Wealth, social standing, and a tradition of public service were the birthright of South Carolinian Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. An early backer of independence, he quickly volunteered his services as an army officer at the outbreak of the Revolution, and for a time was an aide to George Washington. Taken prisoner after the British took Charleston in 1780, he resisted his captor's repeated urgings that he join their side. "If I had a vein that did not beat with the love of my Country," he said in answer to one of those overtures, "I myself would open it. If I had a drop of blood that could flow dishonorably, I myself would let it out."
The Philadelphia-born artist Henry Benbridge painted this portrait of Pinckney in 1773, showing his subject dressed as a member of the Charleston militia, which was still loyal to the Crown. Two years later, of course, both Pinckney's allegiance and his uniform had changed, and the military garb originally worn in the likeness was altered accordingly. Even so, traces of the old scarlet coat of pre-Revolutionary times can still be seen in the picture.