During the Revolutionary War, Pickens became one of the most significant leaders of patriot forces in the South Carolina backcountry.
Soldier, legislator, congressman. Pickens was born in Paxtang Township, Pennsylvania, on September 19, 1739, the son of Andrew Pickens and Ann Davis. His family was among the Huguenots and Scots-Irish that settled in Northern Ireland and then migrated to Pennsylvania. After moving southward, the Pickens family eventually settled on Waxhaw Creek, South Carolina, by 1752. The young Pickens commenced his military service as a company grade officer in the Cherokee War of 1759–1761. After the hostilities, he moved to the Long Canes area of western South Carolina and married Rebecca Calhoun on March 19, 1765. The couple had twelve children. This marriage formed ties with several prominent upcountry families.
During the Revolutionary War, Pickens became one of the most significant leaders of patriot forces in the South Carolina backcountry. He initially served as a militia company commander for Ninety Six District and campaigned against Tories in late 1775. By 1778 he had attained the rank of colonel of the Upper Ninety Six Regiment and had participated in expeditions against the British-allied Cherokees and the unsuccessful American invasion of East Florida. The most severe check of the Loyalists in the backcountry came on February 14, 1779, when patriots crushed the Loyalist force at Kettle Creek, Georgia. After the surrender of Charleston, Pickens took British protection and was paroled to his home. He renounced protection, however, when the British failed to prevent a Loyalist band from plundering his plantation. At the Battle of Cowpens on January 17, 1781, Pickens was in charge of the South Carolina militia during the decisive victory over Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton’s British forces. Afterward, Pickens was named a brigadier general by Governor John Rutledge and cooperated with General Nathanael Greene’s objective of isolating British posts in the South Carolina interior. Wounded at the Battle of Eutaw Springs in September 1781, Pickens recovered to wage two more punitive campaigns against the Cherokees in mid-1782.
After the war, Pickens served as both a legislator and a negotiator with the Native Americans. He represented Ninety Six District in the state House of Representatives from 1776 to 1788 and Pendleton District in the state Senate from 1790 to 1793. He resigned his Senate seat upon his election to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1793 to 1795. As a legislator, Pickens worked to establish schools, churches, and a legal system for the South Carolina backcountry. A recognized expert on Indian affairs, Pickens served as a federal commissioner to negotiate peace independently with the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks in the late 1780s and eventually negotiated a firm peace with the Treaty of Coleraine in 1796. The following year he and Benjamin Hawkins surveyed most of the southern boundary line between the United States and the Indian nations.
Pickens served two more terms in the General Assembly from 1796 to 1799, representing Pendleton District. He retired to his plantation Tamassee in 1805, coming out only briefly in 1812 when elected to a final term in the General Assembly to prepare South Carolina for war. He died at Tamassee on August 11, 1817, and was buried at the Old Stone Presbyterian Church.
Ferguson, Clyde R. “General Andrew Pickens.” Ph.D. diss., Duke University, 1960.
Skelton, Lynda Worley, ed. General Andrew Pickens: An Autobiography. Pendleton, S.C.: Pendleton District Historical and Recreational Commission, 1976.
Waring, Alice Noble. The Fighting Elder: Andrew Pickens (1739–1817). Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1962.