William Davidson lived from 1740 to 17 June 1790. He was a lumber merchant, ship builder and politician in Canada. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
William Davidson was originally called John Godsman and was born at Cowfords near Fochabers in Moray. As a young man he worked in the salmon fisheries in the River Spey. Some time before 1865 he seems to have changed his name to William Davidson, which was the name of his maternal grandfather, and in that year he left Scotland for Nova Scotia. There he and a partner obtained a land grant of 100,000 acres (40,000 hectares) forming a strip along either side of the Miramichi River, with fishing and lumber rights. In return he was obliged to clear and improve the land and bring in large numbers of settlers.
Davidson recruited settlers in New England an was soon shipping fish to the West Indies and both furs and fish to Europe. He also brought in from Britain skilled shipwrights to establish a shipbuilding industry using locally grown timber. His first ship, the Miramichi, sank on her maiden voyage, but others were more successful. During the American Revolutionary War the revolutionaries prompted the Mi'kmaq Indians to raid settlers in Nova Scotia, and Davidson moved his operations inland to the safer St John River, where he rapidly won a contract to supply timber for masts to the Royal Navy.
In 1783 Davidson was elected a member of the Nova Scotia House of Assembly. At about the same time the American Revolutionary War ended, and Davidson and his colonists returned to the Miramichi River where he built a new shipyard, a sawmill and other facilities. His trade links with Europe and the West Indies opened up again and he also established a cod fishery in the Gulf of St Lawrence. By 1784 "United Empire Loyalists", those who had been loyal to the British Crown during the American Revolutionary War, were flooding north into Nova Scotia in increasing numbers. The new province of New Brunswick was established and a large part of Davidson's original land grant was revoked on the grounds he had never established as many settlers as he was obliged to. He was allowed to retain 14,500 acres (5,900ha), including the sites he had developed.
In 1786 William Davidson was elected to the New Brunswick Legislative Assembly. In early 1790 he was caught in a blizzard and suffered from a severe cold as a result. He died in June 1790. He was survived by his wife, Sarah Nevers, and their five children.