The American Revolution in North Carolina

Griffith Rutherford

Colonel over the Rowan County Regiment of Militia - 1775
Colonel over the 1st Rowan County Regiment of Militia - 1775
Colonel over the 1st Salisbury District Minutemen - 1775-1775
Brigadier General over the Salisbury District Brigade of Militia - 1776-1783

On 9/9/1775, Griffith Rutherford was commissioned as Colonel/Commandant over the Rowan County Regiment of Militia.

On 10/22/1775, the NC Provincial Congress split the military of Rowan County into two separate regiments of Militia - the 1st Rowan County Regiment and the 2nd Rowan County Regiment. They assigned Col. Griffith Rutherford as Colonel/Commandant over the 1st Rowan County Regiment of Militia. He led the 1st Rowan County Regiment of Militia in support of South Carolinian Patriots against Loyalists at the "standoff" at Ninety-Six in November of 1775. He also led this group in the famous "Snow Campaign" in December of 1775, although he had been given a new assignment while on this expedition.

On 12/21/1775, the NC Provincial Congress split the Salisbury District into two separate regiments of Minutemen - the 1st Battalion of Salisbury District Minutemen and the 2nd Battalion of Salisbury District Minutemen. They assigned Col. Griffith Rutherford as Colonel/Commandant over the 1st Battalion of Salisbury District Minutemen. He led a small contingent of the 1st Battalion of Salisbury District Minutemen at the battle of Moore's Creek Bridge on 2/27/1776 - most companies were too late for this key engagement and they turned around to go back home when they learned of the Patriot victory. On 4/10/1776, all Minutemen regiments were disbanded.

On 4/22/1776, Griffith Rutherford was commissioned as a brigadier general over the newly-created Salisbury District Brigade of Militia. This appointment was rescinded on 5/1/1776, then reinstated on 5/4/1776. He retained this position until the end of the war.

Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford led the Salisbury District Brigade of Militia on the Cherokee Expedition of 1776, the battles of Briar Creek, GA (3/3/1779), Little Lynches Creek, SC (8/11/1780) and Camden, SC (8/16/1780); in the latter he was captured by the British and sent to St. Augustine, FL where he was imprisoned until he was exchanged in July of 1781. Upon his return home, he retook the reins of the Salisbury District Brigade of Militia and assembled a large Militia army to go force the British out of Wilmington, North Carolina. He led at the battles/skirmishes of Brush Creek (10/1781), the Brick House (11/15/1781), and the Evacuation of Wilmington (11/18/1781).

Griffith Rutherford was born in Ireland about 1731. His family were originally Scots, and for centuries were classed among the most ancient and powerful families in Teviotdale. Some of the family removed to Ireland, where John Rutherford married a Miss Griffith, a Welsh lady. Their son, Griffith Rutherford, sailed from Ireland for America in 1739, accompanied by his wife and only son, Griffith. The parents died either on the voyage or soon after their arrival in America, and young Griffith was taken in by an old German couple. About 1753, he went to Rowan County, North Carolina, and in 1758 purchased from James Lynn two tracts of land on Grant's Creek, about seven miles southwest from Salisbury, and adjoining the land of James Graham, whose sister, Elizabeth, he married about that time. Their son, James Rutherford, was a Major in the Revolutionary Army, and was killed at the battle of Eutaw Springs in South Carolina on September 8, 1781.

Griffith Rutherford was a man of strong character, resolute and determined, and of unusual capacity, and early in life attained a position of prominence. He was a member of the Colonial Assembly as early as 1769, and about that time he was also Sheriff of Rowan County. He was in the Colonial Assembly of 1770 and 1771, and at the same time was a Captain of Militia. He continued to represent his county in the Assembly, and was a member of Legislature of 1773 and 1774. In 1775 he was elected a member of the Provincial Congress, and was appointed a member of the Committee of Safety for Rowan County and Colonel of Militia.

He was in all the subsequent Provincial Congresses and assisted in forming the State Constitution. For years he was one of the most prominent men in North Carolina. In April 1776, he was appointed Brigadier General for the Salisbury District, and was Senator from Rowan County 1777 to 1778, except when a prisoner of war in 1780-1781. During the Revolution he was among the most active and enterprising military men in the state. He led the 1st Rowan County Regiment to South Carolina in the "Snow Campaign" in December, 1775, and conducted the expedition against the Cherokees in the Fall of 1776.

In 1779, he marched with his brigade to the Savannah River to aid Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln. In June, 1780, his subalterns suppressed the Loyalists at Ramseur's Mill, threatened Lord Rawdon in South Carolina, and dispersed the Loyalists on the Yadkin River. He marched with Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates to Camden, South Carolina, where he was badly wounded and taken prisoner. He was confined in St. Augustine, FL until the summer of 1781, when he was exchanged, and soon thereafter called his brigade together, marched on to Wilmington, and drove the Loyalists before him. Before he reached Wilmington the British commander at that place had learned of the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, VA, and hurriedly evacuated the town.

In 1792, Griffith Rutherford moved to Sumner County, Tennessee. His numerous descendants know but little of him. His will, dated in Rowan County, North Carolina, on July 14, 1792, and recorded in Transcript of Wills No. 1, Sumner County, gives personal property and slaves to his wife, Elizabeth, and "my two sons, John and Griffith W., and my daughter, Elizabeth," who was unmarried. The executors named were Henry Rutherford, Robert Weakley, and John King.

In most of the accounts of General Rutherford, it is stated that he came to Tennessee in 1786, but this is evidently an error, for his will, mentioned above, was dated in North Carolina in 1792. Governor Blount, in a letter to General James Robertson, dated May, 1792, published in the American Historical Magazine says:

"General Rutherford and W. F. Lewis will leave in September with thirty wagons, so they write me. The General has actually exchanged all his lands in North Carolina for lands on the Cumberland."

Upon the organization of the territory of the United States south of the Ohio River, in 1794, President Washington appointed Griffith Rutherford as a member of the Legislative Council, and he was chosen President of that body. Six years later, in 1800, he died, but where, and when his body was buried, there is no record, and the remembrance has faded from the memory of men.

Rutherfordton and Rutherford County, North Carolina, and Rutherford County, Tennessee, were so named for Griffith Rutherford.

If anyone has a better biography of this man, please send it to this Author via e-mail or snail mail, and it will be added here, with full credit given.

© 2013 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved