Thomas Sumter

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This article is about the General in the American Revolution. For his grandson the U.S. Representative from South Carolina, see Thomas De Lage Sumter.
Thomas Sumter
ThomasSumterByRembrandtPeale.jpg
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 by Richard Winn
Succeeded by Richard Winn
In office
March 4, 1789 – March 4, 1793
Preceded by Position established
Succeeded by Richard Winn
Personal details
Born (1734-08-14)August 14, 1734
Hanover County Province of Virginia
Died June 1, 1832(1832-06-01) (aged 97)
near Stateburg, South Carolina
Resting place Thomas Sumter Memorial Park, Sumter County, South Carolina
Military service
Allegiance  Great Britain (1755–1776)
United States (1776–onward)
Service/branch Virginia provincial militia
South Carolina state militia
Years of service Virginia Virginia provincial militia: 1755
South Carolina South Carolina state militia: 1776–1781
Rank US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
Commands South Carolina 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.

Family life[edit]

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

The Timberlake Expedition[edit]

Main article: Timberlake Expedition
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).[3] 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 Timberlake, Sumter (who was partially financing the venture with borrowed money), an interpreter named John McCormack, and a servant.[3]

At one point early in the nearly year and a half long journey, an entry in Timberlake's journal describes Sumter's swimming nearly a half-mile in the icy waters to retrieve their canoe, which had drifted away while they were exploring a cave.[5] 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")[6] 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.[7]

Return to the colonies and a trip abroad[edit]

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

The party, along with several Beloved Men of the Cherokee, arrived in Williamsburg, Virginia on the James River in early April 1762.[8] While in Williamsburg, Ostenaco professed his desire to meet the king of England. In May 1762, Timberlake, Sumter, and three distinguished Cherokee leaders, including Ostenaco, departed for London.[9] Arriving in early June, the Indians were an immediate attraction, drawing crowds all over the city.[10][11]

The three Cherokee accompanied Sumter back to North America, landing on about August 25, 1762, in South Carolina[12] where Sumter became stranded due to financial difficulties. He petitioned the Virginia Colony for reimbursement of his travel expenses, but was denied. He was subsequently 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.[13] When Martin and Sumter were reunited some thirty years later, Sumter repaid the money.

Sumter settled in Stateburg in the High Hills of Santee in the Claremont (later the Sumter) District. He married Mary Jameson in 1767, and together they opened several small businesses and became successful planters, and Sumter raised a local militia group.

American Revolutionary War[edit]

Statue of Thomas Sumter on the courthouse lawn in Sumter, South Carolina

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."[14]

After the war[edit]

After the Revolution, Sumter was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives, serving from March 4, 1789 – March 4, 1793 and from March 4, 1797 – December 15, 1801. He was later selected by the legislature to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Senator Charles Pinckney.[1] Sumter served in the Senate until his resignation on December 16, 1810.[1]

Sumter's son, Thomas Sumter Jr., was an Ambassador to Brazil, and the father of South Carolina Congressman Thomas De Lage Sumter.

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]

Legacy[edit]

Gravesite of Thomas Sumter

The namesake town, Sumter, South Carolina, erected a memorial to him. The town is dubbed "The Gamecock City" after his nickname. ("Gamecock" is one of the several traditional nicknames for a native of South Carolina.) The University of South Carolina's official nickname is the "Fighting Gamecocks." Since 1903 the college's teams have been simply known as the "Gamecocks."

Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor was named for him after the War of 1812. 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.

Counties in South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Alabama are named for him.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Sumter, Thomas; Biographical Directory of the United States Congress; 1774 – Present; online; US Gov; retrieved September 2015
  2. ^ Thomas Sumter; virtualology.com;
  3. ^ a b Timberlake, Henry; Memoirs, 1756–1765; Williams, Samuel (ed.); Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.; (1948); pp.38–39.
  4. ^ Robert Bass, Gamecock: The Life and Campaigns of General Thomas Sumter (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1961), 9.
  5. ^ Timberlake, Henry; Memoirs, 1756–1765; Williams, Samuel (ed.); Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.; (1948); pp.41–48.
  6. ^ Timberlake, Henry; Memoirs, 1756–1765; Williams, Samuel (ed.); Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.; (1948); pp.57,58.
  7. ^ Timberlake, Henry; Memoirs, 1756–1765; Williams, Samuel (ed.); Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.; (1948); p.63–65.
  8. ^ Timberlake, Henry; Memoirs, 1756–1765; Williams, Samuel (ed.); Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.; (1948); pp.118–129.
  9. ^ Timberlake, Henry; Memoirs, 1756–1765; Williams, Samuel (ed.); Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.; (1948); pp.130–133.
  10. ^ Timberlake, Henry; Memoirs, 1756–1765; Williams, Samuel (ed.); Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.; (1948); p.130–136.
  11. ^ St James Chronicle, July 3, 1762.
  12. ^ Timberlake, Henry; Memoirs, 1756–1765; Williams, Samuel (ed.); Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.; (1948); pp.143–147.
  13. ^ Henry Timberlake, Duane King (ed.) The Memoirs of Lt. Henry Timberlake: The Story of a Soldier, Adventurer, and Emissary to the Cherokees, 1756–1765. UNC Press, xxvii.
  14. ^ Buchanan, John; The Road to Guilford Courthouse; p.393

External links[edit]

United States 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
United States Senate
Preceded by
Charles Pinckney
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from South Carolina
1801–1810
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