General 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, a son, 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 Tory (Loyalist) forces, 1776.
- Lt. Col, 2nd SC Rifle 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 Regiment, Continental Line, 1778.
- Resigned commission as Commander of The Regiment, Continental Line, 1778.
- After fall of Charleston to Clinton, 1780, while SC lay prostrate, Thomas Sumter formed the first militia to renew the struggle. For 18 months he alone was the SC government, Governor Rutledge having moved the capitol to North Carolina.
- 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. 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 from 1782 to December 16, 1810 when he retired from public life.
He was elected a delegate from the district eastward of the Waterer to the First and Second Provincial Congresses which met in Charles Town in 1775 and 1776. There he was made a member of Council of Safety and immediately after the Skirmish at Lexington was made a Captain of Rangers, and then a Lt. Col. Commandant of 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 Stateburg in what was then Camden District, from his former home on the Santee River, he was elected to the Assembly which me 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 me 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.
December 1801, the General Assembly of South Carolina elected Congressman Sumter over John Rutledge to fill Charles Pinkney'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 Stateburg.
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.