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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of History


Biographies

Biographies of the Revolutionary Era Pinckney Statesmen

 

 

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney  | Sarah “Sally” Middleton Pinckney

                                                          | Mary Stead Pinckney

Thomas Pinckney                        | Elizabeth “Betsy” Motte Pinckney

                                                          | Frances “Fanny” Motte Middleton Pinckney

Charles Pinckney                         | Mary Eleanor “Polly” Laurens Pinckney

 

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746-1825)

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the eldest child of Charles Pinckney (1699–1758) and Eliza Lucas Pinckney (1722–1793), was born in South Carolina, educated at Christ Church College, Oxford and read law at the Middle Temple, where he was regarded as a radical on American issues. After his return to South Carolina in 1769 to practice law he took a leading role in resistance to British rule, serving in the Provincial Congress in 1775, raising and training rebel forces, and drafting a frame of government for an independent South Carolina. Appointed the commander of the First Regiment of South Carolina troops during the 1776 campaigns in the South, he later served as aide-de-camp to George Washington during the 1777–78 northern campaign, the origin of a life-long friendship. CCP then returned south to command a regiment that marched to Florida, besieged Savannah, and defended Charleston, where he was captured when the city fell in 1780. A delegate to the Philadelphia Constitutional Convention in 1787, he argued effectively to protect his state’s economic interests of slavery and trans-Atlantic trade, and played a key role in the ratification of the United States Constitution in South Carolina. A staunch Federalist, he accepted appointment from President Washington as minister to France in 1796, and was one of the three American commissioners embroiled in the “XYZ Affair” in 1798. On his return home to the United States, President Adams appointed him commander of the southern army in anticipation of a war with France which never materialized. He was the Federalist’s unsuccessful candidate for vice president in 1800, and for president in 1804 and 1808. He took an active role in the Society of the Cincinnati, eventually becoming its national president general. His strong interests in agricultural experimentation and in education led him to serve as president of the South Carolina Agricultural Society, and as a founder of South Carolina College in 1801. He married twice, first to Sarah (Sally) Middleton (1756–1784), the daughter of Henry Middleton (1717–1784) and Mary Williams Middleton, of Middleton Place, and after her death to Mary Stead, daughter of Georgia plantation owner Benjamin Stead and his wife Mary Johnson. Sally and Charles Cotesworth had three surviving daughters.

 

Sarah “Sally” Middleton Pinckney (1756-1784)

(m. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, 1773)

Sarah “Sally” Middleton Pinckney was the daughter of Henry Middleton (1717–1784) and Mary Williams Middleton, of Middleton Place, one of the wealthiest estates in colonial South Carolina. On September 28, 1773, she married Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, the first child of Charles Pinckney (1699–1758) and Eliza Lucas Pinckney. She bore two sons who did not survive infancy, and three daughters, Maria Henrietta, who died unmarried in 1836; Harriott who died unmarried in 1866; and Eliza Lucas (d. 1851) who married Ralph Izard (1785–1824).

 

Mary Stead Pinckney (1752-1812)

(m. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, 1786)

Mary Stead Pinckney was the daughter of Mary Johnson (b. 1724) and merchant Benjamin Stead, and the granddaughter of South Carolina Governor Robert Johnson (ca. 1676–1735). In the 1750s, she moved to London with her family and she lived with them in France during the American Revolution. She became the second wife of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746–1825) on July 23, 1786. Mary traveled with Charles Cotesworth to Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and to France in 1796 when he served as United States minister. Her letterbook (published) from this last voyage extensively describes her views on society, politics, and the arts of the time. She was related to the Manigault and Izard families, with whom she traveled and corresponded. Mary and Charles Cotesworth had no children from their marriage, but were the parents to Charles Cotesworth’s three daughters from his first marriage to Sarah (Sally) Middleton (1756–1784).

 

Thomas Pinckney (1750-1828)

Thomas Pinckney, the last child of Eliza Lucas (1722–1793) and Charles Pinckney (1699–1758), was born in South Carolina and educated in England at Oxford and the Middle Temple. More attached to the American cause even than his older brother, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746–1825), he was dubbed by his English schoolmates “the Little Radical.” When armed warfare broke out shortly after his 1774 return to Charles Town, he became first a captain and then a major in the First South Carolina Continental Regiment. His correspondence with his sister Harriott Pinckney Horry (1748–1830) between 1776 and 1780 provides fascinating details of garrison duty, recruitment activities, the invasion of East Florida, the siege of Savannah in 1779, and his wounding and capture by the British in Camden, South Carolina in 1780. Simultaneous with his military activity Pinckney represented his Charleston parish in the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1776 until 1791, also serving as the state’s governor 1787–1789 and as president of the state’s constitutional ratifying convention in 1788. In 1792 George Washington appointed him the United States Minister to Great Britain, a post he held until 1796 during the difficult years following the 1793 renewal of conflict between England and France which so challenged American neutrality. Supplanted as lead diplomat in Great Britain by the appointment in 1794 of John Jay to negotiate Anglo-American differences (leading to Jay’s Treaty of 1795), Pinckney was appointed on a special mission of his own to Spain, where he successfully negotiated the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo, often known as “Pinckney’s Treaty,” securing for Americans an established boundary between the United States and West Florida and access to the port of New Orleans. His success in negotiating a favorable Spanish treaty led to his nomination by the Federalists for the vice presidency in 1796. Defeated by Thomas Jefferson, he was instead chosen in a special election in 1797 to the House of Representatives, where he served until 1801. During the War of 1812, he came out of political and military retirement to command the Southern Division of the US Army. Agricultural experimentation was his passion; like his brother he was active in the South Carolina Agricultural Society, and on his several plantations on the South Santee River he implemented innovations in rice cultivation and animal husbandry. In 1825, he succeeded his brother as president general of the National Society of the Cincinnati. He married twice, first on July 22, 1779 to Elizabeth “Betsy” Motte (1762–1794), with whom he had five children. After Betsy’s death, he married her widowed younger sister, Frances “Fanny” Motte Middleton (1763–1843), with whom he had two children.During the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780, Thomas Pinckney suffered a compound leg fracture and was captured by the British. Captain Charles Barrington McKenzie, a British officer and old friend of Pinckney’s, intervened and sent Pinckney to the home of Ann Clay in Camden for recuperation. Although he recovered and did not lose his leg, the injury affected his health for the remainder of his life.

 

Elizabeth “Betsey” Motte Pinckney (1762-1794)

(m. Thomas Pinckney, 1779)

Elizabeth “Betsey” Motte Pinckney was the eldest daughter of Rebecca Brewton (1737–1815) and Jacob Motte Jr. (1729–1780). She grew up in Charleston and at the Motte family plantations of Fairfield on the Santee River and Mount Joseph on the Congaree River. At Fairfield, she was Harriott Pinckney Horry’s (1748–1830) neighbor after Harriott moved to Hampton at her marriage, and the Motte and Pinckney families had a long and close friendship. She married Thomas Pinckney (1750–1828) on July 22, 1779 when she was seventeen years old and he was serving as a major in the Second South Carolina Regiment. In 1781, soon after the birth of their first child (Thomas Pinckney 1780–1842), her husband Thomas was severely wounded in Camden and spent part of his time recovering at Mount Joseph with Elizabeth as his primary nurse. When the British occupied Charleston, Thomas and Elizabeth Pinckney traveled to Philadelphia with their brother Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746–1825), Edward Rutledge (1749–1800), and their families. After the war, the couple lived at Fairfield and also spent time at Murphy’s Island. They had five children, two sons and three daughters. During their marriage, Thomas served as governor of South Carolina (1787–1789) (when the capital was still in Charleston) and as the United States minister to Great Britain (1792–1796). Following his appointment to London, the entire family traveled to Philadelphia and then London, Elizabeth reluctantly. She died in London at the age of 32.

 

Frances “Fanny” Motte Middleton Pinckney (1763-1843)

(m. Thomas Pinckney, 1797)

Frances “Fanny” Motte Middleton Pinckney was the daughter of Rebecca Brewton (1737–1815) and Jacob Motte Jr. (1729–1780). She grew up in Charleston and at the Motte family plantations of Fairfield on the Santee River and Mount Joseph on the Congaree River. At Fairfield, she was Harriott Pinckney Horry’s (1748–1830) neighbor after Harriott moved to Hampton at her marriage, and the Motte and Pinckney families had a long and close friendship. She was probably at Mount Joseph when Thomas Pinckney (1750–1828) traveled there to be with her sister and his first wife, Elizabeth (1762–1794), after he was wounded at Camden in 1781. On July 31, 1783 she married John Middleton (1755–1784), a wealthy planter who also owned property along the Santee River. They had one son, John Middleton Jr. (1784–1826). After her husband’s death, she took an active role in managing the Middleton plantations under her control, including the land on the Santee River near her family’s property. With her sister Elizabeth and brother-in-law Thomas then at Fairfield, she often sent boats and slaves back and forth between the plantations. She had a rice mill built at Washo Plantation, which many of her family and friends used. The correspondence also suggests that she, Thomas, and Harriott compared notes on agriculture and shipping. During her widowhood, she refused a proposal of marriage from Pierce Butler (1744–1822), but later accepted one from her widowed brother-in-law. On October 19, 1797 she married Thomas Pinckney, and his good friend Edward Rutledge (1749–1800) gave a party on the occasion. She and Thomas had two children, Edward Rutledge Pinckney (1800–1832) and Mary Pinckney (1804–1822), in addition to the six children from their earlier marriages. Their primary residence was at Fairfield, and later Eldorado Plantations, but they also spent time in Charleston, on Sullivan’s and Murphy’s Islands, and traveled to the northeast. During their marriage, Thomas served in the United States House of Representatives (1797–1801) and as commander of the Southern Forces of the U.S. Army during the War of 1812. Surviving her husband, she died at the age of 80.

 

Charles Pinckney (1757-1824)

Charles Pinckney (1757–1824) was the son of another Charles Pinckney (1732–1782). His father was a first cousin of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney (1746–1825) and Thomas Pinckney (1750–1828) and had lived as a boy with their father Charles Pinckney (1699-1758), and trained in the law in the latter’s law office. The senior Charles Pinckney eventually became one of the leading lawyers of the province and an important political leader resisting British authority in the lower house, the General Assembly, in the 1760s. Like his father, the younger Charles Pinckney served in the South Carolina General Assembly in 1779 and again in 1784, and like his cousin TP he combined political and military service in the American Revolution, joining the Charleston militia in 1779. He participated in the siege of Savannah, and was captured in the fall of Charleston in May 1780. In 1784 he was elected to the Confederation Congress, where despite his youth he became a spokesman for strengthening the Articles of Confederation. Chosen as the youngest of South Carolina’s five delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, on the third day of the Philadelphia meetings he introduced a draft proposal for a strong central government. Like his cousins, he strongly supported constitutional ratification in South Carolina. Elected governor of South Carolina in 1789–92, and again 1796–98, by the mid-1790s he broke openly with his Federalist cousins CCP and TP and supported the Jeffersonian Republicans in opposition to the Jay Treaty of 1795. He served briefly in the United States Senate from 1798 to 1800, supported Jefferson for the presidency in 1800 against the candidacy of CCP for that office, and in 1801 was rewarded with appointment as minister plenipotentiary to Spain, a post he held until 1805. Back in South Carolina he was elected for an unusual fourth term as governor (1806–1808) continuing then in other state offices until 1814, although he came out of retirement in 1819 to serve an elected term in the House of Representatives from 1819 to 1821, where he was an ardent opponent of the Missouri Compromise. A transitional figure in the post-Revolutionary era, unlike more conservative coastal rice planters including his cousins CCP and TP, he invested in lands and developments of canals and railroads in the interior of the state, and as governor supported the interests of the South Country back country. He married Mary Eleanor Laurens, the daughter of Henry Laurens.

 

Mary Eleanor “Polly” Laurens Pinckney (1770-1794)

(m. Charles Pinckney, 1788)

Mary Eleanor “Polly” Laurens Pinckney was the daughter of Henry Laurens (1724–1792) and Eleanor Ball (d. 1770). Less than a month after her birth in Charleston, her mother died, and when she was one-and-a-half years old, her father, focusing on the education of his sons, placed her and her sister in the care of his brother and sister-in-law, James and Mary Laurens. In 1775 when her uncle and aunt sailed for England, she went with them, and in 1777 when they moved to the village of Vignon in the south of France, she again accompanied them. After her uncle’s death there in 1785, she returned to South Carolina with her aunt and her sister, but having grown up in France, she was by then more French than American. Her European manners and good looks as well as her father’s wealth and prominence captured the attention of Charles Pinckney (1757–1824). They married on 27 April 1788. Together they had three children who survived to adulthood: Frances Henrietta (1790–1816), who married Robert Young Hayne; Mary Eleanor (b. 1792), who married David Ramsay; and Henry Laurens (1794–1863). Polly Laurens Pinckney, Charles Pinckney’s “little French girl,” died less than a month after the birth of her son.

 

 

 

 

 

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, by Edward Wellmore, 1865, after Edward Greene Malbone.  
In The National Portrait, Gallery of Distinguished Americans, 4 vols.
(Philadelphia: Rice, Rutter, 1865), vol. 4. (left)

Charles Pinckney, artist unknown, date unknown. Courtesy of the Library of Congress. (center)

Thomas Pinckney, by William G. Armstrong, 1865, after John Trumbull. In The National Portrait 
Gallery of Distinguished Americans, 4 vols. (Philadelphia: Rice, Rutter, 1865), vol. 2. (right)