The American Revolution in South Carolina

Brigadier General Thomas Sumter


Thomas Sumter was born in Virginia, August 14, 1734 the son of William and Patience Sumter. Educated in common schools he engaged in surveying in Virginia, worked in his father's mill and after his father's early death cared for his mother's sheep and plowed his neighbor's fields.

A sergeant in the Virginia Militia he campaigned against the Cherokees. He accompanied a delegation to London and acted as interpreter for Cherokee Indians before King George III. Returning to the colonies October 28, 1762, he landed in Charleston and spent that winter with the Cherokees. During that time he single-handedly captured Baron Des Onnes, a French emissary sent to stir up trouble between the British and Cherokees. He was paid by the British ministry for information about Indian affairs along the frontier. Returning briefly to Virginia, he was arrested for an old debt, but escaped from Stanton Prison and came overland to Eutaw Springs, SC, where he invested his savings in land and slaves. He also opened a crossroads store and earned such respect from the community that he was made a justice of the peace in 1766.

Four years later he married the wealthy widow, Mrs. Cantey Gemstone, seven years his senior. They settled in St. Mark's Parish, opened another store, a saw mill, and a grist mill. They had one child, Thomas Sumter, Jr., born August 30, 1768.

General Thomas Sumter's Military Career:

* Served in Virginia Militia during Cherokee Indian War. Came to SC about 1760. In Indian service on frontier for several years.
* Captain in the "Snow Campaign" to subdue upcountry Loyalist forces, 1775.
* Lt. Colonel, SC 6th Regiment, 1776.
* Battle of Sullivan's Island, June 28, 1776.
* Williamson's Campaign against Cherokees, Fall of 1776.
* Georgia Campaign against the British (Fraser) raid from St Augustine.
* Colonel of the SC 6th Regiment, Continental Line, 1778.
* Resigned commission as Commander of the SC 6th Regiment, Continental Line, 1778.
* After the Fall of Charleston to Clinton, 1780, while SC lay prostrate, Thomas Sumter formed the first militia to renew the struggle.
* Repulsed in attack on Tumbull's camp at Rocky Mount, July 30, 1780.
* Defeated British at Hanging Rock, August 6,1780, destroying Prince of Wales Regiment.
* Defeated in surprise night attack by Tarleton at Fishing Creek, August 18, 1780.
* Commissioned Brigadier General By Gov. John Rutledge, October 6, 1780.
* Won Battle at Fish Darn Ford, November 9, 1780 and captured Wemyss, British Commander.
* Defeated Tarleton at Blackstock's, November 20, 1780. Wounded in back and chest

General Thomas Sumter served his country under four presidents. He died June 1, 1832 at his home in Statesburg, SC and was the last surviving General of the American Revolution.

General Thomas Sumter's service to his country during the Revolutionary War is well known and documented. His service to the fledgling Republic is perhaps not so well known. He was a man of many and varied interests ranging from experiments with tobacco and cotton and silk worms. He also raised fine racing horses. He founded the town of Statesburg after the war and held land grants for more than 150,000 acres of land. Service to his community, state, and country continued to December 16, 1810 when he retired from public life.

He was elected a delegate from the district eastward of the Wateree to the First and Second Provincial Congresses which met in Charlestown in 1775 and 1776. There he was made a member of Council of Safety and immediately after the battle at Lexington was made a captain, and then a Lt. Col. Commandant of a rifle regiment. He was also present and took part in the adoption of the second American State Constitution by the terms of which SC became an independent sovereignty.

In 1778, he was elected by his people to the first General Assembly under the new Constitution, and after his "War Days" was elected to the state Senate which met in Johnsonborough, SC in 1782. Meanwhile, after having moved to Statesburg in what was then Camden District, from his former home on the Santee River, he was elected to the Assembly which met in Charleston in 1785. He was re-elected and was a member of the Assembly when, in 1788, the Proposed Constitutional Convention, was received. He was again a member of the Legislature which met in 1789, this being his last session in the State General Assembly, thereafter refusing other nominations.

He was elected to the First Congress which met in NY in 1789. He was elected to the Second Congress but suffered his only defeat in the election of 1793. He remained out of politics for three years but in 1796 he again offered and was elected as a member of congress held in the new capitol in Washington DC, he was the only member from SC who voted for Jefferson instead of Burr when the election for president was thrown into congress.

In December of 1801, the General Assembly of South Carolina elected Congressman Sumter over John Rutledge to fill Charles Pinckney's unexpired term as a senator when the latter was sent to the court of Spain. At the expiration of the term he was elected senator and re-elected in December 1810. But Sumter, then 76 years of age and beginning to be weary of public service and harassed by complications in his vast private enterprises, resigned and retired to end his days among the High Hills of Statesburg.

In the last year of life, he took a stand on a principle of government closest to his heart - that principle then, and now, referred to as "States Rights." It was then (1832) that Calhoun's doctrine of the right of nullifications by a state, in the event its reserved powers had been transgressed upon by the Federal Government, was being insisted upon by South Carolina. That dispute was at its height when he died at the age of 98.

Biography from Benson J. Lossing in his Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution [with minor edits]:

Thomas Sumter was one of the South Carolina patriots earliest in the field. Of his early life and habits very little is known. In March of 1776 he as a lieutenant colonel of a regiment of riflemen. After the fall of Charleston, in 1780, when a partisan warfare was carried on in the Carolinas, Sumter began to display those powers which made him so renowned.

Governor Rutledge, perceiving his merits, promoted him to brigadier general of militia. His battles at Rocky Mount and Hanging Rock gave him great eclat. He was defeated by Tarleton at Fishing Creek, on the Catawba, just after the unfortunate battle near Camden. With a few survivors and other volunteers, he crossed the Broad River, ranged the districts upon its western banks, and on November 8, 1780, defeated Colonel Wemyss, who had attacked his camp.

He afterward defeated Tarleton at Blackstocks. Sumter was wound, but was able to take the field in early February of 1781. While Greene was retreating before Cornwallis, Sumter, with Marion, was humbling British garrisons in the lower country. He continued in active service during the whole campaign of 1781.

Ill health caused him to leave the army before the close of the war. He served a long time in the Congress of the United States. He died at his residence at Statesburg, near Bradford Springs, in Sumter District, on the first of June, 1832, at the remarkable age of ninety-eight years.

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