Saturday Dec 10
Pinckneyville Post

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By Jeff Smyth

One of the great unsolved mysteries in the Friendly Little City – even more profound than who is the person chosen each year to masquerade as Charles Cotesworth Pinckney in the Mardi Gras festivities – is why the town is named after a man whose career included more grand failures than successes, in addition to some dubious distinctions.

To those who know little about him “Coty”, as he liked to be called among his circle of knickered and wigged elites, was a silver-spooner raised on a South Carolina plantation. He studied science and law first in England and then France and served in the state legislature.

He was also Gen. George Washington’s bootlick in the Revolution War rising no higher in rank than colonel. While his regiment did fight along with Washington in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, he is also famous for his failed attempt to seize east Florida from the British (which I believe means he lost a beer chugging contest during Spring Break at Daytona Beach).

Slapped down but not out in the Sunshine State, he tried to retake Savannah, Georgia but was whipped there, too.  His final military achievement was to become a POW when the Brits sacked Charleston.

These were the pre-waterboarding days so Pinckney survived prison and when he was released became a “statesman.” He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention charged with the duty of procuring beverages (true story) and then was named the Ambassador to France where he became entangled in what was called the XYZ Affair.

No, you sickos, it wasn’t a ménage a trois, but an event in which the French attempted to shake down the U.S. envoy before being granted diplomatic status. Pink, the he was known in France, would not cough the bribe but did spew out his most famous quote, “Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.” Yeah, you tell ‘em Chuck.

Upon returning to the states Coty became the Buffalo Bills of politicians – always the bridesmaid, never the bride. He ran unsuccessfully as John Adams’ V.P. candidate against Thomas Jefferson and twice took a shot at the White House only to be rejected by voters.

After that, Coty retired to his plantation and the 300 slaves he owned. Yes, our town’s namesake was a slave owner and not just any kind, but a fierce proponent of it.

True, Jefferson and Washington owned slaves but they also displayed some compassion. Jefferson tried, but failed, to include in the Articles of Confederation a ban on slavery in the new territories. Washington was the only Founding Father who emancipated his slaves.

Pinckney, on the other hand, was an ardent supporter of the flesh trade. His second most renowned quote was on the subject in which he said in 1820, “Have the Northern states any idea of the value of our slaves? At least, sir, six hundred million dollars.” At least, sir, the man knew his economics.

Alas, among the few triumphs of this ultimate loser’s life is a town in southern Illinois to which he had no connection named itself after him. And, here is where the mystery begins. I have yet to find a credible source as to why Pinckney was chosen to be honored in such a way. I did however find one reference to establishing of Pinckneyville claiming that it was named after Charles Pinckney the governor of South Carolina and second cousin to Coty. Personally, I’d be more comfortable with that as he, at least, was elected to a higher office.

In spinning back the hands of time we find that Perry County was carved out of Randolph County in 1827. Gov. Ninian Edwards signed the decree. The seat of government in this freshly minted geopolitical boundary would be a town called Pinckneyville, purportedly named after Coty.

That is about all the annals of history tell us about the naming of the town. (Just a side note, one on the first acts of the new government was to approve a tavern license for Amos Anderson who sold pints of whiskey for 12 ½ cents and rum and brandy for 18 ¾ cents from his house.)

A reasonable assumption would be the town was named for Pinckney because many of the early settlers of the region hailed from South Carolina. A more cynical view would be those same guys were hanging out at Amos’s house swigging brown liquor and somebody lost a bet.

I bring this up not to disparage the good name of Coty (he made of career of that on his own), but because, as Pinckneyville aspires to be a destination place – we have a tractor museum open and the jockstrap museum pending – it needs to be properly promoted and merchandised. I don’t believe being saddled with the name of a no-account South Carolina dandy is gives us a marketing edge.

So what to do? In next week’s column I will proffer some suggestions that are as radical as changing the town’s name to something more catchy. While Toad Suck has been taken by a place in Arkansas, I’m sure there are other place names to be had. Until then.

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