Pinckney, Thomas

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Pinckney, Thomas

PINCKNEY, THOMAS. (1750–1828). Continental officer, South Carolina governor, diplomat. South Carolina. Born in Charleston, South Carolina, on 23 October 1750, Pinckney shared a European education with his elder brother, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, graduating from Oxford in 1768 before studying law at the Middle Temple and being admitted to the bar in 1774. He returned to Charleston the same year and set up his legal practice. Early the next year he became a lieutenant of rangers and—like his brother—captain in the First South Carolina Regiment (17 June 1775). He performed highly successful service as a recruiting and training officer before assuming the duties of a military engineer at Fort Johnson at Charleston Harbor. After having an orchestra seat while his brother and Colonel Moultrie defended Fort Sullivan, Thomas was assigned to defend that post in August 1776. Except for a few months' absence recruiting in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina, he stayed two years at what was now called Fort Moultrie. On 17 May 1778 he was promoted to major, again helped organize and train new troops, and then took part in the unsuccessful expedition against Florida. As aide-de-camp to Lincoln he was at Stono Ferry, and as aide de camp to d'Estaing participated in the attack on Savannah on 9 October 1779.

Pinckney served in the legislature of 1778 and kept up his law practice while also serving in the army. In May 1779 the British burned his plantation and liberated his slaves. In 1780 he took part in the defense of Charleston, but he was sent from the city before the final stages of the siege to hurry forward reinforcements and escaped capture. After making his way to Washington's headquarters, he returned to the South, became aide-de-camp to Gates on 3 August 1780, was seriously wounded at Camden on 16 August, and was taken prisoner. Paroled to Philadelphia with his brother, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, who had been captured at Charleston, Thomas Pinckney was exchanged in December 1780. In September 1781 he was recruiting in Virginia, where he met Lafayette and served under the latter's command through the siege of Yorktown; they became good friends. Pinckney also was a partisan of Gates, and on his return to South Carolina at the end of the war published a defense of him.

Pinckney became a successful Charleston lawyer after the war and served as governor from 1787 to 1789. In 1791 Washington made him minister to Great Britain. Though not very successful as ambassador to that nation, and offended by John Jay's appointment to negotiate a treaty with Britain, Pinckney enjoyed a triumph in his negotiations with Spain. With a combination of bold persistence (which had not worked in London) and unfailing tact, his efforts resulted in Pinckney's Treaty of 27 October 1795. Back in London, Thomas worked unsuccessfully to win Lafayette's release from an Austrian prison. Pinckney returned to South Carolina in September 1796, having been nominated by the Federalists for vice president. But Hamilton's conniving to have him elected president in order to defeat John Adams resulted in Pinckney's getting neither post. (His brother Charles Cotesworth lost out in a similar manner in the 1800 election, while their cousin Charles was building his own political career in the Jeffersonian camp.) He served in Congress from 1797 to 1801, when he retired from politics. He was appointed major general on 27 March 1812, but as commander of the region from North Carolina to the Mississippi he saw no active service during the War of 1812. He succeeded Andrew Jackson after the Creek War and negotiated the peace treaty. He died in Charleston on 2 November 1828.

SEE ALSO Estaing, Charles Hector Théodat, Comte d'; Lafayette, Marquis de; Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth; Savannah, Georgia (9 October 1779); Southern Theater, Military Operations in; Spanish Participation in the American Revolution.


Leigh, Frances. A Founding Family: The Pinckneys of South Carolina. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978.

Pinckney Family Papers. Library of Congress. Washington, D.C.

Rogers, Charles C. Charleston in the Age of the Pinckneys. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.

                            revised by Michael Bellesiles