Sumter was born in Virginia and worked as a surveyor and on his family farm. After his father’s death he cared for his mother’s sheep and plowed her fields.
While in Virginia, he served in the militia and saw action against the Cherokees. He then accompanied a delegation to London and acted as a Cherokee interpreter before King George III. Returning to the colonies in 1762, landing in Charleston, Sumter spent that winter with the Cherokees. After acting as a British spy against the Cherokees, Sumter returned to Virginia where he was imprisoned for an old debt. After escaping from prison, Sumter made his way to Eutaw Springs, SC where he invested in land and slaves. He opened a crossroads store and was made a justice of the peace in 1766.
Sumter married a wealthy widow, Mrs. Cantey Gemstone, and had a son, Thomas Jr, born in 1768. He also opened another store as well as a sawmill and grist mill.
Sumter held many political offices. He served as a delegate to the first and Second Provinical Congresses which met at Charles Town in 1775-76. In 1778 he was elected to the first General Assembly under the new constitution and, after the war, was elected to the State Senate. In 1789, he was elected to Congress. In 1800, he was the only House member from South Carolina who voted for Thomas Jefferson rather than Aaron Burr. After serving in the Senate, Sumter retired from public life in 1810. He died in 1832, at the height of the “nullification” crisis which was the brainchild of another famous South Carolinian, John Calhoun.
There are many monuments to Sumter around the state, as well as a street in Columbia itself. Perhaps his most notable legacy is his nickname, the City of Sumter is known as “The Gamecock City” and the athletes of both Sumter High School and the University of South Carolina are known as “The Fighting Gamecocks,” and let us not forget that the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter.
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