Thomas Sumter was born in Hanover County in the Colony of Virginia. 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. Given just a rudimentary education on the frontier, the young Sumter served in the Virginia militia, where he was present for Edward Braddock's defeat.
The Timberlake Expedition
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.: 38–39 The purpose of the expedition was to visit the Overhill Cherokee towns and renew friendship with the Cherokee People following the war. 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.: 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.: 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"): 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.: 63–65
While in Williamsburg, Ostenaco professed a desire to meet the king of England,: 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.: 130–136 The three Cherokee then accompanied Sumter back to America, landing in South Carolina on or about August 25, 1762.: 143–147
Imprisonment for debt
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.: xxvii When Martin and Sumter were reunited some thirty years later, Sumter repaid the money.
Family life and business
He married Mary Jameson in 1767. Together, they opened several small businesses and became successful planters.
American Revolutionary War
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. 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, in which he was wounded. Sumter was carried into the Blackstock house, where his surgeon, Dr. Nathaniel Abney, probed for and extracted the ball from under his left shoulder.(17)
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".
After the Revolutionary War, Sumter was elected to the United States House of Representatives.