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All images copyright © by Artist Werner Willis. All rights reserved
Fighting gamecocks, birds bred for their ferocity with sharpened talons and conditioned to fight to the death, provided fun and diversion for the frontier peoples of the Carolina backcountry. One popular cock was Old Tuck, a chick of a blue hen, who never lost a fight. During the American Revolution when guerrilla leader Thomas Sumter proved to have the fight and stamina of these brazen birds, he was deemed to be a son of the old blue hen, a true gamecock.
Sumter was blooded at an early age during the French and Indian wars. He was with the Braddock expedition when their leader was slain and the troops routed. He participated in the campaign against the Cherokees and at the culmination of that campaign; he carried the treaty to the Cherokees and accompanied three of their chieftains on a trip to England. On his return to Virginia he was jailed for debt. Released on bond Thomas Sumter fled to South Carolina and the Cherokee country. He acquired a piece of land near Eutaw Springs on the trail from Charleston to the Cherokee villages and established a successful and prosperous mercantile store. Sumter married a wealthy widow several years his senior and settled on her plantation nearby.
As patriot sentiment smoldered, Sumter caught fire with the spirit of independence. He was elected to the first and second provincial congresses and became Captain of a company of mounted rangers and served in the Snow Campaign to crush Tory resistance in the backcountry. Appointed Lieutenant Colonel of the 2nd Regiment of Riflemen, Sumter recruited among the backwoodsmen and Catawba 'Indians of the Carolina frontier to fill the ranks. Sumter and his troops actively campaigned yet missed being involved in any battlefield action. In 1778, Sumter resigned his commission and returned to his home.
When news arrived on May 28, 1780, that the British were marching his way, Sumter and his African body servant, Soldier Tom, saddled their horses and rode off to rejoin the war. British soldiers arriving at Sumter's home carried his wife onto the lawn in her chair and torched the house.
Sumter recruited a patriot militia force to wage a guerrilla war against the British. With Sumter the issue was always "Liberty or Death." Light Horse Harry Lee wrote that Sumter was "Enchanted with the splendor of victory, he would wade in torrents of blood to attain it"
Sumter's men defeated the British in numerous skirmishes across the Carolina backcountry. Sumter was literally caught with his pants down in an ambush on his camp and was forced to flee in his shirttail. His military career ended when he sacrificed his troops in a forlorn hope at Quinby Bridge near Charleston, South Carolina on July 17, 1781. British leader Lord Cornwallis described the Gamecock as his "greatest plague."
Sumter recruited his men by offering payment in slaves and loot depending
upon rank. Sumter's Law, which encouraged plunder, was condemned and became
anathema to Sumter after the war. He died in 1832 at age 98, the last
surviving general of the American Revolution.