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Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth (1746–1825), politician and army officer in the United States of America, was born on 14 February 1746 in Charles Town, South Carolina, the son of , a leading planter and politician, and , an agricultural innovator. In 1753 Charles Cotesworth accompanied his parents to England; when they returned to South Carolina in 1758, he remained behind and was educated at Westminster School (1761–3), Christ Church, Oxford (1764–6), and the Middle Temple (1766–9); he was called to the bar on 27 January 1769. He gained professional experience by attending English circuit courts before travelling on the European continent, where he studied briefly at the French royal military academy at Caen in 1766. Having returned to South Carolina in 1769 he was elected to the Commons house of assembly in September of that year and admitted to the South Carolina bar on 19 January 1770. On 28 September 1773 he married Sarah (Sally; 1756–1784) , the daughter of Henry Middleton, a wealthy planter and member of the royal council.

With some interruptions Pinckney served in the Commons house and its revolutionary successors—the first and second provincial congresses and the South Carolina house of representatives—until 1800, when he switched to the state senate, where he remained until 1804.

In the Commons house Pinckney was an active committee member and a strong supporter of the rights of the house. Later, as hostilities with Britain became imminent, Pinckney and others commandeered arms from local armouries and prepared to defend Charles Town. A lieutenant in the militia in 1774, he rose to become colonel of the 1st South Carolina regiment of continental troops (16 September 1776), and was present when British forces unsuccessfully attacked Charles Town on 28 June 1776. After they withdrew he went north to gain experience with General George Washington and saw action at Brandywine (11 September 1777) and at Germantown (4 October 1777). After returning to South Carolina he commanded part of the American force in a failed expedition against Florida in 1778 and the equally unsuccessful siege of British-occupied Savannah, Georgia, in late 1779. When Sir Henry Clinton captured Charles Town for the British on 12 May 1780 Pinckney became a prisoner of war confined to the plantation of his cousin Charles Pinckney (d. 1782). Sent to Philadelphia, he was exchanged in the summer of 1782. On 3 November 1783 congress breveted him a brigadier-general; during the undeclared war with France in the late 1790s he was promoted major-general and given command of the army in the southern United States.

During the American War of Independence, Pinckney remained politically active, chairing the committee of the South Carolina provincial congress that drafted a temporary constitution in 1776. He also figured prominently in the debates over the constitution of 1778, advocating disestablishment of the Church of England. After the war the big questions in local politics were what to do about loyalists who had supported the crown, how to deal with the post-war economic recession, and when to allow men from the interior of the state more political power. Pinckney was moderate in regard to all of them, though he sought to maintain Charles Town as the capital and thereby the dominant position of the low-country gentry. Despite his fierce loyalty to his state Pinckney believed that the promotion of foreign trade and the survival of the United States required a stronger national government than congress under the articles of confederation had proved to be. He accordingly served as one of the South Carolina delegates to the American constitutional convention of 1787. In an effort to protect his constituency, Pinckney unsuccessfully sought a house of representatives whose members would be elected by the state legislatures in numbers proportional to the whole population of each state, including slaves. He and other delegates from staple-producing states successfully opposed export taxes. Questions about the trans-Atlantic slave trade produced a compromise. Northerners wanted an immediate prohibition; Carolinians and Georgians sought to protect it in perpetuity. At Pinckney's suggestion they agreed on 1808 as the earliest permissible date for closing it. Later Pinckney defended the constitution in both the state legislature and the state ratifying convention of 1788 by maintaining that it protected slavery. Two years later he participated in the convention that drafted a new South Carolina state constitution.

As these roles suggest, Pinckney was one of the most powerful South Carolina politicians during the 1780s and 1790s, when he was also repairing wartime damage to his finances. In May 1784 his marriage to Sarah Middleton, which had produced four children, ended with her death; two years later, on 3 July 1786, he married Mary Stead (1752–1812), with whom he had no children. Wishing to remain in South Carolina, Pinckney declined several appointments offered by President George Washington: command of the army (1791), a seat on the supreme court (1791), secretary of war (1794), and secretary of state (1795). On 8 July 1796 he did, however, agree to serve as minister to France. But because the United States had recently signed the Jay treaty with Britain, French officials refused to receive him. Several months later President John Adams dispatched John Marshall and Elbridge Gerry as well as Pinckney, who had gone to the Netherlands, on a special mission to restore relations with France. Intermediaries sent by the French government, later known as X, Y, and Z, sought cash payments before beginning negotiations. Pinckney's famous reply was ‘It is no. No. Not a sixpence’ (Williams, 317). Having become popular throughout the United States as a result of the XYZ affair, Pinckney was the unsuccessful federalist candidate for the vice-presidency in 1800. Running for president, Pinckney lost to Thomas Jefferson in 1804 and James Madison in 1808.

In his later years Pinckney was a member of numerous civic and social organizations, and from 1805 until his death he was the national president-general of the Society of the Cincinnati, a group composed of former continental army officers. He died on 16 August 1825 in Charleston (formerly Charles Town), and was buried in the cemetery of St Michael's Church, Charleston, the following day. Respected and popular, he was not the intellectual equal of his cousin , though a visitor who saw him in his youth thought he was ‘a man of brilliant natural powers’ (Zahniser, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, 30). But he undoubtedly influenced the course of events in South Carolina, where his support for the United States constitution contributed to its ratification.

Robert M. Weir


M. Farrand, ed., The records of the federal convention of 1787, rev. edn, 4 vols. (1937); repr. (1966) · wills, South Carolina Archives and History Center, Columbia, 36 (1818–36), 1168–71 · inventories, South Carolina Archives and History Center, Columbia, G (1824–34), 121–3 · The letterbook of Eliza Lucas Pinckney, 1739–1762, ed. E. Pinckney [1972] · F. L. Williams, A founding family: the Pinckneys of South Carolina (1978) · M. R. Zahniser, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, founding father (1967) · W. C. Stinchcombe, The XYZ affair (1980) · R. M. Weir, ‘South Carolina: slavery and the structure of the union’, Ratifying the constitution, ed. M. A. Gillespie and M. Lienesch (1989) · Journals of the South Carolina commons house of assembly, South Carolina Archives and History Center, Columbia · Journals of the South Carolina house of representatives, South Carolina Archives and History Center, Columbia · W. Hemphill, W. A. Wates, and R. N. Olsberg, eds., Journals of the general assembly and house of representatives, 1776–1780, State Records of South Carolina (1970) · W. E. Hemphill and W. A. Wates, eds., Extracts from the journals of the provincial congresses of South Carolina, 1775–1776 (1960) · J. H. Hutson, ed., Supplement to Max Farrand's ‘The records of the federal convention of 1787’ (1987) · State Gazette of South Carolina · Columbian Herald · Charleston Morning Post · A. S. Salley, ed., Register of St Philip's parish, Charles Town (Charleston, SC, 1904); repr. (1971) · M. Zahniser, ‘Pinckney, Charles Cotesworth’, ANB · W. B. Edgar and N. L. Bailey, eds., Biographical directory of the South Carolina house of representatives, 2 (1977) · N. L. Bailey and others, eds., Biographical directory of the South Carolina senate, 1776–1985, 3 vols. (1986) · J. P. Greene, ‘Bridge to revolution: Wilkes fund controversy in South Carolina, 1769–1775’, Journal of Southern History, 29 (1963), 19–52 · G. C. Rogers, Evolution of a federalist: William Loughton Smith of Charleston, 1758–1812 (1962)


Duke U. · Georgia Historical Society · L. Cong. · South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, family MSS |  College of Charleston, South Carolina collection, MSS relating to slavery and the plantation · L. Cong., J. McHenry MSS · L. Cong., A. Hamilton MSS · Mass. Hist. Soc., T. Pickering MSS · NYPL, E. Gerry MSS · South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, R. Hutson MSS · South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, F. L. Williams MSS


H. Benbridge, oils, 1774, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, National Portrait Gallery · G. Stuart, oils, 1786?, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (?) · J. Turnbull, miniature, 1791?, Yale U. Art Gallery · J. Earl, oils, 1794–6, Carolina Art Association (Gibbes), Charleston · C. Tiebout, engraving, c.1800–1810, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, National Portrait Gallery · C. Fraser, portrait, 1819, Carolina Art Association (Gibbes), Charleston

Wealth at death  

at least 297 slaves; also house in Charleston and plantation at Pinckney Island (near Beaufort, South Carolina); also other assets: Edgar and Bailey, eds., Biographical directory, vol. 2