The American Revolution in North Carolina

Jethro Sumner

Major in the Halifax District Minutemen - 1775-1776
Colonel over the 3rd NC Regiment - 1776-1779
Brigadier General in the NC Continental Line - 1779-1783

On 9/9/1775, Jethro Sumner was commissioned as a Major under Col. Nicholas Long in the Halifax District Minutemen. It is most likely that he was with the Halifax District Minutemen at the battles of Great Bridge, VA (12/9/1775) and Norfolk, VA (1/1/1776). All Minutemen regiments were disbanded on 4/10/1776.

On 4/15/1776, Jethro Sumner was commissioned as Colonel/Commandant over the newly-created 3rd NC Regiment on the Continental Line. He is known to have taken a leave of absence on 9/3/1776, but he resumed command in early 1777. Col. Jethro Sumner led the 3rd NC Regiment at the battles of Fort Moultrie, SC (6/28/1776), Brandywine Creek, PA (9/11/1777), Germantown, PA (10/4/1777), and Monmouth, NJ (6/28/1778). In mid-1778, remnants of the 5th NC Regiment were folded into the 3rd NC Regiment. Additionally, some of the "New Levies" were added to the 3rd NC Regiment during 1778 and marched to Philadelphia, PA, where they were headquartered.

On 1/9/1779, Jethro Sumner was commissioned as a Brigadier General, and he turned over the 3rd NC Regiment to Lt. Colonel Robert Mebane. He was sent to join Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln in South Carolina, and he was given command of the 2nd NC Brigade, which included the rebuilding 4th NC Regiment, 5th NC Regiment, and 6th NC Regiments, mostly filled with "New Levies," who were given very short enlistments of nine months.

Brig. Gen. Jethro Sumner led the 2nd NC Brigade at the battle of Stono Ferry, SC on 6/20/1779. With his brigade falling apart due to short enlistments, and because of a lingering health problem (which this Author has never been able to determine what it was), Jethro Sumner went home to assist in the recruiting efforts for the NC Continental Line. He was at home sick while the British beseiged Charleston, SC during the Spring of 1780 and was therefore not taken prisoner by the British when the town surrendered on May 12th.

After the subsequent inglorious defeat of the Patriots at the battle of Camden, SC on 8/16/1780, most NC Militia retreated first to Randolph County, then to Charlotte, then on to Salisbury. More NC Militia were on their way to South Carolina when they learned of Gates's Defeat at Camden, and they followed (or led) those retreating to Charlotte then Salisbury. NC civilian leaders asked Brig. Gen. Jethro Sumner to go to Salisbury and take command of this fairly large assemblage of NC Militiamen, and he did so in September of 1780. When the NC Council of War chose to place Maryland Brig. Gen. William Smallwood in charge of all NC Militia soon thereafter, Brig. Gen. Jethro Sumner resigned in October- he felt overlooked, but moreso he did not want to serve under a Maryland officer with essentially the same rank.

In January of 1781, Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene, the new commander of the Southern Department, convinced Brig. Gen. Jethro Sumner to return to active duty on the NC Continental Line and to diligently pursue rebuilding four new regiments of NC Continentals. Maj. Gen. Greene authorized Sumner to lead this effort while at home.

With events quickly unfolding to lead up to the battle of Guilford Court House, Brig. Gen. Jethro Sumner had no command. He hoped to lead the Halifax District Brigade of Militia since Allen Jones had been recently sent to Philadelphia as one of North Carolina's new delegates to the Continental Congress, but Col. Thomas Eaton of Warren County was appointed as Brig. Gen. (Pro Tempore) over the Halifax men, and he led them at the battle of Guilford Court House on 3/15/1781.

Brig. Gen. Jethro Sumner led the resurrected NC Brigade, which consisted of four small regiments of roughly 350 fairly new recruits, at the battle of Eutaw Springs, SC on 9/8/1781, where his horse was shot out from under him. He was not seriously injured. After that engagement, Brig. Gen. Jethro Sumner returned home, where he remained in command of all NC Continentals until the end of the war. He saw no more action.

Sumner County, NC (later in TN) was created in 1786 and named in honor of Jethro Sumner.

Jethro Sumner was born in 1733 in Nansemond County, VA, the son of Jethro Sumner and Margaret Sullivan. During the French & Indian War, he was a Lieutenant in the VA Militia and at Ft. Bedford. Between 1761 and 1764, he moved to Bute County, NC, where he married Mary Hurst of Granville County, and they had three (3) known children. From 1772 to 1775, he was Sheriff of Bute County. In August of 1775, he was elected to represent Bute County in the 3rd Provincial Congress at Hillsborough. He died in Warren County, NC in March of 1785.

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