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Jethro Sumner papers (1780-1781)

Collection processed and finding aid created by Shannon Wait, June 2010
Manuscripts Division, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan

Summary Information

Title: Jethro Sumner papers
Creator: Sumner, Jethro, 1733-1785
Inclusive dates: 1780-1781
Extent: 72 items (0.25 linear feet)
The Jethro Sumner papers contain incoming and outgoing letters relating to the progress of the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War, including the battles of Charlotte and King's Mountain, logistical and personnel concerns, and Sumner's resignation.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu

Access and Use

Acquisition Information

1937. M-343.

Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation

Jethro Sumner Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan


The items are arranged chronologically.


Jethro Sumner was born in 1733 in Nansemond County, Virginia, the son of Jethro Sumner and Margaret Sullivan. From 1755-1761, he served in the Virginia Militia; he was promoted to lieutenant in 1758, commanded Fort Bedford in 1760, and ended the French and Indian War as a captain. In 1764, he moved to Warren, North Carolina, where he married Mary Hurst, daughter of a wealthy planter, in 1765. They had three children. He soon opened a tavern and became involved in local politics, first as a justice of the peace in 1768, and then as the Warren County sheriff from 1772 to 1777.

Sumner was elected major in the Halifax district minutemen in 1775, and the following year became a colonel of the Third Battalion of North Carolina Continentals. He participated in the defense of Charleston in June 1776, and served under Washington at Brandywine, Germantown, and Valley Forge. In 1778, he suffered from an illness and returned home to recruit replacements for the Continental units. Sumner was made brigadier general by the Continental Congress in January 1779, and the following June, led a brigade in the Battle of Stono Ferry. In 1780, he joined the defense of North Carolina against Cornwallis' invasion and resigned in protest when General William Smallwood was given command of the state troops in October. General Nathanael Greene persuaded him to return to the field shortly thereafter, and he performed his most important service commanding a brigade that reinforced Greene at Eutaw Springs in September 1781. He retired in 1783, his health seriously impaired, and died two years later.

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Jethro Sumner papers contain 69 letters (both incoming and outgoing), and 3 militia lists, all spanning August 24, 1780, to April 1, 1781. All but two of the items date from August 24-October 20, 1780. The letters primarily concern strategic and logistical matters of the Southern Campaign of the Revolutionary War. Several letters in September 1780 document Cornwallis' invasion of North Carolina and the Battle of Charlotte. These include a series of letters between Sumner and Major General Horatio Gates, in which Gates promised aid to North Carolina's western counties (September 17, 1780), Sumner reported on the British occupation of Charlotte and requested orders on how to handle soldiers claiming discharge (September 29, 1780), and Gates ordered Sumner not to abandon the defense of the Yadkin Ford and criticized him for writing too infrequently (September 30, 1780). In a letter of September 23, 1780, Colonel Francis Lock wrote to Sumner from camp at Sherrills Ford, North Carolina, requesting that he send any men he could spare. Several letters from early October 1780 provide intelligence concerning the British, including their numbers, activities, and weapons; others refer to the scarcity of provisions, which Gates promised to address (October 7, 1780). On October 8, General William Lee Davidson recommended that Sumner "retain all the good Rifles from the Inhabitants who pass your Camp," judging that this might "induce some to return in Defence of their Country." Sumner and Davidson also exchanged several letters regarding the Battle of King's Mountain and the aftermath of the occupation of Charlotte, including the British departure (October 13, 1780). Sumner wrote three of the last letters in the collection to General William Smallwood, describing the condition of troops and movements, and finally, informing him of his resignation on October 20, 1780.

The collection also contains three militia records. Two identical items, dated October 12, 1780, give a statistical breakdown of officers and soldiers under Sumner by rank and function. Another document, dated October 13, 1780, provides the number of drafts and "Minute Men of the Foot" from the towns of Rowan and Mecklenburg counties in North Carolina, under Brigadier General William Lee Davidson.

Subject Terms

  • Charlotte (N.C.)
  • Gates, Horatio, 1728-1806.
  • King's Mountain, Battle of, S.C., 1780.
  • Sherrills Ford (N.C.)
  • United States--History--Revolution, 1775-1783.
  • Davidson, William Lee, 1746-1781.
  • Davie, William Richardson, 1756-1820.
  • Doherty, George.
  • Gates, Horatio, 1728-1806.
  • Lamb, Gideon.
  • Lock, Francis.
  • Thackston, James.
Genre Terms:
  • Correspondence.
  • Military documents.

Contents List

Container / Location Title
Box   1  
Jethro Sumner papers,  August 24, 1780-April 1, 1781 [series] ()

Additional Descriptive Data

Related Materials

The Nathanael Greene papers contain a large amount of correspondence between Greene and Sumner.

Collections of Sumner's letters and papers are in the Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and the North Carolina Archives, Raleigh.