Drummond was born in Scotland. Although the names of his parents are not known, he probably came from a mercantile family. He received an education that allowed him to engage in the tobacco trade with Virginia. Drummond arrived in the colony probably late in the 1630s and perhaps in the employment of Theodore Moyses, a James City County tobacco planter, or Stephen Webb. It is possible that more than one person named William Drummond or Drummer was in Virginia at that time, and it is not at all certain that he was the William Drummer who in October 1640 was sentenced to be whipped and to serve his employer or master an extra year for taking part in a conspiracy. Some of Drummond’s contemporaries in Virginia described him as being a sober man of good reputation. Early in the 1650s he married a woman named Sarah whose maiden name is not known. They had two sons, two daughters, and at least one other child.
Drummond leased twenty-five acres of land in James City County, called the governor’s land, from Sir William Berkeley in the autumn of 1648. He sued the governor in June 1666 in a dispute about the terms, but five years later thegranted his petition for ninety-nine-year leases on the land, and he leased an additional 200 acres there soon after that. Drummond also acquired more than 1,200 acres of land elsewhere in the county, a plantation and mills in Charles City County, and 4,750 acres in Westmoreland County, which he later abandoned. He had business dealings as far away as Boston. Drummond was probably a member of the James City County Court by 1658 when he was county sheriff, a position that also made him the bailiff of the Quarter Court and the sergeant-at-arms of the General Assembly. The 1677 inventory of his estate indicated that he then owned three slaves.
Late in 1664 Berkeley appointed Drummond the first governor of the colony on Albemarle Sound (later North Carolina). Drummond worked with the assembly to establish the new government and to settle the boundary between the county and Virginia. He acquired land there for himself, but he spent much of his time in Virginia. In July 1666 he was in Jamestown to negotiate with the governments of Virginia and Maryland for a suspension in tobacco cultivation. The plan to reduce production and thereby raise the prices planters received failed after Maryland refused to cooperate. Drummond’s biggest problem as governor was the proprietors’ policy of requiring people who patented land to live on it in order to retain ownership, and he complained that Berkeley and the other proprietors obstructed his work. In October 1667 Drummond yielded the office to Samuel Stephens, probably after completing a three-year appointment. (Stephens was then married to, the future wife of Governor Berkeley.)
In 1672 Drummond contracted to erect a fort at Jamestown during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, but he clashed with Berkeley over the work and was arrested at least twice for not completing the fort on schedule and for using inferior building materials. Drummond’s poor performance and the danger in which it placed the colony sealed Berkeley’s dislike for him. It is not recorded whether personal animosity or differences about public policy led Drummond to support Nathaniel Bacon in opposition to Berkeley during the rebellion of 1676. At the meeting of the General Assembly in June of that year, Berkeley warned the members against the influence of Drummond and of Richard Lawrence, and in August at Middle Plantation, Drummond urged Bacon’s followers to depose the governor and replace him with Lieutenant Governor. When Bacon’s men burned Jamestown in the autumn, Drummond demonstrated his commitment by setting fire to his own house. His whereabouts during much of the rest of the rebellion are unrecorded, but men in Westmoreland County later stated that he had preserved the county’s records, which were in danger of being destroyed. Deeply engaged in the rebellion, Drummond continued to resist the governor’s forces for two and a half months after Bacon’s death in October. Berkeley may have hated Drummond more than any other rebel and said as much as least once.
Officers and men from the warship Young Prince captured Drummond and Lawrence, hungry and cold, in the Chickahomony Swamp on January 14, 1677. Five days later when Drummond was presented to Berkeley, the angry governor reportedly greeted him with a bow and the sarcastic words, “Mr. Drumond! you are very welcome, I am more Glad to See you, than any man in Virginia, Mr. Drumond you shall be hang’d in half an hour.” The next day Drummond refused a horse and walked in irons from King’s Creek on the York River to Middle Plantation. There, on January 20, 1677, the governor and Council tried and convicted him of treason. William Drummond was hanged a few hours later. The place of his burial, if any, was not recorded.
Berkeley confiscated Drummond’s estate, but Sarah Drummond later entered into protracted litigation and eventually recovered the property. Lake Drummond in the Dismal Swamp was probably named for William Drummond, although references to the lake by that name do not predate the middle of the eighteenth century.