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Timothy Pickering
""Timothy Pickering, Peale.jpg
"3rd "United States Secretary of State
In office
December 10, 1795 – May 12, 1800
President "George Washington
"John Adams
Preceded by "Edmund Randolph
Succeeded by "John Marshall
2nd "United States Secretary of War
In office
January 2, 1795 – December 10, 1795
President "George Washington
Preceded by "Henry Knox
Succeeded by "James McHenry
2nd "United States Postmaster General
In office
August 12, 1791 – January 1, 1795
President "George Washington
Preceded by "Samuel Osgood
Succeeded by "Joseph Habersham
"United States Senator
from "Massachusetts
In office
March 4, 1803 – March 3, 1811
Preceded by "Dwight Foster
Succeeded by "Joseph Bradley Varnum
Member of the "U.S. House of Representatives
from "Massachusetts's "2nd district
In office
March 4, 1815 – March 3, 1817
Preceded by "William Reed
Succeeded by "Nathaniel Silsbee
Member of the "U.S. House of Representatives
from "Massachusetts's "3rd district
In office
March 4, 1813 – March 3, 1815
Preceded by "Leonard White
Succeeded by "Jeremiah Nelson
Personal details
Born (1745-07-17)July 17, 1745
"Salem, "Massachusetts
Died January 29, 1829(1829-01-29) (aged 83)
"Salem, "Massachusetts, "U.S.
Political party "Federalist
"Alma mater "Harvard University
Religion "Unitarianism
Signature ""
Military service
Service/branch "Massachusetts militia
"Continental Army
"United States Army
Years of service 1766–1785
Rank "Colonel
Battles/wars "American Revolutionary War
Timothy Pickering
Born (1745-07-17)July 17, 1745
"Salem, "Massachusetts
Died January 29, 1829(1829-01-29) (aged 83)
"Salem, "Massachusetts, "U.S.
Service/branch "Massachusetts militia
"Continental Army
"United States Army
Years of service 1766–1785
Rank "Colonel
Battles/wars "American Revolutionary War
Signature ""Timothy Pickering Signature.svg

Timothy Pickering (July 17, 1745 – January 29, 1829) was a politician from "Massachusetts who served in a variety of roles, most notably as the third "United States Secretary of State, serving in that office from 1795 to 1800 under Presidents "George Washington and "John Adams. Biographer Gerald Clarfield says he was a "quick-tempered, self-righteous, frank, and aggressive Anglophile," who handled the French poorly. In response the French envoy Pierre Adet repeatedly provoked Pickering into embarrassing situations, then ridiculed his blunderings and blusterings to appeal to Republican Party opponents of the Administration.[1]

Pickering served in the Massachusetts militia and "Continental Army during the "American Revolutionary War. He is often remembered for his "Anglophile attitudes, and pushed for pro-British policies during his political career. Pickering famously described the country as "The World's last hope - Britain's Fast-anchored Isle" during the "Napoleonic Wars.[2] Along with most other "Federalists he opposed the "War of 1812. Pickering ruined his political career when he became involved with the "Hartford Convention of 1815.


Early life[edit]

Pickering was born in "Salem, Massachusetts to Deacon Timothy and Mary Wingate Pickering. He was one of nine children and the younger brother of John Pickering (not to be confused with the "New Hampshire judge) who would eventually serve as Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.[3] He attended grammar school in Salem and graduated from "Harvard University in 1763. Salem minister "William Bentley noted on Pickering: "From his youth his townsmen proclaim him assuming, turbulent, & headstrong." [4]

After graduating from Harvard, Pickering returned to Salem where he began working for John Higginson, the town clerk and "Essex County register of deeds. Pickering was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar in 1768 and, in 1774, he succeeded Higginson as register of deeds. Soon after, he was elected to represent Salem in the "Massachusetts General Court and served as a justice in the Essex County Court of Common Pleas. On April 8, 1776, he married Rebecca White of Salem.[5]

In January 1766, Pickering was commissioned a lieutenant in the Essex County militia. He was promoted to captain three years later. In 1769, he published his ideas on drilling soldiers in the Essex Gazette. These were published in 1775 as "An Easy Plan for a Militia."[6] The manual was used as the Continental Army drill book until replaced by "Baron von Steuben's Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States[7]

American Revolutionary War[edit]

Salem Incident[edit]

On February 26, 1775 men under Pickering's command were involved in one of the earliest military engagements in the American Revolution, a confrontation locally referred to as "Leslie's Retreat." A detachment of British regulars under British Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Leslie was dispatched from "Boston to search North Salem for contraband artillery. Leslie's men were thwarted from crossing the North River bridge and searching the outlying farms by Pickering's militia and citizens of Salem. Many of these "citizens" were members of Salem's North Church, which was just a short distance from the North Bridge. Col. Leslie chose a Sunday morning to raid Salem knowing that her citizens would be attending church. They were, of course, but the Rev. Thomas Barnard Jr. of the North Church famously left his pulpit that morning to meet the British troops at the bridge. A fast rider from Marblehead had ridden ahead of the British to warn Rev. Barnard. Barnard is credited with convincing Col. Leslie to retreat in peace. If he had not, Pickering's troops would have fired the "shot heard 'round the world" and started the war. Two months later, Pickering's troops marched to take part in the "Battles of Lexington and Concord but arrived too late to play a major role. They then became part of the New England army assembling outside Boston to lay "siege to the city.

Adjutant General[edit]

In December 1776, he led a well-drilled regiment of the Essex County militia to New York, where General "George Washington took notice and offered Pickering the position of "adjutant general of the "Continental Army in 1777. In this capacity he oversaw the building of the "Great chain which was forged at the "Stirling Iron Works. The chain blocked the Royal Navy from proceeding up the Hudson River past West Point and protected that important fort from attack for the duration of the conflict. He was widely praised for his work in supplying the troops during the remainder of the conflict. In August 1780, the "Continental Congress elected Pickering "Quartermaster General.[8]

Letter from Timothy Pickering to Major General Lord Sterling, 1777

Rise to power[edit]

After the end of the American Revolution, Pickering made several failed attempts at financial success. In 1783, he embarked on a mercantile partnership with Samuel Hodgdon that failed two years later. In 1786, he moved to the "Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania where he assumed a series of offices at the head of "Luzerne County. When he attempted to settle a controversy generated by "John Armstrong with "Connecticut settlers living in the area, Pickering was captured and held hostage for nineteen days. In 1787, he was part of the Pennsylvania convention held to consider ratification of the "United States Constitution.[9]

After the first of Pickering's two successful attempts to make money speculating in "Pennsylvania frontier land, President Washington appointed him commissioner to the "Iroquois Indians; and Pickering represented the United States in the negotiation of the "Treaty of Canandaigua with the Iroquois in 1794.

Cabinet member[edit]

Washington brought Pickering into the government as "Postmaster General in 1791. He remained in Washington's cabinet and then that of John Adams for nine years, serving as postmaster general until 1795, "Secretary of War for a brief time in 1795, then "Secretary of State from 1795 to 1800. As Secretary of State he is most remembered for his strong "Federalist Party attachments to British causes, even willingness to wage war with France in service of these causes during the Adams administration. In 1799 Pickering hired "Joseph Dennie as his private secretary.[10]

Middle years[edit]

After a quarrel with President "John Adams over Adams's plan to make peace with "France, Pickering was dismissed from office in May 1800. In 1802, Pickering and a band of Federalists, agitated at the lack of support for Federalists, attempted to gain support for the secession of New England from the Jeffersonian United States. The irony of a Federalist moving against the national government was not lost among his dissenters. He was named to the "United States Senate as a senator from "Massachusetts in 1803 as a member of the "Federalist Party. Pickering opposed the American seizure and annexation of Spanish "West Florida in 1810, which he believed was both "unconstitutional and an act of aggression against a friendly power.[11]

Violation of Logan Act[edit]

Near the end of his only term as a Senator, Pickering challenged Jefferson's "Embargo Act and held several conferences with special British envoy "George Rose and proposed the creation of a pro-British party in New England and urged Rose to persuade British foreign secretary "George Canning to maintain his hard line against America with the hopes that Jefferson would resort to even more extreme measures which would ultimately effect a political suicide for the Republicans. These undertakings placed Pickering in violation of the "Logan Act and he was thus charged. Pickering also published his open letter to Massachusetts Republican Governor, a letter he refused to even read, containing harsh criticism of the Embargo act claiming Jefferson had presented no real arguments for its enactment and called for its nullification by the state legislators.[12] Pickering was charged with reading confidential documents in an open Senate session before an "injunction of secrecy had been removed. In response to that charge the Senate "censured Pickering by a majority vote of 20-7 on January 2, 1811.[13]

Member of Congress[edit]

Pickering was later elected to the "United States House of Representatives in the "1812 election, where he remained until 1817. His congressional career is best remembered for his leadership of the "New England secession movement (see "Essex Junto and the "Hartford Convention). He was elected a Fellow of the "American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1815.[14]

Later years and Legacy[edit]

After Pickering was denied re-election in 1816, he retired to "Salem, where he lived as a farmer until his death in 1829, aged 83. In 1942, a "United States "Liberty ship named the "SS Timothy Pickering was launched. She was lost off "Sicily in 1943. Until the 1990s, Pickering's ancestral home, the circa 1651 "Pickering House, was the oldest house in the United States to be owned by the same family continually.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gerard H. Clarfield, Timothy Pickering and American Diplomacy, 1795-1800 (1969).
  2. ^ Clarfield. Timothy Pickering and the American Republic p.246
  3. ^ Mary Pickering, sister of Timothy, was married to Salem Congregational minister "Dudley Leavitt, for whom Salem's Leavitt Street is named. A Harvard-educated native of "Stratham, New Hampshire, Leavitt died an untimely death in 1762 at age 42. Mary Pickering Leavitt remarried Nathaniel Peaselee Sargeant of "Haverhill, Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Mary Pickering's daughter Elizabeth Pickering Leavitt married Salem merchant William Pickman.[1]
  4. ^ The Diary of William Bentley, D.D., Pastor of the East Church, Salem, Massachusetts, 4 vols. (Gloucester, Mass.: Smith, 1962), 3:352.
  5. ^ Octavius Pickering and Charles W. Upham, The Life of Timothy Pickering, 4 vols. (Boston: Little Brown, 1867-73), 1:7-15, 31.
  6. ^ Pickering and Upham, Life of Timothy Pickering, 1:85.
  7. ^ "Garry Wills (2003). "Before 1800". Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power. "Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 20–21. "ISBN "0-618-34398-9. 
  8. ^ Pickering and Upham, Life of Timothy Pickering, 1:34-139, 251-522; 2:69-508; Gerard H. Clarfield, Timothy Pickering and the American Republic (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980), 47-144; Edward Hake Phillips, "Salem, Timothy Pickering, and the American Revolution," Essex Institute Historical Collections 111, 1 (1975): 65-78; David McLean, Timothy Pickering and the Age of the American Revolution (New York: Arno Press, 1982).
  9. ^ Pickering and Upham, Life of Timothy Pickering, 1:532-35; 2:140-73, 182-325, 369-445; Clarfield, Pickering and the Republic, 85-115; Jeffrey Paul Brown, “Timothy Pickering and the Northwest Territory,” Northwest Ohio Quarterly 53, 4 (1982): 117-32.
  10. ^ Clapp, William Warland (1880). Joseph Dennie: Editor of "The Port Folio," and author of "The Lay Preacher.". John Wilson and Son. p. 32. 
  11. ^ Clarfield. Timothy Pickering and the American Republic p.246-247
  12. ^ McDonald,1976, pp. 147-148
  13. ^ "U.S. Senate: Expulsion and Censure". Retrieved 2015-10-11. 
  14. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter P" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 28, 2014. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
"Morgan Connor
"Adjutant Generals of the Army
Succeeded by
"Alexander Scammell
Political offices
Preceded by
"Samuel Osgood
"United States Postmaster General
Succeeded by
"Joseph Habersham
Preceded by
"Henry Knox
"United States Secretary of War
Succeeded by
"James McHenry
Preceded by
"Edmund Randolph
"United States Secretary of State
Succeeded by
"John Marshall
"United States Senate
Preceded by
"Dwight Foster
"U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Massachusetts
Served alongside: "John Quincy Adams, "James Lloyd
Succeeded by
"Joseph Varnum
"United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
"Leonard White
Member of the "U.S. House of Representatives
"Massachusetts's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
"Jeremiah Nelson
Preceded by
"William Reed
Member of the "U.S. House of Representatives
"Massachusetts's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
"Nathaniel Silsbee
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