Pinchback: The First African American To Serve As Governor Of A U.S. State



Pinckney Benton Stewart, sometimes known as “Pinchback,” was the first person of African origin to hold the office of governor of a state in the United States. He was an African American publisher, politician, and Union Army commander. In Macon, Georgia, Stewart experienced a free upbringing. Eliza Stewart, a freed slave, and Major William Pinchback, a white plantation owner, were his parents. Eliza and her kids were set free by Major William Pinchback in 1836.

Stewart was enrolled at a private Cincinnati academy in 1846. After his father passed away, his mother and siblings also went to Ohio because at the time it was seen as a free state. Stewart dropped out of school at the age of 12 to support his family by working as a cabin boy on canal and river boats. After the Civil War, he adopted his father’s last name, “Pinchback,” going by the name Pinckney B. Stewart.

Stewart married Emily Hawthorne, a free black woman, in 1860 when he was only 23 years old. They had four children together. The following year, when the Civil War officially broke out, Stewart made the decision to support the Union.

He made a covert trip to New Orleans in 1862, which the Union Army had just taken over. Stewart, a captain by commission, was one of the Union’s few African-American commissioned officers. Later, he held the position of Commissioner of the largely made up of fugitive slaves 2nd Louisiana Regiment Native Guard Infantry. However, Stewart quit in 1863 after growing weary of the racism he faced from white officials.

In 1867, Pinckney first entered politics. He was a member of the Louisiana State Senate from 1868 to 1871. Pinchback, who served as the state’s president from 1872 to 1871, took over the duties of the lieutenant governor’s office after Lieutenant Governor Oscar Dunn passed away in 1871. On December 8, 1872, Governor Henry C. Warmoth was dismissed from office due to impeachment allegations; as lieutenant governor at the time, Pinchback then assumed the governorship. He held office for 36 days, making history as the first African-American governor of a state in the United States.

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