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Charles Cotesworth Pinckney


Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, distinguished as a patriot, soldier and diplomatist, was born in South Carolina in 1740. His education was received in England, where he passed through Westminster school and the University of Oxford with a high reputation for ability and industry. After reading law at the Temple, he returned to Carolina in 1769, but was not able to practice his profession for any length of time, the commencement of the Revolution obliging him to exchange the gown for the sword. He was first appointed a captain in the continental line, and, soon afterward, commander of the first regiment of Carolina infantry. When the South had been freed, for a period, from invasion, by Moultrie's gallant defense of the fort on Sullivan's Island, Colonel Pinckney joined the northern army, and was made aid-de-camp to Washington. In that capacity he was present at the battles of Brandywine and Germantown. When the South was again menaced with danger, he returned to Carolina, and displayed great resolution and intrepidity, on the rapid and harassing march which saved that city from General Provost, and on the subsequent invasion of Georgia, and the assault on the lines of Savannah. On the approach of the army under Sir Henry Clinton, and of the fleet conducted by Admiral Arbuthnot, he was intrusted with the command of the fort on Sullivan's Island. A favorable breeze and a flowing tide, however, enabled the fleet to sail into the port of Charleston, beyond the reach of his guns. He then hastened with a part of the garrison to aid in defending the city, and was for continuing hostilities to the last extremity, not, as he said, because he thought they would eventually be able to repel the enemy, but because "we shall so cripple the army before us, that, although we may not live to enjoy the benefits ourselves, yet to the United States they will prove incalculably great." Other counsel, however, prevailed, and he was made prisoner with the rest of the besieged.

Some time after the return of peace, Colonel Pinckney was placed in command of the militia of the lower division of the State, but was very soon appointed by Washington, whose confidence and friendship he enjoyed in a high degree, minister plenipotentiary to France. He resigned his commission in consequence, and sailed for Europe. The hostile feeling of the French directory toward this country, caused them to reject its conciliatory propositions in an insulting manner, and to order its minister out of the territories of the republic. General Pinckney immediately communicated to the government the indignities which he had received, and retired to Holland. Not long afterward, he was joined by General Marshal and Mr. Gerry, with fresh instructions to reiterate propositions to the directory for the adjustment of differences. When, at length, war was inevitable, and the whole United States were resounding with his celebrated sentiment, "Millions for defense, but not a cent for tribute," he returned home, having been named a major-general by Washington, who had been placed at the head of the forces raised for the protection of the American shores. Superior rank, however, was accorded to General Hamilton, who had been his junior during the Revolution. Some one spoke to General Pinckney of this preference as unjust, but he briefly answered, that he was satisfied that General Washington had sufficient reasons for it. "Let us," he continued, "first dispose of our enemies; we shall then have leisure to settle the question of rank."

Previously to his going to France, General Pinckney had been offered by President Washington several places under government of the highest importance, all of which, however, private considerations obliged him to decline. The first was that of judge of the supreme court; the next that of secretary of war, on the resignation of General Knox; and then that of secretary of state, when Randolph had been removed. He was a member of the convention which framed the constitution of the United States, and afterward, in the convention of South Carolina, assembled for deliberating upon the instrument, he contributed greatly to its adoption. He died in August, 1825. As a lawyer, General Pinckney was distinguished for profound and accurate learning, and strength and ingenuity of reasoning, without having much pretension to eloquence. In his practice he was high-minded and liberal, never receiving any compensation from the widow and orphan. His literary attainments were extensive, especially his classical knowledge; and no one was a more zealous friend to the advancement of learning. For more than fifteen years before his death, he acted as president of the ;Bible Society of Charleston--an office to which he was named with unanimity by the Christians of almost every sect.

Source: Marshall, James V.. The United States Manual of Biography and History. Philadelphia: James B. Smith & Co., 1856. Pages 185 and 186. (Some minor spelling changes may have been made.)


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Last modified December 31, 2003