P. B. S. Pinchback

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P. B. S. Pinchback
P. B. S. Pinchback - Brady-Handy.jpg
24th Governor of Louisiana
In office
December 29, 1872 – January 13, 1873
Lieutenant Vacant
Preceded by Henry C. Warmoth
Succeeded by John McEnery and William P. Kellogg (election contested)
12th Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana
In office
December 6, 1871[1] – December 29, 1872
Governor Henry C. Warmoth
Preceded by Oscar J. Dunn
Succeeded by Davidson B. Penn
Personal details
Born Pinckney Benton Stewart
(1837-05-10)May 10, 1837
Macon, Georgia
Died December 21, 1921(1921-12-21) (aged 84)
Washington, D.C.
Resting place Metairie Cemetery
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Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Nina Emily Hawthorne
Alma mater Straight University
Religion African Methodist Episcopal

Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback (born Pinckney Benton Stewart May 10, 1837 – December 21, 1921) was an American publisher and politician, a Union Army officer, and the first person of African descent to become governor of a U.S. state. He was born free in Georgia. A Republican, Pinchback served as the 24th Governor of Louisiana for 15 days, from December 29, 1872, to January 13, 1873.[2] He was later elected to the state legislature, serving in 1879-1880.

Nicholas Lemann, in Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, described Pinchback as "an outsized figure: newspaper publisher, gambler, orator, speculator, dandy, mountebank  – served for a few months as the state's Governor and claimed seats in both houses of Congress following disputed elections but could not persuade the members of either to seat him."[3] Congress was then controlled by Democrats.

Early life

He was born free as Pinckney Benton Stewart in May 1837 in Macon, Bibb County, Georgia. His parents were Eliza Stewart, a freed slave, and Major William Pinchback, a white planter and his mother's former master. William Pinchback, who also had a legal white family, freed Eliza and her children in 1836; she had borne six by that point and two had survived.[4] She had four more with him.

Pinckney Stewart's parents were of diverse ethnic origins; Eliza Stewart was classified as mulatto, and had African, Cherokee, Welsh, and German ancestry. William Pinchback was ethnic European-American, of Scots-Irish, Welsh, and German American ancestry.[5] Their mixed-race children were thus of majority European-American ancestry. Shortly after Pinckney's birth, his father William purchased a much larger plantation in Mississippi, and he moved there with both his white and mixed-race families.

Pinckney Benton Stewart and his siblings were considered the "natural" (or illegitimate) children of their father. But they were brought up in relatively affluent surroundings and treated as his own. The children were raised as white children. In 1846, Pinchback sent Napoleon and Pinckney north to a private academy in Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1848, when Pinckney was eleven, his father died.[4]

Fearful that the Pinchbacks might try to claim her children as slaves, Eliza Stewart fled with the children to Cincinnati in the free state of Ohio. Napoleon at 18 helped to keep the family together but broke down under the responsibility.[4] At 12, Pinckney left school and began to work as a cabin boy on river and canal boats to help his family. For a while he lived in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he worked as a hotel porter. During that time, he still identified himself as Pinckney B. Stewart. He did not take his father's surname of Pinchback until after the end of the American Civil War.

Marriage and family

In 1860 at the age of 23, Stewart married Emily Hawthorne, a free woman of color.[4] Like Stewart, she was "practically white" in appearance.[4] They had four children—Pinckney Napoleon in 1862, Bismarck in 1864, Nina in 1866, and Walter Alexander in 1868. Two others had died young. Bismarck's name reflected his father's admiration for statesman Otto von Bismarck of Germany, whom he considered to be one of the world's greatest men. His mother Eliza Stewart lived with Pinchback and his family from 1867 to her death in 1884.[6]

They had a fine house in New Orleans. Usually in the summer, the whole family traveled to Saratoga Springs, New York, a resort town, where they would stay for several weeks. Pinchback liked to gamble on the horse racing during the summer season.[6]

Military service and Civil War

The Civil War began the following year, and Stewart decided to fight on the side of the Union. In 1862 he quietly made his way to New Orleans, which had just been captured by the Union Army. He raised several companies for the Union's all-black 1st Louisiana Native Guards Regiment, which was garrisoned in the city. A minority of men were Louisiana free men of color, part of the educated class before the war who had participated in the state militia; but most of the Guards were slaves who had escaped to join the Union forces and gain freedom.[7]

Commissioned a captain, Stewart was one of the Union Army's few commissioned officers of African-American ancestry. Like Stewart, these officers were mostly of mixed race. Most of them were drawn from free people of color in New Orleans before the war; unlike him, they were usually of colonial French and African descent. He became Company Commander of Company A, 2nd Louisiana Regiment Native Guard Infantry, made up mostly of escaped slaves. (It was later reformed as the 74th US Colored Infantry Regiment, of the United States Colored Troops).[8] Passed over twice for promotion and tired of the prejudice he encountered from white officers, Stewart resigned his commission in 1863. In a letter of April 30, 1863, his sister Adeline B. Saffold wrote to him from Sidney, Ohio, urging him to follow her example:

If I were you, Pink, I would not let my ambition die. I would seek to rise and not in that class either but I would take my position in the world as a white man as you are and let the other go for be assured of this as the other you will never get your rights...[4]

At the war's end, Stewart and his wife moved to Alabama, to test their freedom as full citizens. Racial tensions during Reconstruction resulted in shocking levels of violence as whites tried to re-establish social dominance and suppress black voting.[9] Stewart returned with his family to New Orleans.

Political career

After the war in New Orleans, Stewart took his father's surname of Pinchback. He became active in the Republican Party. The exact moment Pinchback decided to enter politics is described by George Devol on page 216 of his book "Forty years a gambler on the Mississippi"[10] In 1867, Pinchback organized the Fourth Ward Republican Club in New Orleans soon after Congress passed the Reconstruction Acts. That year he was elected to the constitutional convention. In 1868 Pinchback was elected as a State Senator. He became senate president pro tempore of a Legislature that included 42 representatives of African-American descent (half of the House, and seven of 36 seats in the Senate). (At the time, the population of African Americans and whites in the state was nearly equal.)

As Senate president pro tempore, in 1871 Pinchback succeeded to the position as acting lieutenant governor upon the death of Oscar Dunn, the first elected African-American lieutenant governor of a U.S. state.

Pinchback also contributed to the political discussion after acquiring the biweekly newspaper, the New Orleans Louisianan. He published the paper until 1879. He was appointed as director of the New Orleans public schools, established by the state legislature for the first time during Reconstruction.[11] Pinchback had a long-standing interest in education of blacks and was appointed to the Louisiana State Board of Education.

In 1872, the legislature filed impeachment charges against the incumbent Republican governor, Henry Clay Warmoth due to disputes over certifying returns of the disputed gubernatorial election, in which both Democrat John McEnery and Republican William Kellogg claimed victory. Trying to support a centrist fusion government at a time of divisions among Republicans, Warmoth had supported his appointed return board, which certified McEnery as winner. Republicans opposed this outcome, and appointed their own returns board, which certified Kellogg. The election had been marked by violence and fraud. State law required that Warmoth step aside until his impeachment case was tried. Pinchback took the oath as acting governor on December 9, 1872, and served for about six weeks until the end of Warmoth's term.[2] Warmoth was not convicted, and the charges were eventually dropped by the legislature.

Also in 1872, at a national convention of African-American politicians, Pinchback had a public disagreement with Jeremiah Haralson of Alabama. James T. Rapier (also of Alabama) submitted a motion that the convention condemn all Republicans who had opposed President Ulysses S. Grant in that year's election.[12] Haralson supported the motion, but Pinchback opposed it because Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts would have been condemned for opposing Grant. Pinchback admired Sumner as a lifelong anti-slavery fighter.

1870s Congressional and Senatorial elections

After his brief governorship, Pinchback remained active in politics and public service in Louisiana. From 1868, campaigns and elections in Louisiana were increasingly marked by Democratic violence. Historian George C. Rable described the White League, started in 1874, as the "military arm of the Democratic Party."[13] The paramilitary group used intimidation and violence to suppress black voting and run Republicans out of office.

As an outcome of the controversial 1872 election, four US Congressional seats from Louisiana were also contested, including Pinchback's seat in the at-large position. He was the first African American elected to Congress from Louisiana. In early 1873, both the Republican William Kellogg-allied state legislators, who had a slight majority, and the Democrat John McEnery-allied legislators elected US Senators. Pinchback was elected by the Republicans and presented the Senate with his credentials. The Democratic candidate also presented credentials. As the 1872 gubernatorial contest had involved the national government, Congress was initially reluctant to assess these issues. The contested claim was not settled for years, and by that time, Democrats controlled Congress.

Holding out for the Senate seat, Pinchback conceded the House seat to his Democratic opponent. But the 45th Congress (1877-1879), which finally decided the issue, was Democratic majority, and it voted against Pinchback. The Senate did give him compensation of $16,000 for his salary and mileage after his protracted struggle to take his seat.[14]

In his memoir of Reconstruction, former Louisiana governor Henry Clay Warmoth wrote that the federal government was reluctant to seat people representing the Kellogg-Pinchback faction. He had a personal interest, as he had been forced out of Louisiana after allying with white conservatives in the 1872 election certification.[15] Historian John C. Rodrigue notes that the Congressional committee on Elections was dealing with its own internal issues. It had accepted Pinchback's claim to the House seat, but he was holding out for the Senate seat, and then complications arose after the Democrats controlled Congress, and they upheld election of his opponent.[15]

Overall, the mid to late 1870s marked an acceleration of the reversal of the political gains which African Americans in Louisiana had achieved since the end of the Civil War. In 1877, Democrats fully regained control of the state legislature after the withdrawal of federal troops as a result of a national Democratic compromise marking the end of Reconstruction. Republican blacks continued to be elected to state and local offices, but elections were accompanied by violence and fraud. Most blacks were totally disfranchised by a new state constitution in 1898 and were effectively excluded from politics for decades.

Pinchback served as a delegate to the 1879 state constitutional convention; he and two other Republican African-American delegates were credited with gaining support to establish Southern University, a historically black college in New Orleans, which was chartered in 1880. Pinchback was appointed as a member of Southern University's Board of Trustees (later redesignated the Board of Supervisors). The college relocated to the capital, Baton Rouge, in 1914.[16]

In 1882, the national Republican administration appointed Pinchback as surveyor of customs in New Orleans, a politically significant position in which he served until 1885.[17] It was his last.

Later life

In 1885, Pinchback studied law in New Orleans at Straight University, a historically black college later known as Dillard University. He was admitted to the Louisiana bar in 1886, but never practiced.[17]

Continuing to be active in the African-American community, Pinchback had joined the Comité des Citoyens (Citizens' Committee), which set up the New Orleans civil-rights challenge of Homer Plessy to state segregation in public transportation. Interstate trains were covered by federal legislation and supposed to be integrated. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court as Plessy v. Ferguson. The Court ruled in 1896 that the state's providing "separate but equal" accommodations to African Americans was constitutional. This was a setback for African Americans; in practice, white-dominated legislatures and authorities generally underfunded black facilities, from train cars and waiting rooms to everything else.[citation needed]

Pinchback moved with his family to Washington, DC in 1892. Wealthy due to his positions and settlement on the Senate seat, he had a large mansion built off Fourteenth Street near the Chinese embassy.[14] At that time, the oldest son Pinckney was established as a pharmacist in Philadelphia; the younger three ranged in age from 26 down to 22 and were still living at home.[18] The Pinchback family was part of the mixed-race elite in Washington; people in this group had generally been free before the war, and often had formal educations and had acquired property. The Washington Post covered his housewarming reception and many high-ranking guests.[14]

Later Pinchback worked for a time in New York as a US Marshal.[17]

By his death in 1921 in Washington, DC, Pinchback was little known politically.[17] His body was returned to New Orleans, where he was interred in Metairie Cemetery.


Pinchback and his wife Nina were the maternal grandparents of Jean Toomer.[14] Their daughter Nina Pinchback Toomer returned to live with her parents after her husband abandoned her and Jean as an infant. They helped raise him, and he started school in Washington, DC. After his mother remarried, they moved to New Rochelle, New York. He returned to his grandparents after his mother died in 1909, and went to high school at the academic M Street School. As an adult, Toomer became a poet and writer who was prominent as a modernist in New York during the Harlem Renaissance.

It was not until 1990 that another African American served as governor of any U.S. state. In 1990, Douglas Wilder of Virginia became the first to be elected to office (and the second African-American state governor). Deval Patrick of Massachusetts was elected governor in 2006 and served from January 2007 to January 2015. David Paterson of New York became the fourth African-American governor on March 17, 2008, when he succeeded to office following the resignation of Eliot Spitzer.

See also


  1. Uncivil War: Five New Orleans Street Battles and the Rise and Fall of Radical Reconstruction by James K. Hogue
  2. 2.0 2.1 Cowan, Walter Greaves; McGuire, Jack B (2008-08-01). Louisiana Governors: Rulers, Rascals, and Reformers. pp. 107–108. ISBN 9781934110904.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Lemann, Nicholas, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War (Farrar, Straus and Giroux: September 5, 2006) pp. 196-198.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 Cynthia Earl Kerman, The Lives of Jean Toomer: A Hunger for Wholeness, LSU Press, 1989, pp. 15-18
  5. Toomer, Turner (1980), p. 22
  6. 6.0 6.1 Kerman (1989), The Lives of Jean Toomer, p. 23
  7. Terry L. Jones (2012-10-19) "The Free Men of Color Go to War" - NYTimes.com. Opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com. Retrieved on 2012-12-18.
  8. Hollandsworth 1995, p. 122.
  9. Douglas A. Blackmon, Slavery by Another Name (book and documentary website)
  10. [1].
  11. Kerman (1989), The Lives of Jean Toomer, pp. 19-20
  12. See United States presidential election, 1872 for more information about that election
  13. George C. Rable, But There Was No Peace: The Role of Violence in the Politics of Reconstruction, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1984, p. 132
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Kent Anderson Leslie and Willard B. Gatewood Jr. "'This Father of Mine ... a Sort of Mystery': Jean Toomer's Georgia Heritage", Georgia Historical Quarterly 77 (winter 1993)
  15. 15.0 15.1 Henry Clay Warmoth, War, Politics, and Reconstruction: Stormy Days in Louisiana, "Introduction" by John C. Rodrigue, Univ of South Carolina Press, 1930/2006
  16. Southern University at New Orleans, now under the same Board of Supervisors as Southern University and part of its statewide system, was developed later.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Ingham, John N; Feldman, Lynne B (1994). African-American Business Leaders: A Biographical Dictionary. pp. 560–562. ISBN 9780313272530.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Kerman (1989), The Lives of Jean Toomer, p.24


External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Oscar J. Dunn
Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana
Succeeded by
Davidson B. Penn
Preceded by
Henry C. Warmoth
Governor of Louisiana
Succeeded by
John McEnery/
William P. Kellogg