About Jethro Exum Sumner
Jethro Exum Sumner (1733 – 18 March 1785) was a brigadier general in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Sumner's military service began in the French and Indian War, but he is most well-known as one of four brigadier generals in the the Continental Army from North Carolina between 1779 and 1783. Sumner participated in battles in both the Philadelphia campaign and southern theatre. in 1783, Sumner helped to establish the North Carolina Chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati, and became its first president.
Sumner was born in Nansemond County, Virginia in 1733 to Jethro and Margaret Sullivan Sumner. Sumner's family had originally settled in Nansemond County in 1691. Between 1755 and 1761, during the French and Indian War, Sumner was a lieutenant in the Virginia Militia, and was commander at Fort Bedford in 1760. Between 1761 and 1764, Sumner moved to Bute County in North Carolina, and married Mary Hurst of Granville County, with whom he would have three children.
Sumner owned a substantial amount of property that had been inherited through his wife's family in Bute County, where he also owned and operated a tavern. Between 1772 and 1777, he served as sheriff of Bute County. Early on, Sumner was active in pre-Revolution protests and politics, as he believed a separation from Great Britain was inevitable. Between August and September of 1775, Sumner served as Bute County's representative at the Third North Carolina Provincial Congress.
American Revolutionary War
On April 4, 1776, early in the American Revolution, the Provincial congress at Halifax chose Sumner to be colonel of the 3rd North Carolina Regiment. He initially participated in the defense of Charleston in 1776, after which he was involved in the aborted plans of Major General Charles Lee to invade British Florida. During the planning stages for the Florida invasion, Sumner became involved in a dispute with Peter Muhlenberg of the 8th Virginia Regiment over which officer was to be given temporary command over the expeditionary force in General Lee's absence. This dispute was solved only when a court of inquiry awarded Muhlenberg temporary command, after Sumner failed to appear and plead his case. The plan did not materialize, though, and Sumner left his regiment at Savannah, Georgia in September, 1776 in order to recruit further soldiers from North Carolina.
In early 1777, Sumner resumed command of his regiment, and marched north, where he then served under George Washington in the Philadelphia campaign. Sumner saw action in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, and spent the winter of 1777 to 1778 in Valley Forge with Washington's army. Sumner contracted an illness in the Spring of 1778, and was forced to return home to recuperate, although he continued to recruit soldiers in North Carolina during his recovery.
As early as December 15, 1777, the North Carolina General Assembly instructed its representatives in the Second Continental Congress to urge for Sumner's promotion to general. It wasn't until January 9, 1779, though, that the Continental Congress commissioned Sumner as brigadier-general (along with fellow North Carolinian James Hogun, and ordered him to join General Horatio Gates in South Carolina. On June 20, 1779, Sumner led a Continental Army brigade at the Battle of Stono Ferry, but again experienced poor health in the aftermath of the battle. Sumner returned to North Carolina to recover, continuing to recruit troops in the meantime.
In 1780, Sumner was named commander of a brigade of North Carolina militia tasked with defending that State from the advances of British General Charles Cornwallis, but soon quit his command after Brigadier General William Smallwood of Maryland was given command of all state militia units in the southern theater. He next served under General Nathanael Greene, who arrived in the southern theater in December of 1780, who ordered Sumner to recruit further Contintental soldiers from North Carolina. On June 2, 1781, Greene ordered Sumner to join him in South Carolina, which Sumner did along with 350 new recruits on August 1, 1781. On September 8, Sumner's regiments were positioned on the right flank of the Continental Army at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, where his unit served a vital role in halting several British assaults. Following his success at Eutaw Springs, Sumner was appointed commanding officer of Continental Army forces in North Carolina by Greene in 1781.
Post-war and death
Following the war, Sumner returned to Bute County, which had been renamed Warren County after Joseph Warren, the hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Sumner helped create North Carolina's chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati in 1783, serving as its first president. He died in Warren County between March 15 and March 19, 1785 at the age of 52. When he died, Sumner owned approximately 20,000 acres of land in North Carolina, as well as 34 slaves.
Sumner County, Tennessee, originally in the western portion of North Carolina, was named for him.