The American Revolution in North Carolina

Cherokee Expedition 1776 - "Rutherford's Campaign"

August 1, 1776 thru November 1, 1776


Patriot Cdr:

Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford
Loyalist/Indian Cdr:

Unknown
Killed:

4-5
Killed:

50-60
Wounded:

1
Wounded:

Unk
Captured:

0
Captured:

10-12
Original Counties: 

Rowan & Tryon
Present Counties:

McDowell, Buncombe,
Haywood, Jackson,
Macon, Clay,
Cherokee

After the British instigated multiple Cherokee raids in July of 1776, the governments of North Carolina and South Carolina coordinated an offensive with the governments of Georgia and Virginia. North Carolinians under Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford were to rendevous with Major Andrew Williamson's South Carolinians and attack the lower and middle Cherokee settlements. The Virginians under Col. William Christian would march south and west and strike the Overhill Cherokees, and the Georgians would strike north and attack the Indian settlements in northern Georgia and South Carolina.

Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford began calling for men to assemble as early as the first week of July. His orders were for every county within the Salisbury District to provide every available man - and over 100 distinct companies answered the call, totalling over 2,500 men. Units also began to gather within the Hillsborough District - Orange and Chatham counties assembled and began marching - only to have to turn back since they could not find enough wagons to carry their provisions needed for the anticipated long trek.

Two rallying points were designated - Cathey's Fort and Davidson's Fort. Halfway between the two was a fairly large open field known as Pleasant Gardens, where Brigadier General Rutherford's camp was situated while his men assembled. On September 1st, his large army headed west for Indian territory.

In mid-September, South Carolina Col. Andrew Williamson [promoted at the end of August] left 300 men to guard Fort Rutledge (his base camp at Seneca Town, SC) and moved with approximately 2,000 men to rendezvous with North Carolina Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford. Guided by Catawba Indian scouts, Col. Williamson marched through Rabun Gap to the Tennessee River and reached the Indian town of Coweecho on September 17th - Brigadier Geneneral Rutherford was not there. The South Carolinians pushed onward through the narrow trails up the mountains, following the Coweecho River.

On September 19th, Col. Williamson and his men marched into a major ambush at a steep-sided gorge known as the "Black Hole." [near present-day Franklin, NC] The advance party under Lt. Hampton found themselves under attack by 300 Cherokees and 50 Loyalists. Before the remainder of Col. Williamson's troops arrived, this advance party had to contend with fretful odds. It was not only a woodsman's fight from tree to tree, but also hand to hand. The battle lasted two hours. Due to the terrain of the steep gorge there was no way to counter-attack except to charge straight towards the enemy, which the South Carolinians did, clearing a path with bayonets. The Cherokees were forced to withdraw when their gunpowder ran low.

On September 26th, Col. Andrew Williamson finally met up with Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford at Hiwassee, creating a combined force of 4,500 Patriots to take the next step against the Cherokees - a step that was not taken. Rutherford and Williamson discussed moving further northward to link up with Virginia Colonel William Christian in what is now Tennessee, but both decided that they had accomplished enough for this trip.


On September 1, 1776, Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford wrote from his camp at the head of the Catawba River a letter to the North Carolina Council of Safety regarding the start of his expedition against the Cherokees:

"Sir,

Your favour of the 23rd August is now before me and am so exceedingly hurryed I cannot be particular herewith. I send you my last letters from the Commanders on the frontiers of So Carolina & Virginia.

If the Indians evacuate the Middle & Valley Towns and our provisions will hold out and it be possible to March to the overhill Towns perhaps I shall go to that place, or perhaps send a detachment to join the Virginians. Those under my command consists of 1,971 privates of foot, about 80 light horse. The number of officers pack horse masters & drivers are not yet taken. For the present plan of operations I refer you to Col. Williamson's Letter. I have ordered 130 under three Captains to Range and defend the forts on the frontiers of Tryon, 175 on the frontiers of Rowan, 100 on Surry.

I am in a very imperfect state of health, but will be as assidious as possible in executing the important trust reposed in me.

My best compliments to the gentlemen of the Council.

Sir your most Obedient
and most Humble Servt
Griffith Rutherford

P.S. I am this moment informed by the pack horse master General that there are about 1,400 pack horse one driver to each 4 horse and pack horse master over every 10 drivers. We have 40 days provision."


In his 1836 pension application affadavit, Samuel Hillis (S2314) described:

"Declarant joined the Army under Major Smith in the town of Salisbury in said Rowan County on the said 16th day of July 1776. General Rutherford had gone off towards the head of the Catawba River & had left the Majors to raise men & come on after him – in the meantime taking with him Rutherford & [Col. Francis] Locke all the men that they could then collect & leaving the Majors to raise more, if possible. Majors Smith & Brandon [sic] raised several companies – he recollects Captain Johnson, Captain Lyons & Captain Wilson and one Captain George Henry Barringer [Barrier] -- & a Captain Smith – all these captains had companies & went under Major Smith until they got to where General Rutherford was. Declarant marched with the troops under the Majors aforesaid on the same day he joined (16th of July 1776) – to a place near the head of the Catawba River called Pleasant Garden about 120 miles from Salisbury (as well as declarant can recollect) at which place, they found General Rutherford encamped, just at the opening of a rich tract or flat of land called the Pleasant Gardens on Buck Creek – a branch of the Catawba.

"Declarant's Captain – Captain Wilson – was sent on in advance of the other troops under Majors Smith & Brandon with his company (Declarant with others) to guard two wagons that were dispatched with provisions to General Rutherford, an express having arrived from Rutherford stating that Rutherford and his men were starving -- & Wilson & his company arrived at Rutherford's Camp about a day before the rest came up. Majors Smith & Brandon were somewhat detained waiting for the different companies that joined them on their march. As Declarant in Wilson's company marched on to Rutherford's Camp, he saw four children murdered and lying by the road (the children of a Mr. Burchfield) murdered by the Cherokee Indians – another, a girl of the same Burchfield family was shot through the groin & left for dead but recovered – several bodies of murdered men were found before they arrived at Rutherford's Camp.

"Declarant thinks it was four or five days after they started from Salisbury before they got to Rutherford's Camp. And that they remained at said Camp but a few days or a short time when Rutherford moved us down about 2 miles close to a Fort upon the bank of the Catawba called Cathey's Fort – and shortly after this the men from Guilford County under Colonel [James] Martin arrived.

"Rutherford & Locke left the men encamped near said Fort & went home to arrange their business before they started with the Army over the mountain after the Indians. Rutherford and Locke was at a meeting house called Cathey's Meeting House when they first heard of the outrages committed by the Indians that caused this campaign -- & they started from the meeting house with what men that he is could collect – to the relief of the people in the country where the Indians were murdering them.

"While Rutherford & Locke were gone the provisions were coming in – one Robert King was commissary. Rutherford & Locke were gone but a few days – after the return of Rutherford & Locke the Army waited but a few days until it marched for the Indian towns. It was said that the Army there amounted to 1,700 men -- & as well as declarant recollects there were as stated among the Army 1,700 horses packed with provisions – the Army crossed the Blue Ridge at the Gap at the head of the Catawba and went down Swannanoa nearly to its mouth & then crossed French Broad River & then across Pigeon River – and then across another mountain, in the gap of which the spies that went before the Army were attacked by the enemy, and one Billy Alexander was shot, the ball went in about his shoe buckle and out at his heel -- & made him lame ever afterwards, no other man was touched – the Indians were concealed near the turn of the Ridge and in a few jumps were out of sight – so that none of them were killed – The Army crossed a little River named Tuckaseegee before Billy Alexander was shot.

"After Billy Alexander was shot the Army went on to the Tennessee River to the Cowee towns. We found the towns evacuated – the Indians had left the towns the day before & some of their houses were burnt – the storehouses were Burnt & some of the other houses had fire in them – we found some of the Indians corn growing and some hard and some in roasting ears. We cut down their corn & used what we roasted & threw the balance in the River – we burnt their towns. The Army lived upon the sweet potatoes of the Indians.

"After the taking of the Cowee towns General Rutherford left the baggage under a guard & took the balance of the Army, went over to the towns called Valley Towns or Hiwassee Towns [most commonly called the Overhill Towns] – Rutherford came back with some prisoners - a white man named Scott and one named Hicks – and some Indian prisoners – he understood that Rutherford burnt all the towns he came to. Declarant was at the taking of & burning of five or six of the Cowee towns. The Army then returned to their home – crossed the main mountain where they crossed going out. The Army was discharged about the place called Pleasant Gardens & declarant got home on the 16th day of October 1776 – having been just three months under in service."


In his 1834 pension application affadavit, Andrew Meaden (S4188) recounted:

"At the age of 21 years, in the year 1776 in the month of July date not recollected Declarant volunteered under Capt. Samuel Reid at his company muster ground at the house of William Wilcox, upon Hutton Creek, which entered into the South Yadkin, at that time Rowan County, now, he believes, Iredell. The rendezvous of our company at Capt. Reid's house. Several companies met here. The Lieut. and Ensign not recollected. Basil Roberts an Orderly Sgt. -- others not recollected. Benjamin Brewer a Cpl. Abram Childress a Drummer -- though he is not certain that he belonged to Capt. Reed's company. Declarant recollects Captains McCray, William Dobbins and Grimes (name so pronounced).

"We marched to Col. Bateman's [Beekman's], where we dined. Here one company joined us. We marched all night the first night. The next night we encamped on a branch that empties into the Catawba River, in which branch we found a man dead, that had been murdered by the Indians. In the afternoon before we got to the Branch, we came upon the signs of the murders committed by the Indians in cabins on the road.

"The next day we marched in the rain and encamped on the west side of another Branch. Thence the next day to Buck Creek, a few miles from Cathey's Fort, where we remained for several weeks, waiting for reinforcements and for provisions.

"From Cathey's Fort the route of the expedition was as follows -- First to Buck Creek, which empties into the Catawba River. Thence by the Indian trail, which now passes through Buncombe Court House crossing French Broad on to the Overhill Towns -- near which an engagement took place with the Indians on a hill called Laurel Hill, in which the Indians were defeated with the loss of a good many men -- On our side there were several men killed and wounded.

"After burning the Indian towns, and destroying their corn and provisions, the expedition returned on the same route that it had marched to the towns. And this Declarant was discharged in the month of October 1776 day not recollected at Capt. Reid's house."


In his 1836 pension application affadavit, George Earnhart recounted:

"Declarant was drafted in the month of August 1776 and the company to which he belonged was put under the command of Captain George Henry Barrier – this company was attached to the Battalion commanded by Major James Irwin, Martin Fifer [wrong] acted in capacity of Colonel, Vental Miller was the Lieutenant of the company to which the declarant belonged, the Ensign was John Randleman -- and all were placed under the command of General Rutherford this declarant lived in the said County of Rowan when he was drafted – he was drafted as he has stated in the month of August 1776 – but does not recollect the date of the month. Salisbury was the place of rendezvous.

"From thence we were marched to a fort on the Catawba River where we remained about one month and from thence we were marched into the Cherokee Nation. Our first engagement with the Indians was at a village called Middle Town where we killed of the enemy about 50 or 60 and took 10 or 12 prisoners – among whom were two white men by the name of Scott and Hicks who had intermarried with the Indians. The enemy were beaten back and they finally fled – our loss was four or five killed as well as this declarant recollects – we then set out for the Valley Town which is now called Nicka Jack.

"This declarant will here state that at the time he was drafted he received the appointment of first Sergeant from his Captain George H. Barryer and John Hoover was second Sergeant – and on our march to Valley Town we carried the Pickett day [?] about this declarant does not recollect the distance from Middle Town to Valley Town but recollects that they were led astray in their march by the pilot and the motives of the pilot for so doing as we afterwards ascertained was that his wife was in Valley Town and he wished to divert us from that place.

"When we reached that Valley Town we found it in the possession of troops from South Carolina who together with the Catawba Indians had had a severe conflict with the Cherokees a day or two previous to our arrival. The Cherokees had fled and left them in possession of the town. This declarant does not know whether these troops from South Carolina were enlisted, drafted or volunteers – nor does he recollect to have heard the names of any of their officers.

"After the battle these troops had crossed the Tennessee River being the river on which this town stands as well as this declarant recollects and we came up on the side on which the battle had been fought. This declarant saw 14 or 15 of the South Carolina troops and Catawba Indians who had been wounded in the battle – and the fresh graves where they had buried their dead – and one in particular in which he was told there were [?] of the white men and Catawba Indians buried together. Declarant does not know the number of slain on either side.

"The Indian forces having been broken and scattered by these two engagements and our term of service being near to an end we were ordered back having remained in Valley Town two or three weeks. The South Carolina troops had in the meantime left the place and the Catawba Indians crossed the River and joined us – we returned by way of Middle Town where we remained also two or three weeks having left this place we returned by the same route through which we came through the territory now called Buncombe County in North Carolina and after a march of several weeks through a wilderness over and over a rugged and mountainous country, we arrived again at the fort on the Catawba from which we first set out after remaining here a week or more at this fort the name of which declarant does not recollect – we were marched across the Catawba again and returned to Rowan County where this declarant received a regular written discharge from his Captain George H. Barrier after having served a tour of six months and three days.

"The last three months of this tour declarant served under these circumstances, to wit: when Declarant was drafted in August as above stated there were 91 others drafted with him and among them his father – all drafted for three months service but one half to serve their term and then the other half to take their place."

Known Patriot Participants

Known British/Loyalist Participants

Salisbury District Brigade of Militia led by Brig. Gen. Griffith Rutherford, Maj. William Sharp (Aide-de-Camp)

Anson County Regiment of Militia detachment led by Lt. Col. David Love and Maj. George Davidson, with eight (8) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Culpepper
- Capt. James Farr
- Capt. William Hoye
- Capt. John Jackson
- Capt. Cornelius Robinson
- Capt. James Roper
- Capt. John Speed
- Capt. Troy

Guilford County Regiment of Militia led by Col. James Martin, Lt. Col. John Peasley, Maj. Thomas Blair, Maj. James Hunter, and Maj. Thomas Owen, with fourteen (14) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Robert Bell
- Capt. William Bethel
- Capt. John Buster
- Capt. Joseph Chapman
- Capt. John Collier
- Capt. John Elms
- Capt. Thomas Flack
- Capt. Alexander Hunter
- Capt. John Leak
- Capt. Robert Mebane
- Capt. John Nelson
- Capt. Samuel Sharp
- Capt. Henry Whitesell
- Capt. Joseph Young

Mecklenburg County Regiment of Militia led by Col. Adam Alexander and Lt. Col. John Phifer, with nineteen (19) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John McNitt Alexander
- Capt. William Alexander
- Capt. James Barns
- Capt. John Barringer
- Capt. John William Hagan
- Capt. James Harris
- Capt. William Huggins
- Capt. Robert Irwin
- Capt. James Jack
- Capt. Matthew McClure
- Capt. John McRee
- Capt. Francis Miller
- Capt. Neal Morrison
- Capt. Samuel Patton
- Capt. John Penninger
- Capt. Caleb Phifer
- Capt. Charles Polk
- Capt. John Springs
- Capt. Samuel Wilson

1st Rowan County Regiment of Militia led by Col. Matthew Locke, Col. Francis Locke, Lt. Col. Alexander Dobbins, Maj. James Brandon, Maj. Daniel Bryson, Maj. James Irvin, and Maj. James Smith, with twenty-nine (29) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Alexander (wounded)
- Capt. George Henry Barrier
- Capt. Robert Bartley
- Capt. William Bell
- Capt. John Brandon
- Capt. Brown
- Capt. David Caldwell
- Capt. George Cowan
- Capt. Israel Cox
- Capt. James Craig
- Capt. Joseph Cunningham
- Capt. Henry Davis
- Capt. Joseph Dickson
- Capt. William Fall
- Capt. Galbraith Falls
- Capt. Frederick Fisher
- Capt. John Graham
- Capt. John Johnson
- Capt. John Lopp
- Capt. Elijah Lyons
- Capt. Robert Moore
- Capt. Jacob Nichols
- Capt. James Osborn
- Capt. James Purviance
- Capt. Samuel Reid
- Capt. Henry Robertson
- Capt. David Smith
- Capt. William Wilson
- Capt. Samuel Young

2nd Rowan County Regiment of Militia led by Col. Christopher Beekman, Col. William Sharpe, Lt. Col. Charles McDowell, Lt. Col. William Porter, Maj. Joseph McDowell, and Maj. Joseph White, with ten (10) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Connelly
- Capt. William Davidson
- Capt. Jacob Eckles
- Capt. James Gray
- Capt. Moses Guest
- Capt. John Harden
- Capt. Thomas Lytle
- Capt. William Moore
- Capt. William Penland
- Capt. Conrad Rudolph

Surry County Regiment of Militia led by Col. Martin Armstrong, with eleven (11) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Beverly
- Capt. Benjamin Cleveland
- Capt. Jacob Free
- Capt. Francis Hargrove
- Capt. Joseph Herndon
- Capt. Elijah Isaacs
- Capt. William Lenoir (promoted from Lieutenant)
- Capt. Salathiel Martin
- Capt. Thomas Poindexter
- Capt. James Shepherd
- Capt. Jesse Walton

Tryon County Regiment of Militia led by Col. William Graham, with fourteen (14) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Robert Alexander
- Capt. James Baird
- Capt. John Barber
- Capt. Peter Carpenter
- Capt. Frederick Hambright
- Capt. Joseph Harden
- Capt. James Johnson
- Capt. John Mattocks
- Capt. James McFadden
- Capt. John McKinney
- Capt. James Morrison
- Capt. William Morrison
- Capt. George Paris
- Capt. Richard Singleton


The South Carolinians that Arrived on 9/26:

Ninety-Six District Regiment (SC) led by Col. Andrew Williamson with twelve (12) known companies. led by:
- Capt. James Baskin
- Capt. James Butler, Sr.
- Capt. James Colson (of GA)
- Capt. John Erwin
- Capt. John Gaskins
- Capt. Joseph Hamilton - Hamilton's Artillery
- Capt. John Hammond
- Capt. LeRoy Hammond with 100 mounted cavalry
- Capt. Adam Crain Jones
- Capt. Alexander Noble
- Capt. Thomas K. Smith
- Capt. Michael Watson

New Acquisition District Regiment led by Col. Thomas Neel, Maj. William Bratton, with fifteen (15) known companies, led by:
- Capt. James Adams
- Capt. John Anderson
- Capt. John Blandon
- Capt. William Byers
- Capt. Peter Clinton
- Capt. John Drummond
- Capt. William Gaston
- Capt. Joseph Hardin
- Capt. William Henry
- Capt. Thomas Kirkpatrick
- Capt. Lattimore
- Capt. Edward Lacey
- Capt. Robert McAfee
- Capt. Andrew Neel
- Capt. Francis Ross

Spartan Regiment led by Col. John Thomas, Sr., with Lt. Col. John Lisle, Sr., and eighteen (18) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Anderson
- Capt. Lewis Bobo
- Capt. Thomas Brandon
- Capt. Zachariah Bullock
- Capt. John Gowen
- Capt. James Grant
- Capt. William Houseal
- Capt. Joseph Jolly
- Capt. James Lisle
- Capt. John Lisle, Jr.
- Capt. John McIlhenny
- Capt. Daniel McKay
- Capt. Robert McWhorter
- Capt. William Plummer
- Capt. James Steen
- Capt. John Thomas, Jr.
- Capt. William Wadlington
- Capt. Joseph Wofford

Little River District Regiment led by Col. John Lindsey, Maj. Robert Gillam, Maj. Jonathan Downs, with ten (10) known companies, led by:
- Capt. Robert Gillam, Jr.
- Capt. James Harvey
- Capt. Joseph Hayes
- Capt. Benjamin Kilgore
- Capt. Charles King
- Capt. Samuel Morrow
- Capt. James Pollard
- Capt. John Rodgers, Jr.
- Capt. John Rogers
- Capt. John Wallace

Lower District Regiment detachment led by Maj. Andrew Pickens with five (5) known companies, led by:
- Capt. John Catlerton
- Capt. Coizier
- Capt. John Folmer
- Capt. John Pickens
- Capt. Joseph Pickens

Catawba Indian Company of Rovers - Capt. Samuel Boykin with 20 men

SC 5th Regiment detachment of three (3) known companies with 93 men, led by:
- Capt. John Bowie
- Capt. Francis Prince
- Capt. Benjamin Tutt

SC 6th Regiment detachment led by Lt. Col. Thomas Sumter, with four (4) known companies, led by:
- Capt. William Brown
- Capt. James Duff
- Capt. John Hampton
- Capt. George Wage

Cherokee Indians - Unknown Leader

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