Rutherford Campaign

Research by Justin Kidd and JC McCarson


1. Map of the Rutherford Expedition against the Cherokee in western North Carolina

This map traces the Rutherford expedition throughout the western part of North Carolina in 1776. The map shows the explicit route taken, as well as the Cherokee towns that were passed through. This is a significant source that illustrates how and where the expedition shaped the Native Americans’ military choices in the war.

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To view a more detailed map, click here.

2. Letter from the NC Council of Safety to Griffith Rutherford, September  11, 1776

This document is a letter from the North Carolina Council of Safety to Griffith Rutherford on September 11, 1776. The beginning of the letter informs General Rutherford that he may use whatever is required at a nearby fort for more mean and resources that he deemed necessary. However, the second part of the letter addresses a more pressing issue about his expedition. The Council has requested that General Rutherford should “restrain the Soldiery, from destroying the women and children” during this expedition. He should also send any prisoners to the state to be dealt with. The letter from the Council is vital since it shows that even though that they are at war and North Carolina wanted to diminish the Cherokee forces, they do not want violence against innocent civilians that were stationed in the villages. Even though there was an extreme amount of violence and bloodshed during this expedition, the colonist seemed to still have rules in warfare in regards to protect women, children, or elderly during these raids.


To read the full text of this letter, click here.

3. Griffith Rutherford to the North Carolina Council of Safety, July 14, 1776

This primary source is a letter from Griffith Rutherford to the North Carolina Council of Safety July 14, 1776. General Rutherford sent this letter to request the North Carolina Council to go on the offensive and inform them of the many deaths at occurred from the Cherokee Indians. He stated that the Native Americans were making major progress since they had killed almost 40 men in the raid and 130 people had been kidnapped by them as well. At the end of the letter, Rutherford hoped that more men would help stand with them and he would receive more gun powder to push back the Cherokee Indians since they were terrorizing the backcountry of North Carolina. The reason this letter is significant is because it was one of the major offensive moves by Rutherford during his expedition.

To read the document, click here.

4.  Captain William Moore to General Griffith Rutherford, November 17, 1776

This report was a letter from Captain William Moore to General Griffith Rutherford on November 17, 1776. Moore explains the daily activities that occurred during the Rutherford expedition with his group. However, the pure actions of his men are appalling, to say the least. They destroyed all of the Native Americans villages, scalped their prisoners instead of turning them in, sold some of them into slavery, and plundered the towns for resources. Moore and his men were pursuing the Cherokee and according to his report, they more than succeeded in taking them out. The reason this source is important is for two reasons. First, it provides a look at what type of violence occurred during the campaign from different perspectives. Second, it shows that some parts of the expedition were indeed bloody even though they were supposed to have certain rules in regards to prisoners, women, and children.

To read the complete document, click here.

 5. Letter from Griffith Rutherford to William Christian, July 5, 1776

This primary source is a letter Griffith Rutherford to William Christian July 05 1776. The letter essentially explains that Rutherford was bringing more men from Salisbury and was going to attack the Cherokee. Rutherford also elaborated his desire to destroy the Cherokee for their United States. He writes to Christian to unite their forces and to attack one major village to make sure their attack was victorious and fewer casualties for their men. Rutherford went into North Carolina while Christian came from Virginia and attacked villages in modern-day Tennessee.  He seemed to believe that they could sweep through the backcountry from different angles in order to deal with the “savages.” The reason why this primary source is significant to the Rutherford Expedition is that it showed that Rutherford was not alone in this endeavor – the entire American backcountry was organized in their efforts to eradicate Cherokee villages and military power.

To view the document, click here.

6. William Lenoir journal

This primary source is a journal entry of William Lenoir. William Lenoir was a general during the Revolutionary War, took part in the Rutherford Expedition. This specific journal entry that Lenoir wrote covers the events that he witnessed during his experience during the campaign against the Cherokee in North Carolina. He talks about people who died, the things he observes, and even a Cherokee Indian being scalped. The reason this primary source is important is because it provides another perspective on the Rutherford Expedition outside of letters from Rutherford. It gives a direct look at the events that occurred and a small glance from a man in the middle of this expedition besides the man who led it.

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To read an excerpt from the journal, click here.