Dictionary of Virginia Biography


William Darke (6 May 1736–25 or 26 November 1801), member of the Convention of 1788, was born in Pennsylvania. He was the son of Joseph Darke, but the name of his mother is not known. While he was still a child, the family moved to the part of Virginia that in 1772 became Berkeley County. Darke served in the militia beginning in 1755 during the French and Indian War, but records do not document that he was present at Major General Edward Braddock's defeat on 9 July 1755, as his first biographer stated. By the mid-1760s he had married a widow, Sarah Deleyea, whose maiden name is unknown. They had at least three sons and one daughter. Darke also served as guardian of the orphaned Thomas Worthington, who later became governor of Ohio.

During the winter of 1775–1776 Darke recruited a company of volunteers for service in the Continental army. His unit became part of the 8th Virginia Regiment, sometimes called the German Regiment because it included several companies of predominantly German-speaking men. Darke's commission as captain was effective as of 9 February 1776. He was promoted to major on 4 January 1777 and was wounded and captured at the Battle of Germantown, in Pennsylvania, on 4 October of that year. The British held him prisoner on Long Island until he was exchanged late in 1780, by which time the 8th Virginia Regiment had merged with the 4th Virginia Regiment. Promoted to lieutenant colonel of the 4th Virginia Regiment early in 1781, Darke was in the field during the remainder of the year and may have been present when the British surrendered at Yorktown. He retired from the army at the beginning of 1783, returned to Berkeley County, and later that year received a warrant entitling him to 6,666⅔ acres of western land as additional compensation for his military service during the war. In March 1790 he received a warrant for another 1,111½ acres.

In 1788 Darke was elected with little opposition as one of two delegates representing Berkeley County in a convention called to consider ratification of the proposed constitution of the United States. He did not take part in the formal debates but was known to favor ratification. On 25 June, Darke voted against requiring amendment of the Constitution before ratification and then voted in favor of ratifying it. He also voted against a proposed amendment to restrict the taxing power of Congress.

In the spring of 1791 Darke won election to one of the two Berkeley County seats in the House of Delegates. At about the same time President George Washington asked him to accept a commission as a colonel for an expedition to the area north of the Ohio River, so Darke never took his seat in the General Assembly. During the summer he led several companies of Virginia and Maryland militiamen to Fort Pitt and then to Fort Washington in the Northwest Territory. In September the troops marched north with Major General Arthur St. Clair, and by 3 November they had reached the Eastern Branch of the Wabash River. Nearly all the field officers disliked and distrusted each other, and Darke was stubborn and hot-headed, attitudes that probably contributed to difficulties coordinating movements of the regiments. On 4 November 1791 Miami Indians attacked and defeated the army. Darke distinguished himself by ordering a charge that temporarily repulsed the advance against the left flank, but he was wounded in the thigh and saw his youngest son receive a mortal wound. St. Clair's Defeat proved a major setback for Washington's plan to pacify the northwestern frontier. One of the few participating field officers whose reputation rose rather than fell as a consequence of the expedition, Darke later publicized his criticisms of St. Clair. Washington asked whether he would accept appointment as a general, but Darke equivocated, depending on whom the president appointed as the new commanding general. Losing patience, Washington offered him no appointment at all.

Darke retired to Berkeley County, where by the end of the decade he owned nearly 800 acres of land and more than two dozen slaves. On 30 November 1793 the General Assembly elected him a brigadier general in the Virginia militia, in which office he served until his death. Darke supported Thomas Jefferson for president in 1800 and early in 1801 offered advice about appointments to Jefferson and to James Madison (1751–1836). In 1801 Darke was named to the court of Jefferson County when it was split off from Berkeley County. It is not certain whether he attended the first meeting of the new court on 10 November 1801, as an undocumented account of the event later stated.

Darkesville, in Berkeley County, was named for him in 1791, as was Darke County, Ohio, established in 1809. William Darke died, probably at his home near Shepherdstown, in Jefferson County, on 25 or 26 November 1801 and was buried in nearby Engle (also known as Ronemous) Cemetery.


Sources Consulted:
Birth date and father's name in family Bible records in Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 17 (1893): 330; undocumented biographies with few details in Military and Naval Magazine of the United States 6 (Sept. 1835): 1–9 (with death date of 20 Nov. 1801), F. Vernon Aler, Aler's History of Martinsburg and Berkeley County, West Virginia (1888), 193–199 (with death date of 20 Nov. 1801), J. E. Norris, ed., History of the Lower Shenandoah Valley (1890), 251–252, 315, and Danske Dandridge, Historic Shepherdstown (1910), 254–261; Bounty Warrants (1779–1860), Office of the Governor, Record Group 3, and Land Office Military Certificates (1782–1876), Virginia Land Office, Record Group 4, both Library of Virginia; William J. Van Schreeven et al., eds., Revolutionary Virginia, the Road to Independence: A Documentary Record (1973–1983), 6:18, 272 (first commission), 384, 385, 7:187, 295, 306, 401, 402–403, 618; John P. Kaminski et al., eds., The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution: Ratification of the Constitution by the States, vols. 8–10: Virginia (1988–1993), 9:571–573, 10:1539, 1540, 1556, 1565; numerous references and several letters in Dorothy Twohig, W. W. Abbot, et al., eds., The Papers of George Washington: Presidential Series (1987– ), vols. 7–10 (Darke's battle report on 9:158–168); Julian P. Boyd et al., eds., The Papers of Thomas Jefferson (1950– ), esp. 3:388–391, 4:501, 33:103; Robert J. Brugger et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison: Secretary of State Series (1986– ), 1:217; Henry R. McIlwaine et al., eds., Journals of the Council of the State of Virginia, 1776–1791 (1931–1982), 3:107, 416, 434; Journal of the House of Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, 1793 sess., 105; purported portrait in Third Biennial Report of the Department of Archives and History of the State of West Virginia (1911), opp. 119; will and estate inventory in Jefferson Co. (W.Va.) Will Book 1, p. 1–4, 29–34; gravestone inscription (death date of 26 Nov. 1801) printed in Magazine of the Jefferson County Historical Society 26 (1960): 35; obituaries in Alexandria Times; and District of Columbia Daily Advertiser, 7 Dec. 1801 (with death date of Wednesday, 25 Nov. 1801), New York Commercial Advertiser, 18 Dec. 1801 (with death date of 26 Nov. 1801), and Oracle of Dauphin, and Harrisburgh Advertiser, 21 Dec. 1801 (with erroneous death date of Wednesday, 30 Nov. 1801).


Written for the Dictionary of Virginia Biography by Brent Tarter.

How to cite this page:
Brent Tarter,"William Darke (1736–1801)," Dictionary of Virginia Biography, Library of Virginia (1998– ), published 2015 (http://www.lva.virginia.gov/public/dvb/bio.asp?b=Darke_William, accessed [today's date]).


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