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This web site updated 11 Sep 2018

Steven D. Rutherford

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By Gary Rutherford Harding


General Griffith Rutherford

General Griffith Rutherford was born in about 1721 in Northern Ireland. There is still some debate over which Rutherford cadet he descends, but it's clear that his ancestors were the Rutherfords of Roxburghshire. Initially he came to America through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, perhaps having lived in New Castle, Delaware. The details of his early life are not well documented. He was an orphan who was raised by his relatives the Weakleys. Griffith is thought to have lived in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and after 1745, in Halifax Co and Lunenburg Co, Virginia. His parents, John Rutherford and Elizabeth Griffith, both died at sea coming from Ireland to America.

Griffith Rutherford was a resident of Lunenburg County, Virginia in 1748 and 1749. He lived as a close neighbor to his cousin James Rutherford and James' son William. In 1751 his name appears on a deed transfer of one acre of land for a cemetery. At this time, he was associated with William Weakley of Lunenburg County, VA., having witnessed his will on September 23, 1752. Griffith later came to North Carolina influenced by the good climate, soil and relative peacefulness of the Catawba Indians. Another factor which encouraged his migration to North Carolina was the laxity of North Carolina laws in comparison with those of Virginia on the subject of religion. In this way, Griffith and other Scots-Irish passed through the vacant lands in Virginia and made homes for themselves in western North Carolina. As early as 1740, a few families were already located on the Hico, Eno, and Haw rivers in the territory just east of Rowan. By the year 1745, the Scots-Irish had established themselves in the fertile and well-watered area between the Yadkin and the Catawba. Previous to 1750 their settlements were scattered throughout the region from Virginia to Georgia. The Scots-Irish settled mainly in the country west of the Yadkin. Among these emigrants were Griffith's near kin and friends; the Nesbits, Davidsons, Moores and Rutherfords all originally from the Roxburghshire area of Scotland. Griffith Rutherford married Mary Elizabeth Graham in 1754 in Rowan Co., North Carolina. One of Griffiths daughters, Jane, married Capt. James Cathey, the son of John Cathey and Elizabeth Pickney. His daughter Blanche married Francis Locke of Rowan Co NC. The Grahams and Catheys were kinsman long before they made it to Rowan Co. Another close relative was Capt. William Moore, the "first white man to settle west of the Blue Ridge". Capt. Moore was with his brother-in-law, Griffith Rutherford, when that officer came through Buncombe in 1776 on his way to punish the Cherokees. He was a captain in one of Rutherford's companies. He, along with Griffith, had to leave his new home in North Carolina for the Revolutionary War, in which both served gallantly.

General Griffith Rutherford was a member of the North Carolina Assembly as early as 1769. In 1775, he was elected as a member of the Provincial Congress and served in all of its subsequent sessions. On April 12th, 1776 General Rutherford was among the signers of the Old North State Resolution in favor of declaring the independence of the Colonies. This document pre-dated the Declaration of Independence by three months. The name of George Washington headed this list.

General Rutherford was elected in October 1776 as a delegate to attend the 5th Provincial Congress at Halifax to help frame a state constitution. He was termed a "radical" as he advocated a "simple democracy" in which there would be a strong legislative branch with a weak executive branch and religious freedom with no established church. He was elected state Senator from Rowan County and served successive terms, 1777 - 1788.

Griffith and the Rutherford clan had been well connected politically and socially back in Virginia. Griffith had many influential family connections and did not come to North Carolina with "his hat in his hand". His near cousins, the Edgerston Rutherfurds had significant land holdings in Virginia and in North Carolina. His cousin Robert Rutherford, who was to become US Congressman from the state of Virginia, was an old friend of George Washington's. This would account for the amazing political success of orphaned Griffith in the class and finance charged arena of "plantation politics". Doubtful he would have been rubbing elbows with George Washington in Virginia or Governor Tyron in North Carolina if he weren't socially and economically suitable.

Griffith's connection with the Edgerston line also included another well connected Edgerston Rutherfurd; John Rutherfurd. John Rutherfurd was one of the most important members of the official class in North Carolina during the generation preceding the American Revolution. He would have been Griffith's first cousin once removed. It was in 1761, while he was in England, that Rutherfurd published "The Importance of the Colonies to Great Britain, with Some Hints towards making Improvements to their mutual Advantage: And upon Trade in General." He presented this work personally before Parliament sponsored by The Earl of Hallifax and was received with great acclaim. Rutherfurd was a member of both expeditions against the Regulators. In the first of these he was made Lieutenant General and in September 1768, Tyron being ill, he assumed command of the troops. He was, moreover, a member of the commission of 1767 to establish the Cherokee Boundary Line, and also of that of 1772 to determine the boundary between the Carolinas. He was a staunch adherent of the Crown and entered both his sons in the Royal Service, one in the Army and the other in the Navy. He himself remained in North Carolina until the fall of Yorktown and then retired to Charleston. From that place he sailed for England, but died County Cork, Ireland sometime in 1782. His property in North Carolina was confiscated, but after considerable effort, restitution was made to his children. It's obvious that John Rutherfurd and Griffith Rutherford's careers were intertwined. History was not exactly rewritten, but it certainly "overlooks" Griffith's relationship [familial or otherwise] with this known Tory. It was following this "Tory incident" that Rutherfurd [the traditional Edgerston spelling] changed to Rutherford - the same was true with the spelling of Rutherford, New Jersey named for Griffith's cousin Senator John Rutherfurd of New York and the Goochland County, VA Rutherford's surname.

Six brigadier generals were appointed by the provincial Congress of North Carolina at Newbern on 4/22/1776, including General Griffith Rutherford, who was commissioned for the District of Salisbury. In the summer of 1776 he raised an army of 2,400 men and marched on the English forces of the Cherokee nation. This expedition laid waste to 36 Cherokee towns. The Cherokee were forced to sue for peace and in the Treaty of Long Island of 7/20/1777, the Cherokee ceded all lands east of the Blue Ridge, as well as, lands along the Watauga, Nolichucky, Upper Holston and New River.

To stop raids when the English stirred up the Cherokee against patriots during the Revolutionary War in 1776, General Griffith Rutherford of Rowan marched, along with a regiment of 2,400 men, through Haywood County. Rutherfordís troop marched up Hominy Creek and made a crossing at the Pigeon River in Canton. They proceeded along Pigeon Gap (present U.S. 276) east of Waynesville and from there on across Balsam Gap into the Tuckasegee River Valley and across Cowee Gap into the Little Tennessee River Valley.

The great army destroyed the Cherokee town of Stecoee with fire, along with some 35 other Indian towns. Crossing the mountainous wilderness was a great undertaking for 2,400 soldiers with supplies and equipment. It was an arduous journey through the wilderness, where only a few explorers had ventured before. There was the impending possibility of being discovered and ambushed by the Indians. The Rutherford expedition had shown the way for westward travel, although itís likely that Rutherford had prior information from hunters, Indians and exploration accounts in guiding his army through this uncharted terrain.

In 1777 General Griffith Rutherford marched his brigade to Savannah to aid General Lincoln. In the partisan warfare which developed, The Revolutionary War became a civil war - Whigs against Tories, and brother against brother. In Griffith's case, it was cousin against cousin. Griffith obviously was confident in the American cause. At the same time he was fighting a war with the world's dominant military power, General Griffith Rutherford entered a claim on 200 acres of land on the south side of Muddy Creek, North Carolina in 1778. After all, the odds were in the favor of those, who like himself, knew and loved the land for which they were fighting.

In the pension petition of Adam Fiscus of Washington Co., Indiana, it is stated that "Adam entered the army at Moravian Town, NC, as a volunteer for 9 months in 1778 in the company of Capt. Henry Smith in Col. Lockeís regiment, under Gen. Rutherford. He marched from Moraviantown to Pierysburgh on Savanna River, SC, that being their headquarters. They marched from there up the River and crossed the River and was in the battle of Briar Creek. After the battle they returned to a place on the river called Two Sisters, remained there some time and was discharged, having served 9 months. Some time afterwards in the spring of 1779 he went to Kentucky in company with Daniel Boone."

With less than 400 men under his command, General Rutherford defeated 1,000 Tories at Ramseur's Mills on June 20th, 1780. With a force of 700 North Carolina men under his command, he aided the South Carolina Whigs in suppressing a large number of "Scovellites" or Tories in December of 1780.

In the events preceding the battle of Camden, James Monroe advised Thomas Jefferson by dispatch that General Griffith Rutherford has assembled 1,100 men of the Western Militia in June 1780 and was waiting at Charlotte about 60 or 70 miles from Camden. Three weeks after Charleston fell and the English started toward the Waxhaw settlements, General Griffith Rutherford assembled nine hundred militiamen in Charlotte. The situation in the South, he told them, was desperate. "Go home, boys," he said, "and get all the powder and balls and flints you can find, and be ready when I call you."

Rutherford was watching closely the advance of English General Rawdon toward upper South Carolina when he learned that a force of perhaps more than a thousand Tories was assembling across the Catawba at Ramsour's Mill. At once he sent orders to Colonel Francis Locke to plan to attack the Tories; he would join him shortly and they would fall on the Loyalists. But Locke did not get the message; instead, he notified the general that he was marching to attack the Tories. And before Rutherford could reach the battleground, Locke's men had fought the Loyalist, killed many, utterly defeated the others.

More victories over loyalist groups followed. A month after the Ramsour's Mill battle, other Loyalists were defeated at a place called Colson's Mill on the Pee Dee, and on July 31 Major Davie swept down on another band of Tories near the English garrison at Hanging Rock and defeated them. The English continued to advance, despite the victories over Tory groups, and deep gloom, like the sweltering heat of August, lay heavy upon Mecklenburg and the back country. Rutherford joined forces with General Gates and the army of 3,052 men arrived at Camden August 16, 1780 but they were defeated and routed by the English army led by Cornwallis. Before the day was ended those Americans who had not been killed or captured were running. It was the worst American defeat of the revolution and the badly wounded General Griffith Rutherford was captured.

General Davidson, who had also been wounded at Colson's Mill, was named a brigadier-general to succeed Rutherford. Davidson commanded the militia of the Salisbury district, which embraced the western third of the state and was by far the largest militia district. Thomas Jefferson stated in a letter to George Washington, dated September 3, 1780, that Generals DeKalb and Rutherford were missing, the latter was certainly a prisoner. General Rutherford had been badly wounded and was imprisoned. Nearly a year later a prisoner exchange was made with the English which affected the release of General Rutherford, as well as, Declaration of Independence signers Thomas Heyward Jr., Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge. A few months after his release tragedy struck the General when James Rutherford, his oldest son, was killed at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, South Carolina on Sep. 8, 1781. The Battle of Eutaw Springs was the last important engagement in the Carolina campaign of the American Revolution. The American forces under General Nathanael Greene attacked at 4 AM, driving English troops under Colonel Alexander Stewart from the field. The English then rallied and repulsed the Americans. After sunset, Stewart retreated toward Charleston. The battle was an important victory for the Americans; it forced the English to remain within Charleston and prepared the way for the siege of Yorktown.

Battle of Camden

The Battle of Camden was fought on August 16, 1780, about 5 km (about 3 mi) north of Camden, South Carolina, then occupied by the British. The American force, about 1500 regulars and 2000 poorly trained militiamen, was commanded by General Horatio Gates. General Charles Cornwallis commanded the British force of about 2000 men. Shortly after the action began, the American militiamen, many of whom were ill with dysentery, broke ranks, left their arms, and fled in disorder. The regulars, under General Johann Kalb (called Baron de Kalb), stood firm and were almost annihilated. De Kalb was wounded and captured; he died three days later. Through their victory, the British gained temporary control of the entire South. American casualties were about 1000 killed and wounded and about 1000 taken prisoner. British losses were about 325 killed and wounded. After the battle, Gates was replaced as commander of the Army of the South by General Nathanael Greene.

The Battle Eutaw Springs

The Battle Eutaw Springs was the last important engagement in the Carolina campaign of the American Revolution, fought on September 8, 1781, near Eutawville, South Carolina. The forces engaged consisted of about 2300 American militia and regulars under General Nathanael Greene and about 2500 British troops under Colonel Alexander Stewart. The Americans attacked at 4 AM, driving the British from the field. In the moment of victory, however, they stopped to loot supplies from the British camp, and the British used the respite to secure better positions and thereby repulse the Americans. After sunset, Stewart retreated toward Charleston, about 89 km (about 55 mi) to the southeast. The battle, although a draw tactically, was an important strategic victory for the Americans. It successfully closed Greene's southern campaign, compelled the British to remain within Charleston, and prepared the way for the siege of Yorktown. The British losses were 693 men killed, wounded, or missing; the Americans lost 408.

Upon his release from an English prison, Griffith immediately called his brigade together and marched on Wilmington, North Carolina. However, the English commander had already heard of Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown and had evacuated Wilmington prior to the arrival of General Rutherford's troops. Ironically, King George III, whom the Americans had just defeated, was a distant cousin of General Rutherford's. General Griffith Rutherford, however, was much closer related to the royal House of Stewart and Bruce than was George III, whose German family is even today referred to as "the Hanoverian pretenders".

Following the war, General Rutherford hosted a dinner for General George Washington at the Guilford Court House on June 2, 1791. General Washington presented General Rutherford with a silver snuff box containing Washington's favorite brand of snuff in thanks and as a token of their friendship.

Once General Rutherford returned to North Carolina, he and other relatives began to see the great future for the infant states of North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Griffith was already well established in North Carolinian political and social life. As a war hero, he returned with Capt. William Moore and the Moore family, Moore's wife being Gen. Rutherford's sister. One of his first public duties upon returning from the revolution took General Griffith and his cousin, Robert Weakley, into Tennessee to survey the lands granted to revolutionary war veterans. They obviously liked what they saw and when they returned to Rowan Co. Gen Griffith Rutherford formed the Rutherford wagon train. Via this caravan many of the allied families of Rowan Co. moved to middle Tennessee which is now Davidson, Rutherford and Weakley counties. General Rutherford moved his family to Tennessee in the fall of 1792 and settled in Sumner County, southeast of the present day town of Gallatin near the Cumberland River.

President George Washington appointed General Rutherford to the Council of the Territory of Tennessee in 1794 and he was subsequently chosen as President of the Council.

Griffith and his wife, Mary Elizabeth Graham had ten children and raised them in Tennessee.

1 - John Rutherford b. March 13, 1774 D. Sept. 8, 1835 Dyer Co. TN
2 - Griffith Weakly Rutherford b. abt 1775 d Nov. 10,1846 Wilson Co. TN
3 - Jane Rutherford b. 1756 d. About 1844 Maury TN
4 - James Rutherford b. about 1758 d. Sep. 8, 1781, Eutaw Springs, SC
5 - Blanch Rutherford b. abt 1760 d. abt 1844
6 - Henry Rutherford b. abt Aug.17,1782 d. May 20, 1847 Key Corner, Dyer TN
7 - Margaret Rutherford b. about 1765 d. abt June 1827 Dyer, TN
8 - Alfred Rutherford b. abt 1767 d. abt 1844
9 - Newton Rutherford b. abt 1770 d. abt 1814 Cocke, TN
10 - Elizabeth Rutherford b. abt 1772 d. abt 1844

General Griffith Rutherford died on August 10th, 1805 in Sumner, TN and is buried at Shiloh Presbyterian Cemetery near Gallatin, Tennessee. Two years before his death, Rutherford County, Tennessee was created and named in his honor along with counties in North Carolina and Kentucky.

 The Rutherford County, Kentucky reference is a strange story. This is what I can
 make of it. Present day Jefferson County, which is the area surrounding
 Louisville, was originally slated [and may have actually been called]
 Rutherford County. However, when NC and TN named counties for Griffith, KY
 decided to call [rename] the new county Jefferson instead. The county
 histories don't quite match up date-wise but across the Ohio river in
 Indiana [especially in the township of Rutherford] this is the oral
 tradition? If you should ever see anything on the KY history, please pass it along.


General Griffith Rutherford was born in Ireland in the year 1721, and, when an infant, his parents started for America. both died on the voyage, and their child was conveyed, probably by compassionate friends, to a distant relative by the name of Rutherford in New Jersey. He received a respectable education and became well conversant in surveying. When grown to manhood he went to Halifax Co., North Carolina, to Robert Weakley, a kinsman, and subsequently emigrated to Rowan Co., North Carolina. Married in 1754 Miss Elizabeth Graham, daughter of James Graham." Griffith Rutherford was a Brigadier General in the American Revolutionary War. Realizing the danger of constant harassment from the Indians and the necessity of being on the alert for the British, the American leaders in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Georgia decided on expeditionary forces from four sides into the Indian country. They hoped this action would forestall much of the danger that would result from attempting to defend all the eastern frontiers. As a result, a 2,300 strong army under General Griffith Rutherford, crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains and struck at the very heart of the Cherokee homeland. Towns that had never before felt the vengeance of the white soldiers were completely destroyed. All the Indian towns along the Oconalufree and Tuckaseegee Rivers felt the impact of the torch and musket. There occurred a pitched battle near Wayab Bald between Rutherford's forces and the Cherokee, high in the Nantahala Mountains. In late September, the South Carolina forces under the command of Colonel Andrew Williamson intercepted Rutherford's forces at Murphy, North Carolina. This juncture served to complete the raids on the Cherokee towns in Georgia and North Carolina. Meanwhile, the Virginia forces under Colonel William Christian marched down the great Indian war trail to Long Island on the Holston River. Here they gathered additional North Carolina forces and what men were available from the Tennessee garrisons. These combined forces made their way against Indian and Tory forces drawn up to oppose them at a crossing on the French Broad River. However, when the Indians saw what a formidable force they were facing, they withdrew without resistance, allowing the Revolutionary army to continue through the Indian towns on the Little Tennessee River. By the time the army arrived at the Indian towns on the Little Tennessee, the people had fled, leaving all they owned for the Army to destroy and burn. This destruction made most of the remaining Cherokee tribes realize the futility of further resistance. So they sent the important men of the tribes to sue for peace. This was done, and peace was finally established.

"Again the last of the month of June 1776, I entered the service as a substitute for one John Litzinger, who was a draftee in the expedition against the Cherokee Indians - my company was commanded by Captain John Barrington in the regiment under Col. John Phifer under the command in chief of General Griffith Rutherford when I entered the service I lived in Mecklenburg Co. - in that part now called Cabarrus County where I now live. I was marched from home in the month of June as aforesaid to the Pleasant Gardens in Burke Co, N C - on the Catawaba River where we had a fort built, and which was regarded as headquarters. From there we marched through the mountains over the Blue Ridge as Swanna Gap and French Broad River to the Indian towns - eight of which were destroyed by us - after which we returned the same way to Pleasant Gardens where we were discharged and separated the last of the month of September 1776. I was discharged by Capt the last of the month of September having served in this expedition three months. Again the the month of June - about the middle of the month in the year 1780 in the same county I was drafted for three months - and entered the service under Capt Mattahis Beaver, Lieutenant Godfery Lipe - in the regiment under Col George Alexander under General Griffith Rutherford. We were marched - I was marched under these officers from Mecklenburg to Cheraw Hills in South Carolina, then to Lynchs Creek, S C. There we continued till we met the main army under the command of General Gates about 30 miles from Camden SC. We marched and continued with the main army - a militia till Gates defeat - near Camden, which, I believe was about, the 16th of August1870. I was in that engagement - after which I returned to N C. General Rutherford was taken prisoner in that battle. Isaac Blackwelder

Griffith served in the North Carolina Militia during the Revolution; was wounded and taken prisoner at Camden, August 16, 1780, exchanged June 14,1781. Served in North Carolina Legislature in 1786; moved to Tennessee in 1794, was appointed president of the legislative council when the General Assembly held its first meeting in Knoxville in 1794; was honored by having counties in Kentucky, North Carolina and Tennessee named for him. Member of Provincial Congress, Colonel Salisbury District, N.C. Rowan N.C. member of Committee of Safety, State Senator. He is probably buried in Shiloh Presbyterian Cemetery near Gallatin, Tennessee.

Gary Rutherford Harding