William Lee Davidson, a Continental Army General, was a brave leader who sought to defend Nathanael Greene’s retreat from Lord Cornwallis’s surge across North Carolina. In 1781, Davidson and his troops stood against Cornwallis at Cowan’s Ford, but the British eventually broke the defensive lines. Davidson died during the assault, and in honor of his gallantry, Davidson County was named after the Patriot. Also, the county’s seat, Lexington, was named in honor of the place where in 1775 “the shot heard round the world” was fired—Lexington, Massachusetts.
The Saponi were the first natives of the Yadkin Valley region and what is present-day Davidson County. German, Scotch-Irish, and English settlers started inhabiting the Yadkin River area, and by the mid-eighteenth century the culturally displaced Saponi had disappeared from the area. Afterward, more immigrant farming communities grew in the region, with Lutheran and Moravian enclaves to the north and Scotch-Irish and English hamlets to the south.
At the start of the nineteenth century, Davidson County’s economy shifted away from agriculture to mining, textile, and furniture industries. The short-lived 1830s gold rush in North Carolina pulled many miners to the area in search of a quick fortune. Not only did they search for gold, they mined for silver and copper. After the Civil War, the newly built railroads allowed businesses to transport more intrastate goods. The growth of railroads allowed towns such as Lexington and Thomasville to grow and eventually become significant producers of textile and furniture products.
In addition to Lexington and Thomasville, other communities and townships in Davidson County are Midway, Denton, Wallburg. Each have cultural and historic attractions, and the most well known is the “world’s largest chair” in Thomasville; Thomasville Furniture Industries claims ownership. Many historians believe Lexington to be the barbecue capital of North Carolina. Though eastern-style barbecue enthusiasts contest Lexington’s claim, hundreds of thousands visit Lexington each year to eat western-North Carolina barbecue (hickory-smoked pork with a tomato based sauce) at North Carolina’s largest food festival, the Lexington Barbecue Festival. Other parks and historic sites in Davidson County include Boone’s Cave Park, Childree Vineyards, High Rock Lake, and the Richard Childress Racing Museum.
“Davidson County.” David Leroy Corbitt. The Formation of the North Carolina Counties, 1663 – 1943. (State Department of Archives and History, Raleigh, NC: 1950, 1969). p. 87-88.
“Davidson County.” William S. Powell, ed. Encyclopedia of North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC 2006), p. 329.