Appointed by President George Washington
Continued in office under President John Adams
Timothy Pickering, Jr., was born in the coastal community of Salem, Massachusetts, July 17, 1745, the eighth of nine children from the union of Timothy and Mary Wingate Young Pickering. A deacon in the Congressional Church, the elder Pickering was an unpleasant character who antagonized townsfolk. Unfortunately, son Timothy inherited his father's abrasiveness, self-righteousness, and ability to make enemies.
Whatever his deficiencies of personality, father Pickering prospered in prerevolutionary Salem. Thus, son Timothy was one of the few colonials to obtain a college education, graduating from Harvard in 1763. Timothy then studied the law and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1768; he never enjoyed his profession. Pickering spent most of his life on the public payroll; one is tempted to render the judgment that he had no other recourse; ineptness, incompetence, or plain bad luck hobbled him in what would now be called the private sector. Consequently, after finishing at Harvard, Pickering became an assistant to the register of deeds in Essex County, Massachusetts. The politically ambitious Pickering was soon elected town clerk and register of deeds. From his perch, Pickering observed firsthand the hothouse politics that preceded the American Revolution.
Given Pickering's inherent conservatism, it is understandable that he was a Loyalist—a Crown sympathizer—in the early stages of the events that led to the revolt against Britain. Of course, Pickering's role in the Massachusetts government was another factor in his loyalist leanings. Further, Governor Francis Bernard had appointed the youthful Salem native a lieutenant in the provincial militia in 1766. Yet Pickering abandoned the Loyalist cause and joined the Whigs or patriots. Why Pickering made the shift is unclear. Cynics believed that he followed the lead of fellow Salemites. Needless to add, he was assailed from various quarters for being a political turncoat.
Pickering was involved in the American Revolution from start to finish. As the British staged a desperate, fighting retreat back to Boston after the battles at Lex-