com