George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, 24 February 1794

From Charles Cotesworth Pinckney

Charleston [S.C.] Feb: 24th: 1794

My dear Sr:

I cannot find words to express the just sense I have of the many obligations I am under to you, nor how sensible I am of the very great honour you have conferred on me by your confidential Letter of the 22d: of last Month. Of all the public offices in our Country the one you mention to me is that which I should like best to fill; except in case of a general War, when if other matters would admitt, I should prefer being in the field; and tho I am sensible I should appear to great disadvantage in an office which had been so ably filled by General Knox I should by close application and undeviating Integrity endeavour to apologize to my Country for your choice. Entertaining these sentiments, judge of my mortification when I am constrained to declare that circumstances not in my power to controul will prevent my accepting the offer your partiality for me has induced you to make. Your goodness to me, and the many proofs I have received of your friendship require me to be explicit in my reasons. Soon after the conclusion of the War, Land & Negroes in this State, sold at a very high rate, far exceeding their real value. At that time tempted by the offer of a long credit, and mistaken in my Ideas with regard to the annual profit of such property, I became a considerable purchaser; and altho I have been assisted by a very lucrative profession in the practice of which I have been fortunate, I still remain very considerably in debt; so much so, that if I was to relax for some time to come in paying the closest attention to my private affairs, inevitable ruin would follow.1 Mrs: Pinckney & her Brother & Sister have large demands on some persons in Georgia who are endeavouring to use every subterfuge to secrete their property & to avoid paying what they owe; her Brother is in Europe, and her Sister’s Husband, Mr: Ralph Izard Junr:, is of so indolent a temper that the attending to this business of necessity devolves on me, and was I not to go to Georgia sometimes, particularly in April & November to watch over her affairs, her property there would be lost, and instead of protecting I should in fact sacrifice her interest. All the Children I have alive are females, it is therefore a duty I owe them to leave my affairs as little perplexed as possible; and from the best consideration I have been able to give these affairs, it will take me at least two years so to arrange them as to permitt me safely to be absent from them.2 These reasons and a conviction that no man ought to be in high office whose affairs are entangled and embarrassed, tho his property if sold may be much more than sufficient to pay all he owes, compell me to decline the high honour you intended for me; at the same time permitt me to declare that if it was not for these circumstances, I would most readily avail myself of your friendship & partiality, and should you, when my affairs are in a more pleasing train, & I can with propriety dispense with an immediate attention to them, think fit to require my services in any way in which you may judge me qualified, I will most chearfully serve; for tho I am very fond of and prefer private life, & shall be forty Eight Years old tomorrow, I am too much flattered by your indulgent opinion not to wish to take a part in your administration.3

The purport of your Letter shall not be communicated by me, that the Gentleman who may be nominated for the Department may have the pleasure of thinking that he was early designated for the appointment.4 With the sincerest gratitude I remain Your affectionate & devoted hble Servt

Charles Cotesworth Pinckney

Your Letter was not handed to me till last Thursday or it should have been sooner answered.5


1Pinckney, who had been admitted to the South Carolina bar in 1770, resumed his law practice shortly after leaving military service at the end of the Revolutionary War.

2Pinckney married his second wife, Mary Stead (d. 1812), on 23 July 1786. Her brother was Benjamin Stead. Her sister Elizabeth Stead (d. 1825) was married to South Carolina planter Ralph Izard, Jr. (died c.1812), who served several terms in the South Carolina General Assembly prior to 1790. At this time, Izard lived on Schieveling plantation in St. Andrew Parish. He also owned a townhouse in Charleston, S.C., and four rice plantations on the Pee Dee River: Weymouth, Hickory Hill, Milton, and White House. Charles C. Pinckney had four children with his first wife, Sarah Middleton (d. 1784): Maria Henrietta (1774–1836), Harriott (1776–1866), Charles Cotesworth (1780–1780), and Eliza Lucas (d. 1851).

3In 1796, Pinckney would accept an appointment from GW to serve as U.S. minister plenipotentiary to France (Senate Executive Journal description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends , 217).

4Timothy Pickering replaced Henry Knox as secretary of war in January 1795, after the latter’s resignation in December 1794 (Knox to GW, 28 Dec. 1794, DLC:GW; Senate Executive Journal description begins Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America: From the commencement of the First, to the termination of the Nineteenth Congress. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C., 1828. description ends , 168–69).

5Pinckney received GW’s letter on Thursday, 20 February.

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