Skip to main content

Davidson family papers

Identifier: MS0188

Scope and Contents

This collection is comprised of correspondence, financial records, and legal documents, documenting primarily the Davidson Family connected to Rural Hill plantation in northern Mecklenburg County. Other material pertains to the related families of Alexander, Barry, Hampton, Montieth, and Wilson.


  • 1756 - 1998
  • 1833 - 1976


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Some material may be copyrighted or restricted. It is the patron's obligation to determine and satisfy copyright or other case restrictions when publishing or otherwise distributing materials found in the collections.

Biographical / Historical

The Davidson family has been prominent in Mecklenburg County since colonial times. Major John Davidson (1735-1832) was born in Lancaster County, Pa. to Robert and Isabella Ramsay Davidson. They emigrated to America from Ulster, Ireland, where their parents had settled after moving from Scotland. [Some chroniclers believe Robert and Isabella emigrated to America directly from Scotland.] Robert died soon after the birth of his daughter, Mary. The widowed Isabella moved her family to North Carolina in the early 1750s, settling on the Yadkin River near Salisbury. There she married Henry Hendry, a schoolteacher believed to have been educated at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Among Hendry’s pupils were his stepchildren, John and Mary. In 1759, John, a blacksmith by trade, moved to what is now Mecklenburg County (created from Anson County in 1762), bringing Mary with him as his housekeeper. The following year, he married Violet Winslow Wilson (1742-1818), the eldest daughter of Samuel Wilson, one Mecklenburg’s wealthiest landowners, and Mary Winslow Wilson. [Violet's sister, Mary, married Ezekiel Polk. One of their grandsons was President James K. Polk.] John obtained a grant in 1767 for land on the Catawba River in Mecklenburg County. There he built a log house, Rural Retreat. In 1788 he built Rural Hill, a redbrick mansion destroyed by fire in 1886 [NOTE: The Charlotte Observer, in reporting the fire, described the house as "the finest country residence in all this section of the State."]. During the colonial period, John served as a justice of the peace and as a member of the North Carolina House of Commons for Mecklenburg County. He and Thomas Polk were instrumental in the passage of a bill making Charlotte the permanent county seat of Mecklenburg (March 19, 1774). With the takeover of the colonial government in 1775, John was elected to the Committee of Safety for Mecklenburg County. He was a signer of the legendary Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence. John served as a major in the local militia during the Revolutionary War. He also played a key role in developing Lincoln County's iron industry. He and two of his sons-in-law--Captain Alexander Brevard and Major Joseph Graham--established Vesuvius Furnace, the state's first iron mine. They also operated the Tirzah forge, which supplied American forces with cannon balls during the War of 1812. John and Violet had ten children: Rebecca (1762-1824; m. Capt. Alexander Brevard, 1784); Isabella (1764-1808; m. Gen. Joseph Graham, 1787); Mary Polly (1766-1862; m. Dr. William Maclean, 1792); Robert (1769-1853, m. Margaret M. Osborne, 1801); Violet (1771-1821; m. William Bain Alexander, 1791); Sarah "Sallie" (1774-1842; m. Rev. Alexander Caldwell, 1794); Margaret (1777-1830; m. James Harris, 1813); John "Jacky" Jr. (1779-1870) [see below]; Elizabeth "Betsy Lee" (1782-1845) [see below]; and Benjamin Wilson (1787-1829; m. Elizabeth Latta, 1818). Elizabeth married William Lee Davidson Jr. (1781-1862), son of Mary Brevard and Gen. William Lee Davidson (1746-81). The general served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and died at the Battle of Cowan's Ford. His father, George Davidson of Rowan County, may have been a brother or first cousin of John Davidson's father, Robert. Elizabeth and William settled in Mecklenburg County and gave the land for Davidson College, which opened in 1837 and is named for General Davidson. Major John Davidson died in 1832 while living with Elizabeth and William Lee Jr. on their Beaver Dam plantation. He is buried in the family graveyard near Tool's Ford, on the Catawba River, just south of the original mansion house on Neck Road in the Hopewell section of Mecklenburg County. John "Jacky" Jr., who inherited Rural Hill, married Sarah "Sally" Harper Brevard in 1800. In 1849, John Jr. gave Rural Hill to his son, Adam Brevard (1808-96). Adam married Mary Laura Springs (1813-72) in 1836. Among their fifteen children were John Springs [see below] and Edward Lee Baxter (1858-1944). Following the death of his first wife, Adam married Cornelia Elmore (1835-1921) in 1876. John Springs Davidson (1838-99) inherited Rural Hill from his father. He married Martha Abigail "Minnie" Caldwell (1840-98), daughter of Dr. David T. Caldwell of Rosedale plantation, in 1864. They gave Rural Hill to their son Joseph Graham (1868-1949), who married Annie May Alexander (1881-1969) in 1904. The latter’s children--John Springs (1906-98), Elizabeth, and May--inherited Rural Hill [son Joseph Graham Jr. died in 1943]. Mecklenburg County bought Rural Hill from them in 1991. John and Minnie Davidson's son, Baxter Craighead Davidson (1875-1947), as a young boy, went to live with his aunt and uncle, Alice and Baxter Caldwell, at Rosedale, an 1815 plantation house in Charlotte. He married Louise Heagy of Jacksonville, Fla. (1891-1958) in 1914. They had two daughters: Mary Louise (1916-96) and Alice [Abel] (b. 1926).


3 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Papers of the Davidson family of Rural Hill Plantation in northern Mecklenburg County, N.C., and of the related families Alexander, Barry, Hampton, Montieth, and Wilson. Includes correspondence, family Bibles, financial records, land records, newspaper clippings, photographs, and plantation records for Rural Hill, as well as Dickson (Dixon) in Gaston County, N.C.


The collection is arranged into seven series, one of which (Photographs) is further divided into several subseries. The seven series are: Davidson Family (1830-1998), Alexander Family (1857-1993), Related Families (1795-1991), Family Bibles (1839-1872), History and Memorabilia (1930-1976), Genealogical Notes and Photographs (1860-1943).

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Ann Trotter, 1992; Gift of May Davidson, Caroline Grey, and John Springs Davidson, 1993; Gift of Elizabeth Davidson and May Davidson, 1993; Gift of Elizabeth Davidson, 1995; Miriam Wilson Smith, 2014.

Related Materials

Caldwell and Davidson Family Papers (UNCC Manuscript 208); Charlotte-Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission Reports: Hopewell Presbyterian Church (UNCC Manuscript 77 H665) and Rural Hill Plantation (UNCC Manuscript 77 R87); Hopewell Presbyterian Church Records (UNCC Manuscript 248); Davidson Family Papers, UNC-Chapel Hill (SHC #204); George F. Davidson Papers, Duke University. [See also William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography (1986), vol. 2: 22-26; and Charles D. Summerville, The History of Hopewell Presbyterian Church (1939).]

Preliminary pages of J. Murrey Atkins Library Rare Book Collection copy of v.2 Holy Bible, 1831-1832 (RARE BS491 .B73 1831) feature notations in pen about Davidson family members' births, deaths, and marriages. Clipping of news story from the March 13, 1943, edition of the Charlotte observer about the death of Lieutenant Joe G. Davidson Jr. in an airplane accident laid in.


Richard B. McCaslin, Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of North Carolina in the Civil War (Fayetteville, Ark.: The University of Arkansas Press, 1997).

Processing Information

Processed by Shaela Ingham, Rebecca Royals, and Joanna Goltzman, 1998.

Davidson family papers
Shaela Ingham, Rebecca Royals, and Joanna Goltzman
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collections, J. Murrey Atkins Library Special Collections and University Archives, UNC Charlotte Repository

Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte
9201 University City Blvd
Charlotte NC 28223 United States

About this Site

Finding aids are guides to archival collections, including manuscripts, university records, and oral history collections. These guides help you find physical collections which can be viewed in the Dalton Reading Room on the 10th floor of Atkins Library. A small number of finding aids link to digital content online. Please contact us to learn more or to schedule an appointment:

Special Collections and University Archives
J. Murrey Atkins Library, UNC Charlotte
(704) 687-1170
Schedule an Appointment