Sumner, Jethro

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Sumner, Jethro

SUMNER, JETHRO. (1735–1785). Continental general. Virginia and North Carolina. Sumner served in the Virginia militia throughout the Seven Years' War, becoming a paymaster and commander of Fort Bedford in 1760. Four years later he moved to North Carolina, married Mary Hurst, and with a large inheritance from his wife became a planter and tavern owner at the seat of what became Warren County. He became a justice of the peace in 1768 and was county sheriff from 1772 to 1777. He was elected to the Third Provincial Congress in 1775, which appointed him major of the Halifax County militia. He went north to support the Virginians at Norfolk during the last two months of the year, became a colonel of the Third Battalion of the North Carolina Continentals on 15 April 1776, and participated in the defense of Charleston in June. In September he was detached from the forces moving toward Florida and sent to raise supplies in North Carolina. The next spring he led his unit north, fought at Brandywine and Germantown, and spent the winter at Valley Forge. Early in 1778 he was invalided home and spent the summer recruiting regulars. Promoted to brigadier general on 9 January 1779, he led his new Continental brigade at Stono Ferry, South Carolina, on 20 June 1779, but illness again forced him home.

After spending more than a year recruiting in North Carolina, he commanded a militia brigade in opposing the advance of General Charles Cornwallis to Charlotte, North Carolina, in September 1780. When William Smallwood was given command of state troops in October, Sumner refused to continue serving in the field. In February 1781 he acceded to Nathanael Greene's request to return to active duty, even while continuing his recruiting efforts, at which he excelled. His major combat service of the Revolution came as commander of three small small North Carolina Continental battalions at Eutaw Springs, South Carolina, on 8 September 1781. Here his men performed with great credit. He was in command of military forces in North Carolina for the remainder of the war, taking part in small actions, and on 3 November 1783 he retired. He died at his home 18 March 1785.

SEE ALSO Eutaw Springs, South Carolina; Norfolk, Virginia; Stono Ferry, South Carolina.


Rankin, Hugh F. The North Carolina Continentals. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971.

                          revised by Michael Bellesiles