Thomas Pinckney

6th Governor of the State of South Carolina 1787 to 1789

Date Born: October 23, 1750

Date Died: November 2, 1828

Place Born: Charles Town, SC

Place Buried: Charleston, SC

Residence: Charles Town, SC

Occupation: Lawyer, Soldier


Thomas Pinckney was an American soldier, lawyer, politician, and diplomat.

He was born on October 23, 1750 in Charles Town, South Carolina, the son of Charles and Elizabeth Lucas Pinckney, and was educated in Great Britain (at Westminster and Oxford) and France. He studied law in the Inner Temple, was admitted as a barrister, and after returning to Charles Town, he was admitted to the bar in 1774.

Thomas Pinckney was married twice, first to Elizabeth Motte, then to her sister, Frances, widow of John Middleton. Both were daughters of Rebecca Brewton Motte and Jacob Motte.

Thomas Pinckney fought for the Patriots in the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1782. In 1775, he was commissioned a Lieutenant then a Captain in the SC 1st Regiment - Provincial Troops, then State Troops, then attached to the Continental Line - and he saw action at the Battle of Ft. Moultrie on June 28, 1776, where he led the defense of Hyrne's Battery, a slave battery west of Ft. Johnson.

On May 1, 1778, he was promoted to Major in the SC 1st Regiment. In late 1778-1780, he was Aide-de-Camp to Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln. On August 3, 1780, he was made Aide-de-Camp to Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates. He was badly wounded in the Battle of Camden (8/16/1780) and taken prisoner by the British. He was exchanged in December of 1780, and soon thereafter he joined the Fairfield Regiment of Militia under Col. Richard Winn and remained on active duty in the militia until the end of the war.

Thomas Pinckney was elected to represent St. Philip's & St. Michael's Parish in the House of Representatives of the 7th General Assembly that met from 1787 to 1788, but he was elected by that legislature to be the next governor of South Carolina on February 20, 1787 and served for two years in helping to restore the state after the ravages of the recent war of independence.

In 1789, he declined the office of U.S. District Judge for South Carolina. He was elected again to represent St. Philip's & St. Michael's Parish in the House of Representatives of the 9th General Assembly that met in 1791.

On January 16, 1792, he was appointed by President George Washington as the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain. While abroad, he was sent on a special mission to Spain as Envoy Extraordinary and negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo, which was signed on October 27, 1795. This treaty gave the nascent United States free navigation on the Mississippi River and established 31° North as the boundary between Spanish interests in North America and the United States.

Pinckney's diplomatic success with Spain made him popular at home, and on his return the Federalist party made him 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 have more presidential votes than Adams ended up making their opponent Thomas Jefferson vice-president and Pinckney finish in third place in the presidential race. (At the time, there were no distinct electoral votes for President and Vice-President.)

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, and he served from November of 1797 to March of 1801. While in Congress, Pinckney served as one of the managers appointed by the House of Representatives in 1798 to conduct the impeachment proceedings against William Blount.

He was also a Major General during the War of 1812, commanding the 6th Military District, which extended from Virginia to Louisiana. Upon the end of the war, he resigned his commission and returned to civilian life in Charleston.

His brother Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and his cousin Charles Pinckney were signers of the United States Constitution. Thomas Pinckney succeeded his brother, Charles Cotesworth, as the fourth President-General of the Society of Cincinnati. He died in Charleston on November 2, 1828.


The American diplomat and statesman, Thomas Pinckney, was born in Charles Town, South Carolina on the 23rd of October 1750, a younger brother of Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. Educated in England, he returned to Charlestown in 1773, and was admitted to the bar in 1774.

During the War of Independence his early training at the French military college at Caen enabled him to render effective service to Maj. Gen. Benjamin Lincoln in 1778-1779, to Count d'Estaing (Dec. 1778), to Maj. Gen. Lincoln in the defense of Charlestown in 1780, and afterwards to Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates. In the Battle of Camden he was badly wounded and captured, remaining a prisoner for four months in Philadelphia.

Subsequently he was governor of South Carolina in 1787-89; presided over the state convention which ratified the Federal Constitution in 1788; was a member of the state legislature in 1791 and was United States Ambassador to Great Britain in 1792-96.

During part of this time (1794-95) he was also envoy extraordinary to Spain, and in this capacity negotiated the important Treaty of San Lorenzo el Real in 1795; by that treaty the boundary between the United States and East and West Florida and between the United States and Louisiana was settled (Spain relinquishing all claims east of the Mississippi above 31 degrees north latitude), and the United States secured the freedom of navigation of the Mississippi to its mouth with the right of deposit at New Orleans for three years, after which the United States was to have the same right either at New Orleans or at some other place on the Mississippi to be designated by Spain.

In 1796, Thomas Pinckney was the Federalist candidate for Vice President of the United States, and in 1797-1801 he was a Federalist representative in Congress. During the War of 1812 he was a Major General in the U.S. Army. In 1825, he succeeded his brother as President-General of the Society of the Cincinnati. He died in Charleston on the 2nd of November 1828.

Pinckney, like many other South Carolina revolutionary leaders, was of aristocratic birth and politics, closely connected with England by ties of blood, education, and business relations. This renders the more remarkable their attitude in the war of independence, for which they made great sacrifices. Men of Pinckney's type were not in sympathy with the progressive democratic spirit of America, and they began to withdraw from politics after about 1800.


<< Last Governor - William Moultrie

Next Governor - Charles Pinckney >>



© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved