If you have family from Sumter County, and I do, chances are someone in your ancestry was named Thomas Sumter ______.
The original Thomas Sumter was a Revolutionary War hero and is the reason my alma mater is nicknamed the Fighting Gamecocks. His fighting spirit was so relentless that one British general said he fought like a gamecock. Sumter is credited with harassing the troops of Gen. Cornwallis to the point where Cornwallis turned north to Virginia and Yorktown where he ultimately surrendered.
Sumter was not born in South Carolina, but was a Virginia native. He moved to South Carolina in his 20s and opened a store in the 1760s. He was in his 40s when the war started. After the war, he served five terms, not all consecutive, in the U.S. Congress, ending in 1801 when he was elected to the Senate. He served there until 1810.
Sumter retired to his home “South Mount” near Stateburg and lived to be 97. He was buried on his family’s plantation.
His tomb and that of many of his family members is now on a road at the back of a neighborhood of single-family homes off Acton Road. To get there from U.S. 378/U.S. 76, you will turn left onto North Kings Highway (SC 261) if you are coming from Columbia, turn right if you are coming from Sumter. From there, you turn right onto Meeting House Road, then right onto Acton Road. The graves are on a circle drive at the end of Acton. There are ample signs to lead the way.
At the site are the graves of Sumter; his son Thomas Sumter Jr. (1768-1840), who was served as lieutenant governor of South Carolina and was the first U.S. ambassador to Brazil; and his grandson Thomas DeLage Sumter (1809-1874), who was a U.S. congressman and who took over the operation of the family plantation in his later years. But the largest grave at the site belongs to the Old General’s daughter-in-law Nathalie deLage Sumter, who was born to French royalty but grew up in the household of U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr along with his daughter, Theodosia, because of the upheaval of the French Revolution.
Sumter Bonus: On your trip to view the graves of these key figures in South Carolina history, stop by the Church of the Holy Cross, built 1850-52.
The church is a National Historic Landmark and was built using the pise de terre (rammed earth) method. The church still has its original organ constructed by Henry Erben. It is one of the few Erben organs in existence in the U.S. The church is located 335 North Kings Hwy. (S.C. 261) in Stateburg and just about two miles from the Thomas Sumter gravesite.
There are many old tombs in the churchyard. One of the most interesting is that of Joel Poinsett, who is credited with introducing the poinsettia to the U.S.
If you go, be mindful that this still is an active church that holds services on Sundays. If you would like to see the inside, but do not wish to attend services, contact the church office via the website to find out the best time to plan your visit.