Thomas Sumter, Gamecock General

The Gamecock General

Thomas Sumter

Thomas Sumter, Gamecock General of the American Revolution, "was born on July 14, 1734, in the Preddy's Creek settlement of Lousia County, Virginia. His parents were William and Patience Sumter." He lived in a cabin with his parents, his two brothers, and two sisters. When he was old enough, Thomas worked with his father in their gristmill. When his father died, his mother sent him to work as a plow boy. It is said that Thomas Sumter was a wild boy. He gambled, went to cockfights, and horse races. When the Indians started causing problems, he joined the militia. "He served with under Braddock in the war against the French." Washington He fit right in and before long was promoted to sergeant. After a war with the Cherokees, Sumter had the chance to travel to London, England as an escort for three Cherokee chiefs. They returned by way of Charleston and Sumter traveled with the chiefs back through South Carolina. Sumter really liked the people who lived in what was then the Carolina frontier. He especially liked an area near Eutaw Creek. He saw a place near Nelson's Ferry that he thought would be good for a store. Before long he returned and set up his store, only a few miles from the Santee River where he prospered.

In 1767, Thomas Sumter married the widow, Mary Jameson, and they lived on her plantation. On August 30, 1768, their son, Thomas Sumter, Junior was born. As he became more prosperous, Sumter built a larger store, a sawmill, and a gristmill on Jack's Creek, which is in present day, Clarendon County. He began to obtain more and more land. He became a Provincial Congressman. Sumter was encouraged to form a company of local militia, to which he was elected captain. On February 29, 1776, he was elected lieutenant colonel of the Second Regiment of Riflemen. The day after, he left "on a recruiting expedition among the settlers on the Wateree-Cawtaba."

Sumter and his regiment were in Charleston on September 20, 1776 as part of a defensive force when the city was attacked. By March of 1777 they were in Savannah "ready to repeal the threatened invasion of Georgia."5 By December, he was back in Charleston and the records refer to him as "Colonel Sumter."

Tarleton, the head of the British cavalry, almost destroyed the American cavalry at Monck's Corner and by May 12, 1780, Charles Town was surrendered and with in almost the entire Continental army in South Carolina. The 350 Continentals who were left were in retreat towards North Carolina and Tarleton followed. This took him through Stateburg in what would become in 1800, Sumter County, where Thomas Sumter had a summer cottage. Tarleton sent a Captain Charles Campbell to capture Sumter. His home was burned and Sumter had to make an escape. As he rode north, he made a plan to recruit men and form guerrilla bands. The men elected him as their leader and appointed him Brigadier General.

It is said that Cornwallis called Thomas Sumter "the Gamecock, recognizing in him the qualities of a great fighter, who though worsted, would renew the combat the instant he recovered from the blow." Others say that he was given the name by the Gillespie family who were famous for their cockfights. He recruited them from their home in North Carolina to fight the British with him.

After the war was over, Thomas Sumter resigned his commission as brigadier general and returned home to restore his plantation. The British had not burned his house near Nelson's Ferry, but everything had been left in ruin. He lost his seat in the General Assembly in 1782, but in 1783, he was elected to the Continental Congress. Eventually, he resigned his public offices and retired to his home. Then in 1785, it was thought that the capital of South Carolina should be moved from Charleston, on the coast, to a more central location in the state. Since Stateburg was near the center of the state, Thomas Sumter tried to have it selected as the site for the new capital. Another site was chosen on the Congaree River, and named Columbia.

Sumter was elected as a United States senator and took his place in the Senate on December 19, 1802. He served for almost two decades. At one point, he and his family had moved from their Nelson's Ferry home to the High Hills of the Santee at Bradford Springs, near Stateburg. His wife, Mary, died at the age of ninety-four on October 24, 1817. He lived there alone, until his son retired from diplomatic service and came to live there with him family. "Almost half of Thomas Sumter's ninety-eight years were spent in the picturesque High Hills of the Santee located in the district, and then county, that bears his name. When he died on June 1, 1832, Thomas Sumter was the last surviving officer of the American Revolution."


"General Thomas Sumter, Gamecock of the Revolution" The Sunday News, Charleston, S.C. February 25, 1912

Gamecock by Robert D. Bass

Thomas Sumter by Anne King Gregorie

Thanks for this information on Thomas Sumter, the Gamecock, go to the web master's son, Sean Sutton. As a student at Sumter High School, he was given an assignment in his U.S. History class which involved writing an essay on a Revolutionary War figure. What better choice could have been made than that of the Gamecock General, with whom a number of our ancestors fought and served with during the American Revolution.


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This page was uploaded to the Sumter County site on
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