Thomas Sumter

Last updated

Thomas Sumter
Portrait by Rembrandt Peale (c. 1795)
United States Senator
from South Carolina
In office
December 15, 1801 December 16, 1810

Thomas Sumter (August 14, 1734 June 1, 1832) was an American military officer, planter, and politician who served in the Continental Army as a brigadier-general during the Revolutionary War. After the war, Sumter was elected to the House of Representatives and to the Senate, where he served from 1801 to 1810, when he retired. Sumter was nicknamed the "Fighting Gamecock" for his military tactics during the Revolutionary War.


Early life

Thomas Sumter was born in Hanover County in the Colony of Virginia. [1] His father, William Sumpter, was a miller and former indentured servant, while his mother, Elizabeth, was a midwife. His father was born in England, and Sumter was of English and Welsh descent. [2] Most of Thomas Sumter's early years were spent tending livestock and helping his father at the mill, not in school. [3] Given just a rudimentary education on the frontier, the young Sumter served in the Virginia militia, [1] where he was present for Edward Braddock's defeat. [4]

Timberlake Expedition

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

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. [5] :38–39 The purpose of the expedition was to visit the Overhill Cherokee towns and renew alliances with the Cherokee following the war. [6] 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. [5] :38

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. [5] :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") [5] :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. [5] :63–65

The party returned to Williamsburg, Virginia, accompanied by several Beloved Men of the Cherokee, arriving on the James River in early April 1762. [5] :118–129

While in Williamsburg, Ostenaco professed a desire to meet the king of England, [5] :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. [7] [5] :130–136 The three Cherokee then accompanied Sumter back to America, landing in South Carolina on or about August 25, 1762. [5] :143–147

Imprisonment for debt

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. [8] :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 eventually became members of the planter class, acquiring ownership over slave plantations.

American Revolutionary War

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. in 1780 he was appointed brigadier general, a post he held until the end of the war. [4] 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.

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

During fighting in August 1780, he defeated a combined force of Loyalists and British Army regulars at Hanging Rock, and intercepted and defeated an enemy convoy. Later, however, his regiment was almost annihilated by forces led by Banastre Tarleton. He recruited a new force, defeated Major James Wemyss in November, and repulsed an attack by Tarleton, in which he was wounded. [4] Sumter was carried into the Blackstock house, where his surgeon, Dr. Nathaniel Abney, probed for and extracted the ball from under his left shoulder.[ citation needed ]

In 1781, in response to a low number of recruits, Sumter publicly implemented a bounty for Continental Army recruiters, which stipulated that anyone who managed to recruit a certain number of volunteers for the South Carolina Line would receive Loyalist-owned slaves as a reward. [9] Sumter acquired the nickname "Carolina Gamecock" during the American Revolution, for his fierce fighting tactics. After the Battle of Blackstock's Farm, British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton commented that Sumter "fought like a gamecock", and Cornwallis described the Gamecock as his "greatest plague". [10]

Political career

After the Revolutionary War, Sumter was elected to the United States 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]


Thomas' 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. [11] She was raised in New York City from 1794 to 1801 by Vice President Aaron Burr as his ward, alongside his own daughter Theodosia. [12] [13] 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 United States House of Representatives. [14]

Sumter's older brother, William Sumter, was a captain in the Revolutionary War. [15] [16] [17] [18]


Sumter died on June 1, 1832, at his slave plantation "South Mount", which was located near Stateburg, South Carolina, at the age of 97. Sumter was the last surviving American general of the Revolutionary War. [19] He is buried at the Thomas Sumter Memorial Park in Sumter County, South Carolina. [1]


Gravesite of Thomas Sumter ThomasSumterGraveSite.jpg
Gravesite of Thomas Sumter

The city of Sumter, South Carolina, originally incorporated as Sumterville in 1845, was named for Thomas Sumter. [20] The city has erected a memorial to him, and has been dubbed "The Gamecock City" after his nickname.

Prior to being renamed Sumter County in 1868, Sumter District was commonly referred to as the "Old Gamecock District". [21] The use of this nickname continued after the name change, with the county thereafter being called the "Old Gamecock County". [22]

Counties in four states are named for Sumter. These are South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, and Georgia [23] The unincorporated community of Sumterville, Florida is the former seat of Sumter County, Florida. Both are named for Thomas Sumter.

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

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, "Fighting 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 "Gamecocks". Since 1903, the college's teams have been simply known as the "South Carolina Gamecocks". The costumed mascot of the University is referred to as Cocky, short for "Gamecock".

Other schools within South Carolina have been named after Sumter or utilize a Gamecock as their mascot.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Andrew Pickens (congressman)</span> Revolutionary War militia general in South Carolina (1739-1817)

Andrew Pickens was a militia leader in the American Revolution. A planter and slaveowner, he developed his Hopewell plantation on the east side of the Keowee River across from the Cherokee town of Isunigu (Seneca) in western South Carolina. He was elected as a member of the United States House of Representatives from western South Carolina. Several treaties with the Cherokee were negotiated and signed at his plantation of Hopewell.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tellico River</span> River in the United States of America

The Tellico River is a river in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee. It rises in the westernmost mountains of North Carolina, and then flows through Monroe County, Tennessee, before joining the Little Tennessee River under the Tellico Reservoir. With a length of 52.8 miles (85.0 km), it is a major tributary of the Little Tennessee River, and is one of the primary streams draining the Unicoi Mountains.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tuskegee (Cherokee town)</span> Former Overhill Cherokee town in Monroe County, Tennessee

Tuskegee was an Overhill Cherokee town located along the lower Little Tennessee River in what is now Monroe County, Tennessee, United States. The town developed in the late 1750s alongside Fort Loudoun, and was inhabited until the late 1770s. It was forcibly evacuated and probably burned during the Cherokee–American wars.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chota (Cherokee town)</span> 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, Chota was the most important of the Overhill towns from the late 1740s until 1788. It replaced Tanasi as the de facto capital, or 'mother town' of the Cherokee people.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tanasi</span> Historic Cherokee village in Tennessee, USA

Tanasi was a historic Overhill settlement site in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. The village became the namesake for the state of Tennessee. It was abandoned by the Cherokee in the 19th century for a rising town whose chief was more powerful. Tanasi served as the de facto capital of the Overhill Cherokee from as early as 1721 until 1730, when the capital shifted to Great Tellico.

The Cherokee Path was the primary route of English and Scots traders from Charleston to Columbia, South Carolina in Colonial America. It was the way they reached Cherokee towns and territories along the upper Keowee River and its tributaries. In its lower section it was known as the Savannah River. They referred to these towns along the Keowee and Tugaloo rivers as the Lower Towns, in contrast to the Middle Towns in Western North Carolina and the Overhill Towns in present-day southeastern Tennessee west of the Appalachian Mountains.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Anglo-Cherokee War</span> Conflict between British forces and Cherokee bands in North America from 1758 to 1761

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 bands during the French and Indian War.

South Carolina was outraged over British tax policies in the 1760s that violated what they saw as their constitutional right to "no taxation without representation". Merchants joined the boycott against buying British products. When the London government harshly punished Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, South Carolina's leaders joined eleven other colonies in forming the Continental Congress. When the British attacked Lexington and Concord in the spring of 1775 and were beaten back by the Massachusetts Patriots, South Carolina Patriots rallied to support the American Revolution. Loyalists and Patriots of the colony were split by nearly 50/50.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ostenaco</span> Cherokee Indian warrior

Ostenaco was a Cherokee leader, warrior, orator, and leader of diplomacy with British colonial authorities in the 18th century. By his thirties, he had assumed the warrior rank of "otacity" (mankiller), and the title "tassite" of Great Tellico. He eventually rose to assume the higher Cherokee rank of chief-warrior.

Thomas De Lage Sumter was a U.S. Representative from South Carolina, and a grandson of American Revolutionary War General Thomas Sumter.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Overhill Cherokee</span> 18th century Cherokee people who lived on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains

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 western 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.

Henry Timberlake was a colonial Anglo-American officer, journalist, and cartographer. He was born in the Colony of 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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tomotley</span> United States historic place

Tomotley is a prehistoric and historic Native American site along the lower Little Tennessee River in Monroe County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. Occupied as early as the Archaic period, the Tomotley site was occupied particularly during the Mississippian period, which was likely when its earthwork platform mounds were built. It was also occupied during the eighteenth century as a Cherokee town. It revealed an unexpected style: an octagonal townhouse and square or rectangular residences. In the Overhill period, Cherokee townhouses found in the Carolinas in the same period were circular in design, with,

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chilhowee (Cherokee town)</span> Cherokee village site in Blount and Monroe Counties, Tennessee

Chilhowee was a prehistoric and historic Native American site in present-day Blount and Monroe counties in Tennessee, in what were the Southeastern Woodlands. Although now submerged by the Chilhowee Lake impoundment of the Little Tennessee River, the Chilhowee site was home to a substantial 18th-century Overhill Cherokee town. It may have been the site of the older Creek village "Chalahume" visited by Spanish explorer Juan Pardo in 1567. The Cherokee later pushed the Muscogee Creek out of this area.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tallassee (Cherokee town)</span> Native American settlement

Tallassee is a prehistoric and historic Native American site in present-day Blount and Monroe counties, Tennessee in the southeastern United States. Tallassee was the southernmost of a string of Overhill Cherokee towns that existed along the lower Little Tennessee River on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains in the 18th century. Although Tallassee receives scant attention in primary historical accounts, it is one of the few Overhill towns to be shown on every major 18th-century map of the Little Tennessee Valley.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Conocotocko II</span> Leader of the Cherokee

Conocotocko, also known by the folk-etymologized name Cunne Shote, was First Beloved Man of the Cherokee from 1760. He succeeded his uncle Conocotocko I upon the latter's death. Pro-French like his uncle, he steered the Cherokee into war with the British colonies of South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia in the aftermath of the execution of several Cherokee leaders who were being held hostage at Fort Prince George. He held his title until the end of the Anglo-Cherokee War in 1761, when he was deposed in favor of Attakullakulla.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Siege of Fort Loudoun</span> 1760 conflict in Tennessee

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.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Timberlake Expedition</span> 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 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 targeted attacks on colonial settlements that took place at the beginning of the American Revolution. A peace document signed by the Cherokee and South Carolina, the treaty instead laid the foundation for the decades long Cherokee–American wars fought between the European-Americans and the Chickamauga Cherokee people.

A skiagusta, is a Cherokee title for a war chief, known as the 'red chief' in times of turmoil. The skiagusta was the highest possible rank for a red chief; however, he remained subordinate to the council of the 'white', or peace, chief in non-tactical matters, even during wartime.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 United States Congress. "Thomas Sumter (id: S001073)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress .
  2. Selected Readings in American Military History. Infantry School. 1953. p. 70. Retrieved October 4, 2022 via Google Books.
  3. Lockhart, Matthew A. (2016). "Sumter, Thomas". South Carolina Encyclopedia. University of South Carolina.
  4. 1 2 3 Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sumter, Thomas"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 85.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Timberlake, Henry (1948). Williams, Samuel (ed.). Memoirs, 1756–1765. Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.
  6. Bass, Robert (1961). Gamecock: The Life and Campaigns of General Thomas Sumter . New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. p.  9.
  7. St James Chronicle, July 3, 1762.
  8. 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.
  9. Rees, John U. (2019). 'They Were Good Soldiers': African-Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775-1783. Helion & Company. ISBN   978-1-9116-2854-5.
  10. Buchanan, John. The Road to Guilford Courthouse. p. 393.
  11. Tisdale, Thomas (2001). A Lady of the High Hills: Natalie Delage Sumter. Univ. of South Carolina Press. ISBN   978-1-57003-415-2.
  12. Schachner, Nathan (1961) [1937]. Aaron Burr: A Biography. A. S. Barnes. Archived from the original on January 17, 2018.
  13. 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.
  14. Gilbert, Oscar E. and Catherine R.; True for the Cause of Liberty: The Second Spartan Regiment in the American Revolution; p. 194; ISBN 978-1-61200-328-3
  15. "General Thomas Sumter and Brother William Sumter". The Watchman and Southron. August 21, 1907. p. 2. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  16. "The North Carolina Patriots – Capt. William Sumter". Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  17. Sumter, Joel (August 1, 1874). "Thomas Sumter Papers, Draper Manuscripts, Statement from Joel Sumter to Lyman Draper". Draper Manuscripts. 8VV344-349 [268-269]: 344–349 via Wisconsin Historical Society.
  18. Kent, A.A. (April 27, 1897). "General Thomas Sumter, A Brother and Other Members of the Family that Lived in Caldwell Co, NC". The Lenoir Topic, Lenoir, North Carolina. p. 1. Retrieved January 20, 2023.
  19. "Thomas Sumter (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  20. "History & Heritage". City of Sumter, SC. August 4, 2018. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  21. "Calhoun Monument Association". The Sumter Banner. March 8, 1854. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  22. "The Atlanta Fair". The Watchman and Southron. August 23, 1881. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
  23. Krakow, Kenneth K. (1975). Georgia Place-Names: Their History and Origins (PDF). Macon, GA: Winship Press. p. 215. ISBN   0-915430-00-2.
  24. 1 2 "History". Thomas Sumter Academy. Retrieved December 21, 2022.
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
Preceded by Member of the  U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1797 December 15, 1801
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 2) from South Carolina
Served alongside: John C. Colhoun, Pierce Butler, John Gaillard
Succeeded by
Honorary titles
Preceded by Oldest living U.S. senator
November 14, 1819 June 1, 1832
Succeeded by