Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



In the annals of North Carolina history, few figures stand out more than Griffith Rutherford. An orphan when he arrived in the new world, Rutherford settled in the North Carolina backcountry two decades before the American Revolution. Almost immediately he ascended a social and economic ladder in Rowan County in his service as a soldier and elected assemblyman. A consummate “fixer” during his military career, Rutherford continually rushed to scenes when a Loyalist insurrections or party of marauding Indians threatened the state. As a militia general during the Revolution he was responsible for the defense of the entire western quadrant of the state. When he was not engaging insurgents or leading an army into Cherokee villages, Rutherford served in several elected offices. His first came during the 1766 Regulator insurrection that disrupted North Carolina. After helping draft the state constitution in 1776, Rutherford served in the state Senate, a post he held in between military campaigns that took him to Georgia and South Carolina. This dissertation is the story of how Rutherford, in spite of his humble origins, eventually became one of the most prominent men in his state. Though the information about his life is often scant, enough can be gleaned to utilize Rutherford as an example of a rapidly ascending backcountry figure. By taking full advantage of the opportunities and connections afforded him, Rutherford illustrates how late colonial North Carolina was a place where rapid advancement could take place. Making Rutherford’s life more unique is the way he combined politics and military service during several moments in his life. On several occasions, Rutherford underwent a grueling military campaign and upon his return quickly jumped in the current political debate. His experience in one service always affected the other, and it shaped his decisions as a militia officer and as an elected official. Though he lacked the legal or formal education of his contemporaries, Rutherford earned the respect and sometimes rage of the individuals who helped secure and create the state of North Carolina.



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Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Mark Thompson



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