RUTHERFORD, GRIFFITH. (1731?–1805). Southern Patriot. North Carolina. Born in Ireland, perhaps in 1731, Rutherford settled in western North Carolina. He became a captain of militia in 1760, served in the North Carolina assembly from 1766 to 1775, was a sheriff from 1767 to 1769, and managed the difficult task of appeasing both sides in the Regulator crisis of 1769–1771. In 1775 he sat in the Provincial Congress, which made him colonel of the Rowan County militia, a militia that he led against backcountry Loyalists. On 22 June 1776 he was made brigadier general of state troops. In the Cherokee War of 1776, he led twenty-four hundred troops, combining with South Carolina militia to burn thirty-six Cherokee towns, which was hailed as a great victory. He took part in the unsuccessful efforts to keep the British from overrunning Georgia in the winter of 1778–1779, leading eight hundred men to reinforce Lincoln; his command was posted at Mathew's Bluff, South Carolina, when the Patriots were defeated, five miles away, at Briar Creek on 3 March 1779. Returning to North Carolina, he called out the militia to inflict a decisive defeat on the Loyalists at Ramseur's Mill on 20 June 1780, although he himself did not arrive in time to take part in the battle. He commanded a brigade at Camden on 16 August 1780, was wounded there, and was captured by Tarleton in the pursuit that followed the battle.
Held prisoner first at Charleston and then at St. Augustine, Rutherford was exchanged on 22 June 1781; he then returned to the field. He took command of Wilmington after its evacuation on 18 November 1781. He served off and on in the North Carolina senate from 1777 to 1786, being identified with the radicals, who favored a powerful legislature with equal representation for the western counties. He also advocated against former Loyalists, whom he called "imps of hell."
An opponent of the Constitution of 1787, Rutherford attended the first North Carolina ratifying convention in 1788, which rejected the Constitution. A major speculator in western lands, he moved into what became the state of Tennessee in 1792, and after September 1794, when it became a separate territory, was president of the legislative council. He died in Sumner County, Tennessee, on 10 August 1805.
revised by Michael Bellesiles