Courtesy of Independence NHP

William Washington (1752-1810)

by Samuel K. Fore

William Washington was born on February 28, 1752 in Overwharton Parish, Stafford County, Virginia.1 At the outbreak of the War for Independence, he was elected a Captain of Stafford County Minutemen on September 12, 17752 and, with his company, was integrated into the Third Virginia Regiment on February 26, 1776. After marching north with his unit in the late Summer of 1776,3 Captain Washington joined the main Continental Army in New York in early September. That Autumn, he earned the confidence of his superiors and was selected to lead the picket guard before the main army during the attack on the enemy outpost at Trenton on December 26, 1776. During this engagement, he successfully charged the Hessian artillery park before the guns could be brought to bear against his countrymen. Slightly wounded, he was promptly rewarded with a promotion to Major of the newly created Fourth Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons upon recovery.4

By the end of 1779, Washington had advanced to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, commanding the Third Regiment of Continental Light Dragoons, and was ordered to join the patriot forces in Charleston, South Carolina. 5 In March 1780, Washington's regiment was among the light forces near Monck's Corner, reconnoitering and screening against the movements of the advancing British Army. On March 26, 1780 he had his first encounter with British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton near Rantowle's Bridge.6 Unfortunately, Washington's command was among those overwhelmed and decimated by Tarleton at Monck's Corner on April 14, and again at Lenud's Ferry on May 5.7 After retreating and refitting in North Carolina, he had military successes with the capture of Rugeley's Fort near Camden8 and the vanquishing of a marauding band of Tories at Hammond's Old Store9 in the Little River District later in the year. On January 17, 1781, Washington commanded the combined Continental and militia cavalry force at the Battle of Cowpens that was instrumental to the Patriot victory.10 For his intrepidity, Congress awarded him a silver medal.11 Always at the head of his regiment, Washington fought boldly at the battles of Guilford Courthouse in March, Hobkirk Hill in April, and Eutaw Springs in September. Unfortunately, he was seriously wounded in the last engagement while leading a charge and was subsequently captured.12 The renowned British commander in the South, Lieutenant General Charles, Lord Cornwallis, would later comment that "there could be no more formidable antagonist in a charge, at the head of his cavalry, than Colonel William Washington."13

As a prisoner of war, Colonel Washington spent the remaining war years in Charleston. There he married Jane Reily Elliott on April 21, 1782 and consequently gained Sandy Hill plantation in St. Paul Parish, as well as other properties in the state. Pursuing the life of a lowcountry planter, Washington represented the district in the state legislature, first as a representative and later as a senator, from 1787 to 1804. He also accepted a post as Brigadier General commanding the Seventh Brigade of state militia in 179414 and, during anticipated hostilities with France, was appointed a Brigadier General commanding South Carolina and Georgia forces in the Provisional U.S. Army in 1798.15 After a lingering illness, William Washington passed away on March 16, 1810.16 Having no middle name, he is often confused in history with a distant cousin, William Augustine Washington (1757-1810) of Westmoreland County, Virginia.17


1King, George H. S. The Register of Saint Paul's Parish, 1715-1798, Stafford County, Virginia. (Fredericksburg, Va.: Privately published, 1960), 123. (Copy provided.)

2Scribner, Robert L., ed. Revolutionary Virginia: Vol. IV; The Committee of Safety and the Balance of Forces, 1775. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1978) 99-100.

3Sanchez-Saavedra, E. M., comp. A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations in the American Revolution, 1774-1787. (Richmond: Virginia State Library, 1978), 39. Though the compiler incorrectly indicates that Washington's company was raised in Westmoreland County, see Robert L. Scribner, ed. Revolutionary Virginia: Vol. VI; The Time for Decision, 1776. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1981), 339-40.

4Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783. (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., Inc., 1982), 574 & George Washington to George Weedon, March 27, 1777, in Frank E. Grizzard, ed. The Papers of George Washington: Revolutionary War Series, Vol. 8, Jan.-Mar. 1777. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), 642-44.

5George Washington to William Washington, Nov. 19, 1779, in John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources: Vol. 17. (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1937), 135-36.

6Bass, Robert D. The Green Dragoon: The Lives of Banastre Tarleton & Mary Robinson. (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1957), 73.

7Borick, Carl P. A Gallant Defense: The Siege of Charleston, 1780. (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2003), 148-50 & 193-94.

8William Smallwood to Nathanael Greene, Dec. 6, 1780 in Dennis M. Conrad, ed. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene: Vol. VI. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1991.), 538-41.

9Daniel Morgan to Nathanael Greene, Dec. 31, 1780 in Dennis M. Conrad, ed. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene: Vol. VII. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1994.), 30-33.

10Babits, Lawrence E. Devil of a Whipping: The Battle of Cowpens. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998.), 124-36.

11Ford, Worthington Chauncey, ed. Journals of Continental Congress: Vol. 19. (Washington, U.S.G.P.O., 1912), 247.

12See appropriate chapters in Lumpkin, Henry, From Savannah to Yorktown: The American Revolution in the South. (Columbia: University of South Carolina, 1981)

13From "a communication made by William Jackson to Major Alexander Garden at Philadelphia in September 1822 or 1823," Williams-Chesnut-Manning Families Papers, South Caroliniana Library.

14Flynn, Jean Martin. "South Carolina's Compliance with the Militia Act of 1792." South Carolina Historical Magazine 69, no. 1 (Jan. 1968), 43.

15George Washington to James McHenry, Dec. 16, 1798, in W. W. Abbott and Edward G. Lengel, eds. The Papers of George Washington: Retirement Series, Vol. 3, Sept. 1798-Apr. 1799. (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998.) 269.

16See Charleston City Gazette & Daly Advertiser, Tuesday, March 27, 1810; Charleston Courier, Wednesday Morning, March 28, 1810; and Webber, Mabel L. "Records from the Elliott-Rowand Bible" South Carolina Historical Magazine 11, no. 1 (Jan. 1910): 66.

17There are numerous instances in historic literature that refers to William Washington (1752-1810) with the erroneous middle name of Augustine or Augustus. His birth is recorded simply as "William Washington" in The Register of Overwharton Parish, Stafford County, Virginia 1723-1758. William Augustine Washington (1757-1810) of Westmoreland County, Virginia, was the nephew of George Washington, whereas William Washington (1752-1810) was only a second cousin of the first President. Both Williams were Colonels in the Revolutionary War and, to further complicate matters, were married to ladies named Jane afterwards.