He was born in Caroline County, Virginia, in a town now known as Woodford. He served in the French and Indian War as an ensign in Colonel George Washington's Virginia Regiment, and was promoted to lieutenant in 1761. During that year he served in the Cherokee expedition under William Byrd and Adam Stephen.
As war with Great Britain loomed, Woodford was a delegate to the Third Virginia Convention, and there was appointed colonel in command of the 2nd Virginia Regiment. He drove the royal governor, Lord Dunmore from the Norfolk peninsula after the Battle of Great Bridge on December 9, 1775, the first significant battle of the Revolution on Virginia soil.
Woodford was promoted to brigadier general in February 1777. He was wounded later that year at the Battle of Brandywine, where he and his troops performed well. In 1778 he led his brigade at the Battle of Monmouth where he took control of Comb's Hill and with artillery was able to pound the British left flank.. In late 1779 he and his brigade were sent to join the Southern army, only to be captured at the Siege of Charleston in 1780. He was sent to New York, where he died on board a British prison ship later that year. He was buried at Trinity Church, New York.
- Harry M. Ward. "Woodford, William". American National Biography Online, February 2000.