The American Revolution Institute Acquires Samuel F. B. Morse’s Thomas Pinckney Portrait

December 2, 2019



Today, the American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati announced the recent acquisition of Samuel F. B. Morse’s ca. 1818 portrait of Major General Thomas Pinckney of South Carolina (1750-1828).

The portrait, depicting Pinckney in military uniform wearing the insignia of the Society of the Cincinnati, had been owned by the Pinckney family since its creation. The Institute bought the portrait at auction at Freeman’s in Philadelphia last month.

“We are proud to be the stewards of this important portrait,” said Jack Warren, executive director of the Institute, “and will make use of it to promote understanding and appreciation of the constructive achievements of the American Revolution. We are especially grateful to the dozens of donors who have supported this important acquisition. We couldn’t do anything without their support.”

Pinckney was born in South Carolina and educated in England, where his schoolmates dubbed him “the Little Radical” for his support for American liberties. He was commissioned a captain of the First South Carolina Regiment in June 1775. Promoted to major, he served with distinction at Savannah, Charleston, and Camden, where his leg was shattered by a British musket ball and he was captured on the battlefield. After being exchanged, he joined Lafayette in Virginia and served with him at Yorktown.

After the war Pinckney devoted himself to public service. He served as governor of South Carolina, chairman of the state convention that ratified the Federal Constitution, and as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1791 George Washington appointed Pinckney ambassador to Britain and later sent him to Spain, where he negotiated a definitive treaty—remembered as Pinckney’s Treaty—securing the free navigation of the Mississippi River for American commerce. Pinckney returned to America a hero and was very nearly elected president of the United States in 1796.

An original member and the first secretary of the South Carolina Society of the Cincinnati, Pinckney served as its president for twenty years. In 1825 he was reunited with Lafayette in Charleston and shortly thereafter was elected the fourth president general of the Society of the Cincinnati, a position first held by George Washington.

The Institute will host a celebration of the painting’s arrival and display in early 2020. Then, after conservation, the portrait will go on indefinite public display at the Institute’s headquarters in Washington, DC, which is open to the public six days a week. Additionally, the Institute is making plans to display the portrait, along with other art and artifacts related to the American Revolution, in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2022. The Institute also hopes to find an opportunity to display the portrait at the forthcoming museum devoted to the American Revolution currently under construction in Camden, South Carolina. That museum is a project of the Historic Camden Foundation, which also preserves the battlefield of Camden—where Pinckney was critically wounded on August 16, 1780, in one of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War.

The portrait was previously exhibited at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in 1972, and later, for a brief time, at the National Portrait Gallery.