Thomas Sumter

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Thomas Sumter
Portrait by Rembrandt Peale (c. 1795)
United States Senator
from South Carolina
In office
December 15, 1801 December 16, 1810
Preceded by Charles Pinckney
Succeeded by John Taylor
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1797 December 15, 1801
Preceded byRichard Winn
Succeeded byRichard Winn
In office
March 4, 1789 March 3, 1793
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded by Richard Winn
Personal details
Born(1734-08-14)August 14, 1734
Hanover County Province of Virginia
DiedJune 1, 1832(1832-06-01) (aged 97)
near Stateburg, South Carolina
Resting placeThomas Sumter Memorial Park, Sumter County, South Carolina
Military service
AllegianceUnion flag 1606 (Kings Colors).svg  Great Britain (1755–1776)
Flag of the United States (1777-1795).svg (1776–onward)
Branch/serviceVirginia provincial militia
South Carolina state militia
Years of service Flag of Virginia (1861).svg Virginia provincial militia: 1755
Flag of Fort Moultrie, South Carolina.svg South Carolina state militia: 1776–1781
Rank US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Commands Flag of Fort Moultrie, South Carolina.svg Second Regiment of the South Carolina Line
Battles/wars American Revolutionary War

Thomas Sumter (August 14, 1734 – June 1, 1832) was a soldier in the Colony of Virginia militia; a brigadier general in the South Carolina militia during the American War of Independence, a planter, and a politician. After the United States gained independence, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives and to the United States Senate, where he served from 1801 to 1810, when he retired. Sumter was nicknamed the "Carolina Gamecock" for his fierce fighting style against British soldiers after they burned down his house during the Revolution.

Colony of Virginia English/British possession in North America (1607–1776)

The Colony of Virginia, chartered in 1606 and settled in 1607, was the first enduring English colony in North America, following failed proprietary attempts at settlement on Newfoundland by Sir Humphrey Gilbert in 1583, and the subsequent further south Roanoke Island by Sir Walter Raleigh in the late 1580s.

Militia generally refers to an army or other fighting force that is composed of non-professional fighters

A militia is generally an army or some other fighting organization of non-professional soldiers, citizens of a nation, or subjects of a state, who can be called upon for military service during a time of need, as opposed to a professional force of regular, full-time military personnel, or historically, members of a warrior nobility class. Generally unable to hold ground against regular forces, it is common for militias to be used for aiding regular troops by skirmishing, holding fortifications, or irregular warfare, instead of being used in offensive campaigns by themselves. Militia are often limited by local civilian laws to serve only in their home region, and to serve only for a limited time; this further reduces their use in long military campaigns.

Brigadier general (United States) one-star general officer in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps

In the United States Armed Forces, brigadier general is a one-star general officer with the pay grade of O-7 in the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. The rank of brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed services. The NATO equivalent is OF-6.


Early life

Thomas Sumter was born in Hanover County, Province of Virginia. [1] Little is known of his parentage. [2] Given just a rudimentary education on the frontier, the young Sumter served in the Virginia militia. [1]

Hanover County, Virginia U.S. county in Virginia

Hanover County is a county in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As of the 2010 census, the population was 106,374. Its county seat is Hanover Courthouse.

The Timberlake Expedition

At the end of the Anglo-Cherokee War, in 1761, Sumter was invited to join what was to become known as the "Timberlake Expedition," organized by Colonel Adam Stephen and led by Henry Timberlake, who had volunteered for the assignment. [3] :38–39 The purpose of the expedition was to visit the Overhill Cherokee towns and renew friendship with the Cherokee People following the war. [4] The small expeditionary party consisted of Sumter (who was partially financing the venture with borrowed money), Timberlake, an interpreter named John McCormack, and a servant. [3] :38

Anglo-Cherokee War

The Anglo–Cherokee War, was also known from the Anglo-European perspective as the Cherokee War, the Cherokee Uprising, or the Cherokee Rebellion. The war was a conflict between British forces in North America and Cherokee Indian tribes during the French and Indian War. The British and the Cherokee had been allies at the start of the war, but each party had suspected the other of betrayals. Tensions between British-American settlers and the Cherokee increased during the 1750s, culminating in open hostilities in 1758.

Adam Stephen was a Scottish-born doctor and military officer who helped found what became Martinsburg, West Virginia. He emigrated to North America, where he served in the Province of Virginia's militia under George Washington during the French and Indian War. He served under Washington again in the American Revolutionary War, rising to lead a division of the Continental Army. After a friendly fire incident during the Battle of Germantown, Stephen was cashiered out of the army, but moved to western Virginia, where he became a prominent citizen and served in the Virginia General Assembly.

Henry Timberlake was a colonial Anglo-American officer, journalist, and cartographer. He was born in Virginia and died in England. He is best known for his work as an emissary from the British colonies to the Overhill Cherokee during the 1761–1762 Timberlake Expedition.

According to Timberlake's journal, at one point early in the nearly year and a half long journey, Sumter swam nearly a half-mile in the icy waters to retrieve their canoe, which had drifted away while they were exploring a cave. [3] :41–48 The party arrived in the Overhill town of Tomotley on December 20, where they were greeted by the town's head man, Ostenaco (or "Mankiller") [3] :57–58 and soon found themselves participants in a peace pipe ceremony. In the following weeks, Sumter and the group attended peace ceremonies in several Overhill towns, such as Chota, Citico, and Chilhowee. [3] :63–65

Tomotley United States historic place

Tomotley is a prehistoric and historic Native American site in Monroe County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. Occupied as early as the Archaic period, the Tomotley site had the most substantial periods of habitation during the Mississippian period, likely when the earthwork mounds were built and later during the mid to late eighteenth century as a refugee village of Cherokee from the Lower, Middle and Valley towns.

Ostenaco Cherokee Indian warrior

Otacity Ostenaco, also known by the honorific epithet Judd's Friend, was a Cherokee skiagusta, orator, and leading figure in diplomacy with British colonial authorities. The name Otacity (Utsidihi) was a warrior's title he had earned at an early age; he also used the English translation Mankiller.

Ceremonial pipe ceremonial smoking pipe, used by Native Americans

A ceremonial pipe is a particular type of smoking pipe, used by a number of Native American cultures in their sacred ceremonies. Traditionally they are used to offer prayers in a religious ceremony, to make a ceremonial commitment, or to seal a covenant or treaty. The pipe ceremony may be a component of a larger ceremony, or held as a sacred ceremony in and of itself. Indigenous peoples of the Americas who use ceremonial pipes have names for them in each culture's indigenous language. Not all cultures have pipe traditions, and there is no single word for all ceremonial pipes across the hundreds of diverse Native American languages.

The party returned to Williamsburg, Virginia, accompanied by several Beloved Men of the Cherokee, arriving on the James River in early April 1762. [3] :118–129

Williamsburg, Virginia Independent city in Virginia

Williamsburg is a city in the U.S. state of Virginia. As of the 2010 U.S. Census, the population was 14,068. In 2014, the population was estimated to be 14,691. Located on the Virginia Peninsula, Williamsburg is in the northern part of the Hampton Roads metropolitan area. It is bordered by James City County and York County.

A tribal chief or chieftain is the leader of a tribal society or chiefdom.

While in Williamsburg, Ostenaco professed a desire to meet the king of England, [3] :130–133 and in May 1762, Sumter traveled to England with Timberlake and three distinguished Cherokee leaders, including Ostenaco. Arriving in London in early June, the Indians were an immediate attraction, drawing crowds all over the city. [5] [3] :130–136 The three Cherokee then accompanied Sumter back to America, landing in South Carolina on or about August 25, 1762. [3] :143–147

London Capital of the United Kingdom

London is the capital and largest city of England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames in the south-east of England, at the head of its 50-mile (80 km) estuary leading to the North Sea, London has been a major settlement for two millennia. Londinium was founded by the Romans. The City of London, London's ancient core − an area of just 1.12 square miles (2.9 km2) and colloquially known as the Square Mile − retains boundaries that follow closely its medieval limits. The City of Westminster is also an Inner London borough holding city status. Greater London is governed by the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.

Imprisonment for debt

Plaque at the South Carolina statehouse Thomas Sumter (commemorative plaque at the South Carolina statehouse).jpg
Plaque at the South Carolina statehouse

Sumter became stranded in South Carolina due to financial difficulties. He petitioned the Virginia Colony for reimbursement of his travel expenses, but was denied. Subsequently, Sumter was imprisoned for debt in Virginia. When his friend and fellow soldier, Joseph Martin, arrived in Staunton, Martin asked to spend the night with Sumter in jail. Martin gave Sumter ten guineas and a tomahawk. Sumter used the money to buy his way out of jail in 1766. [6] :xxvii When Martin and Sumter were reunited some thirty years later, Sumter repaid the money.

Family life and business

Sumter settled in Stateburg, South Carolina, in the Claremont District (later the Sumter District) in the High Hills of Santee.

He married Mary Jameson in 1767. Together, they opened several small businesses and became successful planters.

American Revolutionary War

Statue of Thomas Sumter on the courthouse lawn in Sumter, South Carolina Thomas sumter 1352.JPG
Statue of Thomas Sumter on the courthouse lawn in Sumter, South Carolina

Sumter raised a local militia group in Stateburg. In February 1776, Sumter was elected lieutenant colonel of the Second Regiment of the South Carolina Line of which he was later appointed colonel. He subsequently was appointed brigadier general, a post he held until the end of the war. He participated in several battles in the early months of the war, including the campaign to prevent an invasion of Georgia. Perhaps his greatest military achievement was his partisan campaigning, which contributed to Lord Cornwallis' decision to abandon the Carolinas for Virginia.

Sumter acquired the nickname "Carolina Gamecock" during the American Revolution, for his fierce fighting tactics. After the Battle of Blackstock's Farm, British General Banastre Tarleton commented that Sumter "fought like a gamecock", and Cornwallis described the Gamecock as his "greatest plague". [7]

Political career

After the Revolutionary War, Sumter was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from March 4, 1789 to March 3, 1793 and from March 4, 1797 to December 15, 1801.

He later served in the United States Senate, having been selected by the legislature to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Charles Pinckney. [1] Sumter resigned from his seat in the Senate on December 16, 1810. [1]


Sumter shares a monument, erected in 1913, on the state capitol grounds in Columbia with two other Revolutionary War generals, Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens SC Revolutionary War generals monument in Columbia IMG 4797.JPG
Sumter shares a monument, erected in 1913, on the state capitol grounds in Columbia with two other Revolutionary War generals, Francis Marion and Andrew Pickens

Sumter died on June 1, 1832 at South Mount (his plantation near Stateburg), at the age of 97 years. He was buried at the Thomas Sumter Memorial Park in Sumter County. [1]


Sumter's son, Thomas Sumter Jr., served in Rio de Janeiro from 1810 to 1819 as the United States Ambassador to the Portuguese Court during its exile to Brazil. Thomas Jr.'s wife, Natalie De Lage Sumter ( née Nathalie de Lage de Volude), was a daughter of French nobility, sent by her parents to America for her safety during the French Revolution. [8] She was raised in New York City from 1794 to 1801 by Vice President Aaron Burr as his ward, alongside his own daughter Theodosia. [9] [10]

His grandson, Colonel Thomas De Lage Sumter, served in the U.S. Army during the Second Seminole War, and later represented South Carolina in the U.S. House of Representatives.


Gravesite of Thomas Sumter ThomasSumterGraveSite.jpg
Gravesite of Thomas Sumter

In South Carolina, the town of Sumter, South Carolina was named for Thomas Sumter. The town has erected a memorial to him, and has been dubbed "The Gamecock City" after his nickname.

Counties in four states are named for Sumter:

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, a fort planned after the War of 1812, was named in his honor. The fort is best known as the site upon which the shots initiating the American Civil War were fired, at the Battle of Fort Sumter.

Sumter's nickname, "Gamecock", has become one of several traditional nicknames for a native of South Carolina. For example, the University of South Carolina's official nickname is the "Fighting Gamecocks." Since 1903, the college's teams have been simply known as the "South Carolina Gamecocks".

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Tuskegee (Cherokee town)

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Chota (Cherokee town) United States historic place

Chota is a historic Overhill Cherokee town site in Monroe County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. Developing after nearby Tanasi, from the late 1740s until 1788 Chota was the most important of the Overhill towns, replacing Tanasi as the de facto capital of the Cherokee people.

Tanasi Historic Cherokee village in Tennessee, USA

Tanasi was a historic Overhill Cherokee village site in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. The village was the namesake for the state of Tennessee. Abandoned by the Cherokee in the 19th century, since 1979 the town site has been submerged by the Tellico Lake impoundment of the Little Tennessee River. Tanasi served as the de facto capital of the Cherokee from as early as 1721 until 1730, when the capital shifted to Great Tellico.

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Overhill Cherokee

Overhill Cherokee was the term for the Cherokee people located in their historic settlements in what is now the U.S. state of Tennessee in the Southeastern United States, on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains. This name was used by 18th-century European traders and explorers from British colonies along the Atlantic coast, as they had to cross the mountains to reach these settlements.

Stateburg Historic District United States historic place

The Stateburg Historic District is a historic district in Stateburg, in the High Hills of Santee area near Sumter, South Carolina in the United States. It includes two National Historic Landmarks, Borough House Plantation and the Church of the Holy Cross, and at least eight contributing properties within its boundaries. On February 24, 1971, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The historic district extends north and east of the town of Stateburg as far north as Meeting House Road and as far east as South Carolina Highway 441, covering an area of 5,066 acres (20.50 km2).

High Hills of Santee

The High Hills of Santee, sometimes known as the High Hills of the Santee, is a long, narrow hilly region in the western part of Sumter County, South Carolina. It has been called "one of the state's most famous areas". The High Hills of Santee region lies north of the Santee River and east of the Wateree River, one of the two rivers that join to form the Santee. It extends north almost to the Kershaw county line and northeasterly to include the former summer resort town of Bradford Springs. Since 1902 the town has been included in Lee County.

Citico (Cherokee town) United States historic place

Citico is a prehistoric and historic Native American site in Monroe County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. The site's namesake Cherokee village was the largest of the Overhill towns, housing an estimated population of 1,000 by the mid-18th century. The Mississippian village that preceded the site's Cherokee occupation is believed to have been the village of "Satapo" visited by the Juan Pardo expedition in 1567.

Tallassee (Cherokee town)

Tallassee is a prehistoric and historic Native American site in Blount County and Monroe County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. Tallassee was the southernmost of a string of Overhill Cherokee villages that spanned the lower Little Tennessee River in the 18th century. Although it receives scant attention in primary historical accounts, Tallassee is one of the few Overhill towns to appear on every major 18th-century map of the Little Tennessee Valley.

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Conocotocko II Cherokee leader

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The Cherokee people of the southeastern United States, and later Oklahoma and surrounding areas, have a long military history. Since European contact, Cherokee military activity has been documented in European records. Cherokee tribes and bands had a number of conflicts during the 18th century with European colonizing forces, primarily the English. The Eastern Band and Cherokees from the Indian Territory fought in the American Civil War, with bands allying with the Union or the Confederacy. Because many Cherokees allied with the Confederacy, the United States government required a new treaty with the nation after the war. Cherokees have also served in the United States military during the 20th and 21st centuries.

Siege of Fort Loudoun

The Siege of Fort Loudoun was an engagement during the Anglo-Cherokee War fought from February 1760 to August 1760 between the warriors of the Cherokee led by Ostenaco and the garrison of Fort Loudoun composed of British and colonial soldiers commanded by Captain Paul Demeré.

Timberlake Expedition 1761 peace mission into the Overhill Cherokee lands

The Timberlake Expedition was an excursion into the Overhill Cherokee lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, which took place in 1761 following the Anglo-Cherokee War. Its purpose was to renew and solidify friendship between Colonial Americans and the Cherokee People following the three-year war. The endeavor is named after the commander of the expedition, Henry Timberlake.

The Treaty of Dewitts Corner ended the initial Overhill Cherokee town attacks which took place at the beginning of the American Revolution. Signed between the Cherokee and South Carolina, the treaty helped lay the foundation for the decades long Cherokee–American wars fought between the European-Americans and the Chickamauga Cherokee people.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 United States Congress. "Thomas Sumter (id: S001073)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress .
  2. "Thomas Sumter".
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Timberlake, Henry (1948). Williams, Samuel (ed.). Memoirs, 1756–1765. Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.
  4. Bass, Robert (1961). Gamecock: The Life and Campaigns of General Thomas Sumter. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. p. 9.
  5. St James Chronicle, July 3, 1762.
  6. Timberlake, Henry. King, Duane (ed.). The Memoirs of Lt. Henry Timberlake: The Story of a Soldier, Adventurer, and Emissary to the Cherokees, 1756–1765. UNC Press.
  7. Buchanan, John. The Road to Guilford Courthouse. p. 393.
  8. Tisdale, Thomas (2001). A Lady of the High Hills: Natalie Delage Sumter. Univ. of South Carolina Press. ISBN   978-1-57003-415-2.
  9. Schachner, Nathan (1961) [1937]. Aaron Burr: A Biography. A. S. Barnes. Archived from the original on January 17, 2018.Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  10. Burr, Aaron (1837). Davis, Matthew Livingston (ed.). Memoirs of Aaron Burr: With Miscellaneous Selections from His Correspondence. New York: Harper & Brothers. p. 387 n.1.
  11. Krakow, Kenneth K. (1975). Georgia Place-Names: Their History and Origins (PDF). Macon, GA: Winship Press. p. 215. ISBN   0-915430-00-2.
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
District created
Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1793
Succeeded by
Richard Winn
Preceded by
Richard Winn
Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1797 – December 15, 1801
Succeeded by
Richard Winn
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Charles Pinckney
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from South Carolina
Served alongside: John C. Colhoun, Pierce Butler, John Gaillard
Succeeded by
John Taylor
Honorary titles
Preceded by
William Johnson
Oldest living U.S. Senator
November 14, 1819 – June 1, 1832
Succeeded by
Charles Carroll