FRANCIS WILKINSON PICKENS was born in St. Paul’s Parish, Pendleton District, South Carolina. He attended both Franklin College (now the University of Georgia) and South Carolina College and went on to study law, winning admission to the South Carolina Bar in 1828. He was a planter in addition to practicing law. He was a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives for a number of non-consecutive terms and served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1835 to 1843. In addition, he was a member of the Southern Convention of 1850, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1856, and U.S. Minister to Russia from 1858 until 1860, when he became governor. Just six days after Pickens’s gubernatorial election, South Carolina seceded from the Union, and Pickens authorized the first military action of the Civil War on January 9, 1861 when South Carolina troops fired on the Star of the West as it attempted to relieve the Federal Army garrison at Fort Sumter. The following year, the South Carolina Legislature established an Executive Council, made up of the governor and four others, which assumed the functions of South Carolina’s chief executive. Although Pickens objected to this move, the Executive Council was in power for the remainder of his administration. After leaving office, Pickens retired from public life except to appear at the 1865 South Carolina Constitutional Convention, where he urged cooperation with President Andrew Johnson’s reconstruction plan.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 12. New York: James T. White & Company.
Biographical Directory of the U.S. Congress
Relation to Another Governor
Father of South Carolina Governor Andrew Pickens