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 byCharles Pinckney
Succeeded byJohn 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 byRichard Winn
Personal details
Born(1734-08-14)August 14, 1734
Hanover County, Virginia Colony, British America
DiedJune 1, 1832(1832-06-01) (aged 97)
near Stateburg, South Carolina, U.S.
Resting placeThomas Sumter Memorial Park, Sumter County, South Carolina
Military service
Allegiance Great Britain (1755–1776)
United States (1776–onward)
Branch/serviceVirginia provincial militia
South Carolina state militia
Years of serviceVirginia Virginia provincial militia: 1755
South Carolina South Carolina state militia: 1776–1781
RankUS-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier General
CommandsSouth Carolina Second Regiment of the South Carolina Line
Battles/warsAmerican 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.

Early life[edit]

Thomas Sumter was born in Hanover County in the Colony of Virginia.[1] His father, William, was a miller and former indentured servant, while his mother, Patience, was a midwife. Most of Thomas Sumter’s early years were spent tending livestock and helping his father at the mill, not in school.[2] 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.[3]

The Timberlake Expedition[edit]

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.[4]:38–39 The purpose of the expedition was to visit the Overhill Cherokee towns and renew friendship with the Cherokee People following the war.[5] 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.[4]: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.[4]: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")[4]: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.[4]: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.[4]:118–129

While in Williamsburg, Ostenaco professed a desire to meet the king of England,[4]: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.[6][4]:130–136 The three Cherokee then accompanied Sumter back to America, landing in South Carolina on or about August 25, 1762.[4]:143–147

Imprisonment for debt[edit]

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.[7]:xxvii When Martin and Sumter were reunited some thirty years later, Sumter repaid the money.

Family life and business[edit]

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[edit]

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. in 1780 he was appointed brigadier general, a post he held until the end of the war.[3] 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.

During fighting in August 1780, he defeated loyalist and British Regulars at Hanging Rock (Lancaster County, South Carolina), 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 attack, in which he was wounded.[3]

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".[8]

Political career[edit]

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]


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 brother, William Sumter, was a captain in the Revolutionary War.[1][9][10][11] His 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.[12] She was raised in New York City from 1794 to 1801 by Vice President Aaron Burr as his ward, alongside his own daughter Theodosia.[13][14] 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.


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".


  1. ^ a b c d e United States Congress. "Thomas Sumter (id: S001073)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  2. ^ Lockhart, Matthew A. (2016). "Sumter, Thomas". South Carolina Encyclopedia. University of South Carolina.
  3. ^ a b c Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Sumter, Thomas" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 85.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Timberlake, Henry (1948). Williams, Samuel (ed.). Memoirs, 1756–1765. Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co.
  5. ^ Bass, Robert (1961). Gamecock: The Life and Campaigns of General Thomas Sumter. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. p. 9.
  6. ^ St James Chronicle, July 3, 1762.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Buchanan, John. The Road to Guilford Courthouse. p. 393.
  9. ^ "General Thomas Sumter and brother William Sumter". The Watchman and Southron. August 21, 1907. p. 2. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  10. ^ "Capt. William Sumpter". geni_family_tree. Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  11. ^ "The North Carolina Patriots - Capt. William Sumter". Retrieved December 20, 2020.
  12. ^ Tisdale, Thomas (2001). A Lady of the High Hills: Natalie Delage Sumter. Univ. of South Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1-57003-415-2.
  13. ^ Schachner, Nathan (1961) [1937]. Aaron Burr: A Biography. A. S. Barnes. Archived from the original on January 17, 2018.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Krakow, Kenneth K. (1975). Georgia Place-Names: Their History and Origins (PDF). Macon, GA: Winship Press. p. 215. ISBN 0-915430-00-2.

External links[edit]

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