John Stokes (North Carolina)

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John Stokes (March 20, 1756 – October 12, 1790) was a Virginia state militia officer, during the American Revolutionary War and survivor of the "Waxhaws Massacre", as well as, a North Carolina attorney, politician, and judge.

Early life[edit]

John Stokes was born March 20, 1756, in Lunenburg County, Virginia Colony. Stokes was a well-educated man and later became an attorney, with a private practice, in Salisbury, Province of North Carolina.

American Revolutionary War[edit]

John Stokes joined the Virginia State Forces and rose quickly, through the ranks. Commissioned an ensign, in the 6th Virginia Regiment, which was formed in Williamsburg, on February 16, 1776, promoted to Second Lieutenant, in July 1776, to First Lieutenant December 1776, and to Captain; February 20, 1778. Stokes participated in the Battle of Trenton, Battle of Princeton, Battle of Brandywine, Battle of Germantown, Battle of Monmouth and the Siege of Charleston.

John Stokes went to South Carolina, to help defend Charleston, from British capture, under the command of Colonel Abraham Buford, in 1780. Before arriving there, on May 29, 1780, they were attacked, by a superior, British force, under General Banastre Tarlton, at the Waxhaws and suffered a disastrous defeat. Captain Stokes was severely wounded and taken captive. The worst was yet to come. At the end of the Battle of Waxhaws, surrendering Patriots were not allowed to be taken prisoner and instead were slaughtered, in a war crime, known as the "Waxhaws Massacre". Captain Stokes it has been written: "Early in the sanguinary conflict he was attacked by a dragoon, who aimed deadly blows at his head, all of which, by the dexterous use of his small sword, he easily parried; when another dragoon attacked from the right, and by one stroke cut off his right hand. They both then attacked him, and instinctively attempting to defend his head with his left arm, that was hacked in eight or ten places from the wrist to the shoulder and a finger cut off. His head was laid open almost the whole length of the crown to the eyebrows. A soldier passing asked if he expected quarter. Stokes answered, "I have not, nor do I mean to ask it; finish me as soon as possible; whereupon the soldier transfixed him twice with his bayonet." Astonishingly, John Stokes survived. He was a prisoner until May 1, 1783.

Post-war years[edit]

President George Washington appointed John Stokes, on August 2, 1790, to be the first judge, of the United States District of Western North Carolina, a new seat created, by 1 Stat. 126. The following day, Stokes was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission.


John Stokes served as the judge of the United States District of Western North Carolina, until his death, on October 12, 1790, less than three months, after his appointment.


Stokes County, North Carolina is named for him.

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Newly created seat
Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of North Carolina
August 3, 1790 – October 12, 1790
Succeeded by
John Sitgreaves