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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of History

Thomas Pinckney

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.