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This article is from the Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, 6 volumes, edited by William S. Powell. Copyright ©1979-1996 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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Davis, William Henry

by James W. Wall, 1986

22 July 1880–26 May 1960

William Henry Davis, editor and publisher of a partisan newspaper, The Hornet, was born at Fork, Davie County, the son of Daniel V. Davis and Sarah Hodges. He was married to Maude Williams. After graduating from Hodges Business College, a private academy near Fork, he taught school and toured as a lecturer on contemporary topics.

In 1902, at his home in Fork, Davis began publishing The Hornet, according to its editor the "Hottest Democratic Paper in the United States." Considering "fire-eating politics at the national level," he competed with the Republican Yellow Jacket, published at Moravian Falls, N.C. To launch the paper, Davis sent out sample copies and ran an advertisement in The Commoner, published by William Jennings Bryan. The Hornet quickly attracted national attention, received help from the national headquarters of the Democratic party, and by 1914 attained a circulation of some 25,000, much of which was in California, New York, West Virginia, and Kentucky. The large circulation required Davis to build an office near his home and to stop printing the paper on his own cylinder press. In 1913, following the election of Woodrow Wilson, the post office at Fork was reestablished to facilitate the mailing of the paper; Davis was postmaster.

Initially, The Hornet appeared only before the November elections. From 1912 until World War II, however, it was published monthly except from 1930 to 1932. After Pearl Harbor and the United States entry into the war, the paper was suspended in an effort to discourage partisanship. When The Hornet was discontinued as a Democratic party newspaper, Davis continued to publish it as an organ for the Free-Thinkers of America until about 1955. Its circulation was about 10,000.

Davis was buried in the Fork Baptist Church cemetery.

The front page of the September 30, 1908 edition of The Hornet. Image from the N.C. Government & Heritage Library.


Davie County Enterprise-Record, 2 June 1960.

Martin Collection, Davie County Library, Mocksville.

J. W. Wall, History of Davie County (1960).

Additional Resources:

"Religious Belief, His Defense." Editor & Publisher 51, no. 14 (September 14, 1918). 15. (accessed February 11, 2014).

"The Press: The Hottest." Time magazine. July 02, 1923.,9171,716005,00.html (accessed February 11, 2014).

McKown, Harry. "The Case of the Missing Hornet." North Carolina Miscellany (blog). North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. July 31, 2009. (accessed February 11, 2014).

Johnson, Ellen. "Atheism in history.(The Hornet, atheist newspaper founded in 1901)." American Atheist Magazine. March 22, 2004.

Image Credits:

[Front page]. The Hornet. September 30, 1908. North Carolina Government & Heritage Library.

Origin - location: