Francis Wilkinson Pickens

39th Governor of the State of South Carolina 1860 to 1862

Date Born: April 7, 1805

Date Died: January 25, 1869

Place Born: St. Paul's Parish, Colleton District, SC

Place Buried: Willowbrook Cemetery, Edgefield, SC

Residence: Edgefield District, SC

Occupation: Lawyer, Politician


South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina): Withdrew 1827

South Carolina House of Representatives: 1832-1833

US House of Representatives: 1834-1843

South Carolina Senate: 1844-1845

US Minister to Russia: 1858-1860

Governor of South Carolina: 1860-1862

December 20, 1860 – South Carolina seceded from the United States under his administration

January 9, 1861 – Pickens authorized troops to fire on the Star of the West, a Union ship, in the first military engagement of the Civil War

1862 – South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) closed as a result of the onset of the Civil War

Francis Wilkinson Pickens was the son of Gov. Andrew Pickens, Jr.


Francis Wilkinson Pickens was born on April 7, 1805 at Toogoodoo River, St Paul's Parish, Colleton District, SC. He was the son of former Gov. Andrew Pickens, Jr. and a grandson of Brig. Gen. Andrew Pickens, an American Revolutionary War officer and former U.S. Congressman. His mother was Susannah Smith Wilkinson. A cousin of his grandmother was South Carolina Senator John C. Calhoun. He was also a cousin of Floride Calhoun, Calhoun's wife and a niece of his grandfather. His son-in-law was Confederate General and U.S. Senator Matthew C. Butler, a son of congressman William Butler, the grandson of congressman William Butler, and a nephew of Senator Andrew Butler.

Pickens was educated at Franklin College (now a part of the University of Georgia) in Athens, Georgia, and at South Carolina College in Columbia. On October 18, 1827, he first married Margaret Eliza Simkins, daughter of Eldred Simkins and Eliza Hannah Simkins, and they had at least seven children children. He was admitted to the South Carolina bar on December 2, 1828, the same year that he constructed Edgewood, his plantation mansion in Edgefield, SC. He moved to Edgefield District in 1828 to practice law with his father-in-law, Eldred Simkins. His first wife died in 1842.

On January 9, 1845, Pickens then married Marion Antoinette Dearing, daughter of William Dearing, and they had one daughter. She died in 1853. He then married Lucy Petway Holcombe on April 26, 1856, the daughter of Beverly LaFayette Holcombe and Eugenia Dorothea Vaughan Hunt Holcombe, and they too had one daughter.

In 1832, Francis Wilkinson Pickens, of the Democratic Party and an ardent supporter of Nullification, was elected to represent the Edgefield District in the House of Representatives of the:
- 30th General Assembly that met from 1832-1833

As chairman of a sub-committee, he submitted a report denying the right of the U.S. Congress to exercise any control over the states. On December 21, 1832, Gov. Robert Young Hayne appointed him Aide-de-Camp with the rank of full Colonel and charged him with the procurement of supplies and militia for the defense of the state. Pickens raised 2,158 men in Edgefield District alone.

Pickens then served in the U.S. House of Representatives from South Carolina from 1834 until 1843. He served in the 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, and 27th U.S. Congresses. Unable to secure a seat in the U.S. Senate, he returned home.

In 1844, Pickens was elected to represent the Edgefield District in the SC Senate of the:
- 36th General Assembly that met from 1844-1845

He was offered the position of Minister to England by President James K. Polk, and the Minister to France by President John Tyler, but declined these diplomatic posts. He served as a delegate to the Nashville Convention in 1850 and the Southern Rights state convention in 1852. He again ran for the U.S. Senate, but was not elected.

Under President James Buchanan, Pickens was appointed Minister to Russia from 1858–1860, where he and his wife were befriended by Czar Alexander II. Ever ambitious and anxious to be home with known trouble brewing, he resigned as Minister and returned home in the fall of 1860. Too late to run for the U.S. Presidency, he entered the race for Governor of South Carolina and was elected by a small margin.

Under his administration as Governor of South Carolina (1860–1862), the state seceded and demanded the surrender of the federal forts in Charleston harbor. He strongly advocated the secession of the Southern states but he did not sign the SC Ordinance of Secession, as is commonly reported. He protested against Major Robert Anderson's removal from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, and offered to acquire the fort from the United States as part of an equitable settlement of the assets and debts of what Pickens considered to be now-dissolved federal union.

On January 9, 1861, Governor Pickens sanctioned the firing upon the relief steamship Star of the West, which was bringing supplies to Maj. Anderson's beleaguered garrison. In a letter dated January 12, 1861, Pickens demanded of President Buchanan that he surrender Fort Sumter because, "I regard that possession is not consistent with the dignity or safety of the State of South Carolina."

He also approved of the subsequent bombardment of Fort Sumter. He remained a fervent supporter of states rights.

Pickens was a member of the SC Constitutional Convention called in September of 1865 shortly after the end of the American Civil War. He was one of more than 100 representatives from around the state, many of them drawn from the heart of South Carolina society. During the convention, Pickens introduced a motion to repeal the Ordinance of Secession. It was almost breathtakingly brief, according to proceedings recorded by the Charleston Courier:

"We, the Delegates of the People of the State of South Carolina, in General Convention met, do Ordain: That the ordinance passed in convention, 20 December 1860, withdrawing this State from the Federal Union, be and the same is hereby repealed."

According to the New York Times: “The passage was received in silence – strikingly suggestive when one remembered with what dramatic applause the ordinance of secession was proclaimed passed.”

The motion passed by a vote of 105-3 with the only dissenting votes coming from three delegates from the Barnwell District: A.P. Aldrich, J.J. Brabham, and J.M. Whetstone. Pickens counseled against inaction, according to historian Francis Butler Simkins.

“It doesn’t become South Carolina to vapor or swell or strut or brag or bluster or threat or swagger,” Pickens said... She bids us bind up her wounds and pour on the oil of peace.”

Gov. Francis Wilkinson Pickens left office on December 17, 1862, retired from public life, and returned to Edgefield. However, he was persuaded to represent the Edgefield District at the 1865 Constitutional Convention where he supported President Andrew Johnson's reconstruction plan. Believing that he would receive a presidential pardon for this service, he was disappointed when it never came.

On January 25, 1869, Francis Wilkinson Pickens died in Edgefield, SC, and was buried at Willowbrook Cemetery in Edgefield County.


Francis Wilkinson Pickens, (grandson of Revolutionary War Brig. Gen. Andrew Pickens), a U.S. Representative from South Carolina; born on a plantation on the Toogoodoo River, St. Paul’s Parish, Colleton District, SC, April 7, 1805; completed preparatory studies; attended Franklin College, Athens, GA, and was graduated from South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina) at Columbia; studied law; was admitted to the bar and commenced practice in Edgefield District in 1829; engaged in planting; member of the State House of Representatives 1832-1833; elected as a Nullifier to the 23rd U.S. Congress to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of George McDuffie; re-elected as a Nullifier to the 24th and 25th U.S. Congresses and elected as a Democrat to the 26th and 27th U.S. Congresses and served from December 8, 1834, to March 3, 1843; chairman, Committee on Foreign Affairs (26th U.S. Congress); member of the SC Senate 1844-1846; member of the Nashville southern convention in 1850; delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1856; unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate in 1857 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Andrew P. Butler; Minister to Russia 1858-1860; Governor of South Carolina 1860-1862; died in Edgefield, Edgefield County, SC, January 25, 1869; interment in Edgefield Cemetery.

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