Thomas Pinckney

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Thomas Pinckney
Thomas Pinckney.jpg
36th Governor of South Carolina
In office
February 20, 1787 – January 26, 1789
Lieutenant Thomas Gadsden
Preceded by William Moultrie
Succeeded by Charles Pinckney
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from South Carolina's 1st district
In office
November 23, 1797 – March 4, 1801
Preceded by William L. Smith
Succeeded by Thomas Lowndes
United States Minister to Great Britain
In office
August 9, 1792 – July 27, 1796
Appointed by George Washington
Preceded by John Adams
Succeeded by Rufus King
Member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from St. Philip's and St. Michael's Parish
In office
January 3, 1791 – December 20, 1791
Personal details
Born October 23, 1750 (1750-10-23)
Charleston, South Carolina
Died November 2, 1828(1828-11-02) (aged 78)
Charleston, South Carolina
Political party Federalist
Alma mater Westminster School
Oxford University
Profession Planter
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch Continental Army
United States Army
Years of service 1775–1783, 1812–1815
Rank US-O4 insignia.svg Major (Continental Army)
US-O8 insignia.svg Major general (US Army)
Unit South Carolina 1st South Carolina Regiment
Battles/wars Revolutionary War
 • Battle of Camden
War of 1812

Thomas Pinckney (October 23, 1750 – November 2, 1828) was an early American statesman from South Carolina, a diplomat and veteran officer of both the American Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, achieving the rank of major general. A cotton and rice planter, he served as Governor of South Carolina, 1787-1789, US minister to Great Britain under President George Washington, and as a United States Representative.

Early life and Revolutionary War years[edit]

Pinckney was born in Charleston, South Carolina, where his father, Charles Pinckney, was a prominent colonial official. His mother Eliza Lucas was also from a prominent family, and was known for her introduction of indigo culture to the colony. When Pinckney was 3, his father took the family to Great Britain on colonial business, where he died in 1758. His mother kept the family in Great Britain, and Pinckney continued his education at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford, also studying in France.

At the age of 24, Pinckney returned to South Carolina in 1774, becoming an ardent Patriot in the American Revolution. In 1775 he was commissioned as captain in the 1st South Carolina Regiment of the Continental Army.

After seeing much action, he became an aide-de-camp to General Horatio Gates, and was captured by the British at the disastrous Battle of Camden in 1780. By that time he had married and had an infant child. He was allowed to recuperate from his wounds at his mother-in-law Rebecca Brewton Motte's plantation outside Charleston. In 1781 he and his family traveled to Philadelphia, where he was released by the British in a prisoner exchange. Pinckney returned to the South and that year fought under the Marquis de Lafayette in Virginia.

Postbellum and politics[edit]

After the war, Pinckney spent some years running his plantations before he returned to politics. Pinckney was elected and served as the 36th Governor of South Carolina from 1787 to 1789, most notably presiding over the state convention that ratified the new U.S. Constitution. He served in the South Carolina House of Representatives in 1791.

He was appointed by President George Washington to be the U.S. minister (ambassador) to Great Britain in 1792. While there, he was unable to get British concessions on issues such as impressment or the Northwest frontier forts, so Washington sent John Jay as a special envoy to negotiate the controversial Jay Treaty. For part of his tenure (1794–1795) as ambassador in Britain, Pinckney also served as Envoy Extraordinary to Spain. He arranged the Treaty of San Lorenzo, also known as Pinckney's Treaty, with Spain in 1795.

Upon his return to the United States, Pinckney joined with his mother-in-law, Rebecca Motte in developing a rice plantation known as Eldorado on the Santee River outside Charleston. She lived there with him and her daughter and grandchildren in her later years.

Pinckney's diplomatic success with Spain made him popular at home, and on his return the Federalist party nominated him as a candidate in the 1796 presidential election (as the intended running-mate of John Adams). While Adams won the presidential election, complicated scheming to ensure that Pinckney would not have more presidential votes than Adams resulted in their opponent Thomas Jefferson being elected as vice-president from another party. Pinckney finished in third place in the presidential race. (At the time, the President and Vice-President were not elected on the same ticket.)

Pinckney was elected to the United States House of Representatives from South Carolina to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of William L. Smith, serving from November 1797 to March 1801. While in Congress, Pinckney served as one of the managers appointed by the House in 1798 to conduct the impeachment proceedings against William Blount.

Pinckney returned to the military during the War of 1812, being commissioned as a major general in the army. In 1814, he was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society.[1] His last public role before his death in Charleston was as president general of the Society of the Cincinnati (1825–1828), made up of veteran officers of the Revolutionary War.

Denmark Vesey conspiracy[edit]

In 1831, news was reported of a massive planned slave uprising, to be led by Denmark Vesey, a literate free man of color. Vesey and numerous other free blacks and slaves were quickly arrested in a roundup and suppression of rebellion by authorities. Slaves constituted the majority of the population in Charleston, where there was a substantial population of free people of color. Whites long feared just such an uprising. In closed court proceedings, and Vesey and numerous other suspects were convicted; they were soon executed as conspirators. Arrests continued, with some suspects deported from the country.

Pinckney published a pamphlet listing factors that he thought led to the rebellion conspiracy and should be prevented in the future.

  • 1st: The example of St. Domingo (Saint-Domingue) (Note: A violent and protracted slave uprising there gained the independence of Haiti in 1804), and the encouragement received from thence.
  • 2nd: The indiscreet zeal in favor of universal liberty, expressed by many of our fellow citizens in the States north and east of Maryland; aided by the black population of those states.
  • 3rd: The idleness, dissipation, and improper indulgences permitted among all classes of negroes in Charleston, and particularly among the domestic being taught to read and write. Being taught to read and write is the most dangerous.
  • 4th: The facility of obtaining money afforded by the nature of their occupations to those employed as mechanics, draymen, fisherman, butchers, porters and hucksters.
  • 5th: The disparity of numbers between the white and black inhabitants of the city.[2]


Pinckney died in Charleston, South Carolina and is interred in St. Philip’s Churchyard.

Legacy and honors[edit]


His father, Charles Pinckney, was Chief Justice of South Carolina. His mother, Eliza Lucas, was prominent for introducing the cultivation of indigo to the colonies. His brother Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and his cousin Charles Pinckney were signers of the United States Constitution.

Pinckney was married twice to daughters of Jacob and Rebecca Brewton Motte, first to Elizabeth Motte in 1779. After her death, he married in 1797 her younger sister, Frances, the widow of John Middleton, a cousin of Arthur Middleton. The Mottes were planters near Charleston and patriots in the Revolution.

Pinckney's elder son, Thomas, Jr., married Elizabeth Izard, a cousin twice removed of South Carolina Congressman Ralph Izard.

His younger son, named Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1789-1865) after his brother, married Phoebe Elliott, a daughter of a South Carolina State Representative, William Elliott, and Phoebe Waight. That son served as Lt. Governor of South Carolina between 1832 and 1834.

Pinckney's daughter Elizabeth was married to William Lowndes, son of Revolutionary War-era South Carolina Governor Rawlins Lowndes, who would go on to be a leading Republican voice in the House of Representatives from 1812 until his death in 1822. Lowndes's connection to the Pinckneys, despite their contradictory politics, played a major role in his initial election to Congress in 1811.[3]


  1. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory
  2. ^ White, Deborah (2013). Freedom on my Mind. Boston: Bedford/ St. Martin's. p. 242. 
  3. ^ Vipperman, Carl. William Lowndes and the Transition of Southern Politics (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 1989), 24-32.
  • Purcell, L. Edward. Who Was Who in the American Revolution. New York: Facts on File, 1993. ISBN 0-8160-2107-4. For details on military service.
  • Southwick, Leslie. Presidential Also-Rans and Running Mates, 1788-1996. McFarland & Company, 1998. ISBN 0-7864-0310-1.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
William Moultrie
Governor of South Carolina
Succeeded by
Charles Pinckney
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John Adams
U.S. Minister to Great Britain
Succeeded by
Rufus King
Party political offices
Preceded by
John Adams(1)
Federalist Party nominee for
Vice President of the United States

Succeeded by
Charles Cotesworth Pinckney(1)
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
William L. Smith
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina
Succeeded by
Thomas Lowndes
Notes and references
1. Technically, Adams in 1792, Thomas Pinckney in 1796, and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in 1800 were all presidential candidates. Prior to the passage of the Twelfth Amendment in 1804, each presidential elector would cast two ballots; the highest vote-getter would become President and the runner-up would become Vice President. Thus, in 1792, with George Washington as the prohibitive favorite for President, the Federalist party fielded Adams as a presidential candidate, with the intention that he be elected to the Vice Presidency. Similarly, in 1796 and 1800, the Federalist party fielded two candidates, Adams and Thomas Pinckney in 1796 and Adams and Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in 1800, with the intention that Adams be elected President and either Pinckney be elected Vice President.