Timothy Pickering 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.
Pickering had previously served in the Massachusetts militia and Continental Army during the American Revolution. He is often remembered for his Anglophile attitudes, and pushed for pro-British policies during his political career. Pickering famously describing the country as “The World’s last hope – Britain’s Fast-anchored Isle” during the Napoleonic Wars. He later became involved with the Hartford Convention, and along with many other Federalists opposed the War of 1812.
3rd United States Secretary of State
Pickering was born in Salem, Massachusetts to Deacon Timothy and Mary Wingate Pickering on July 17, 1745. 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. 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.” 
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.
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.” 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
In February 1775 men under Pickering’s command were involved in a bloodless confrontation with a detachment of British regulars under Alexander Leslie who had been dispatched from Boston to search Salem for contraband artillery. Two months later, Pickering’s troops marched to take part in the Battle 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.
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.
Letter from Timothy Pickering to Major General Lord Sterling, 1777
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 evict 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.
After the first of Pickering’s two successful attempts to make money speculating in Pennsylvania frontier land, now-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.
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.
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. He lost his Senate seat in 1811, and was elected to the United States House of Representatives in U.S. House election, 1812, where he remained until 1817. His congressional career is best remembered for his leadership of the New England secession movement.
After Pickering was denied re-election in 1816, he retired to Salem, where he lived as a farmer until his death on January 29, 1829, aged 83. In 1942, a United States Liberty ship named the SS Timothy Pickering was launched. She was lost off Sicily in 1945. 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.
- Clarfield. Timothy Pickering and the American Republic p.246
- 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.
- The Diary of William Bentley, D.D., Pastor of the East Church, Salem, Massachusetts, 4 vols. (Gloucester, Mass.: Smith, 1962), 3:352.
- Octavius Pickering and Charles W. Upham, The Life of Timothy Pickering, 4 vols. (Boston: Little Brown, 1867-73), 1:7-15, 31.
- Pickering and Upham, Life of Timothy Pickering, 1:85.
- Garry Wills (2003). “Before 1800″. Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power. Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 20–21. ISBN 0618343989.
- 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).
- 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.
- Clapp, William Warland (1880). Joseph Dennie: Editor of “The Port Folio,” and author of “The Lay Preacher.”. John Wilson and Son. p. 32. http://books.google.com/books?id=njgRAAAAYAAJ&printsec=titlepage.
- Clarfield. Timothy Pickering and the American Republic p.246-247
- Timothy Pickering at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
- Clarfield, Gerard H. “Postscript to the Jay Treaty: Timothy Pickering and Anglo-American Relations, 1795-1797,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 23, 1 (1966): 106-20.
- Clarfield, Gerard H. Timothy Pickering and American Diplomacy, 1795-1800. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1969.
- Clarfield, Gerard. Timothy Pickering and the American Republic. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980.
- Clarfield, Gerard H. “Timothy Pickering and French Diplomacy, 1795-1796.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 104, 1 (1965): 58-74.
- Clarfield, Gerard H. “Victory in the West: A Study of the Role of Timothy Pickering in the Successful Consummation of Pinckney‘s Treaty,” Essex Institute Historical Collections 101, 4 (1965): 333-53.
- Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes. American National Biography, vol. 17, “Pickering, Timothy”. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Guidorizzi, Richard Peter. “Timothy Pickering: Opposition Politics in the Early Years of the Republic” Ph.D. diss, St. John’s University, 1968.
- Hickey, Donald R. “Timothy Pickering and the Haitian Slave Revolt: A Letter to Thomas Jefferson in 1806,” Essex Institute Historical Collections 120, 3 (1984): 149-63.
- McCurdy, John Gilbert. “‘Your Affectionate Brother’: Complementary Manhoods in the Letters of John and Timothy Pickering.” Early American Studies 4, 2 (Fall 2006): 512-545.
- McLean, David. Timothy Pickering and the Age of the American Revolution. New York: Arno Press, 1982.
- Pickering, Octavius, and Charles W. Upham. The Life of Timothy Pickering. 4 vols. Boston: Little Brown, 1867-73.
- Phillips, Edward Hake. “The Public Career of Timothy Pickering, Federalist, 1745-1802.” Ph.D. diss, Harvard University, 1952.
- Phillips, Edward Hake. “Salem, Timothy Pickering, and the American Revolution.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 111, 1 (1975): 65-78.
- Phillips, Edward Hake. “Timothy Pickering at His Best: Indian Commissioner, 1790-1794.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 102, 3 (1966): 163-202.
- Prentiss, Harvey Pittman. Timothy Pickering as the Leader of New England Federalism, 1800-1815. New York: DaCapo Press, 1972.
- Wilbur, William Allan. “Crisis in Leadership: Alexander Hamilton, Timothy Pickering and the Politics of Federalism, 1795-1804.” Ph.D. diss, Syracuse University, 1969.
- Wilbur, W. Allan. “Timothy Pickering: Federalist, Politician, An Historical Perspective,” Historian 34, 2 (1972): 278-92.
- Wilentz, Sean “The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln” W.W. Norton. New York. 2005.