General William Lenoir
William Lenoir (1751-1839) was
an American Revolutionary War officer and prominent statesman in
late 18th-century and early 19th-century North Carolina. Both the
City of Lenoir, North Carolina, and Lenoir County, North Carolina, are
named for him. Additionally, Lenoir City, Tennessee, is jointly named
for him and for his son, William Ballard Lenoir.
Family and Early Years
Lenoir was born the youngest of ten in a French Huguenot family in Brunswick County, Virginia, but the family moved to eastern North Carolina when he was nine years old. Lenoir had no formal education, but could read and write Latin, Greek, and French. His first occupation was that of teacher and schoolmaster, before he became a surveyor. While surveying in western North Carolina, Lenoir decided to permanently settle there. He brought with him his wife, Ann Ballard, and a baby daughter, when he arrived in March 1775. The Lenoirs had nine children in all.
Historian Samuel Ashe called Lenoir an "active and zealous and efficient supporter of the cause of independence." He served with distinction in the American Revolutionary War, in particular taking part in the Battle of Kings Mountain as a Captain in the militia. He received minor wounds at that battle. Otherwise, his military service consisted mostly of skirmishes with Loyalists and Cherokee Indians. He last saw action at Pyle's massacre, at which his horse was said to be the only American Patriot casualty.
After the war, William and his wife, Ann, built their home, called Fort Defiance (plantation). Only years after the war did Lenoir achieve the rank of Major General from service in the state militia. Shortly after achieving that rank, he desired to fight in the War of 1812, but was deemed too old to do so. The disappointment of that led Lenoir to resign from the militia. Fort Defiance continues today, restored as a tourist and historical attraction in modern-day Caldwell County, North Carolina.
Politics and Public Service
Lenoir, an anti-federalist, served for many years as a justice of the peace and Clerk of Court for Wilkes County, North Carolina. He was a founding member (and, briefly, the first president) of the Board of Trustees of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where Lenoir Hall is also named for him.
From 1781 to 1795, Lenoir was also a member of the North Carolina General Assembly representing Wilkes County and served as Speaker of the North Carolina Senate from 1790 to 1795. He was a member of both the state convention of 1788, which rejected the United States Constitution, and the convention of 1789, which ratified it. Lenoir was suspicious of the new constitution and argued that it needed an amendment guaranteeing religious freedom (which, of course, it later got).
General Lenoir died on May 6, 1839, two days shy of his eighty-eighth birthday. His epitaph, written by Governor David Swain, read in part, "A genuine Whig whose highest eulogy is the record of his deeds."