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Ramsay was born in Iredell County, North Carolina. He served in the North Carolina Senate from 1856 to 1864 and again in 1883. He represented the state in the Second Confederate Congress.
He lost two races for the United States House of Representatives during Reconstruction—in 1865 (losing to Samuel H. Walkup, who was not seated by the House) and in 1884 (losing to John S. Henderson).