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Better Know Your Notes: Lucy Pickens, Queen of the Confederacy

During the Civil War, the Confederate States of America featured many prominent members of government and society on their circulating currency — all but one were male. However, one female socialite, known throughout the South for her beauty, charm and intelligence was the subject of several different types of Confederate currency: Lucy Pickens, often referred to as the “Queen of the Confederacy.”

Born Lucy Petway Holcombe on a large Tennessee plantation in 1832, she attended finishing school with her older sister in Pennsylvania before the family relocated to Texas in 1848. In the early 1850s she was a champion of the Cuban liberation movement, even writing a book entitled The Free Flag of Cuba under the pseudonym H.M. Hardeman.

In 1856 she met Col. Francis Wilkinson Pickens of South Carolina. He spent a year unsuccessfully courting Lucy who was 27 years his junior. Finally, after he received an appointment from President James Buchanan as ambassador to Russia, she agreed to his proposal and they were wed in 1858.

Living in Moscow Lucy Pickens and her husband became close friends of Tsar Alexander II and his wife Maria. Lucy was a favorite of the Russian royal court and the tsar and tsarista were godparents of the Pickens’ daughter and only child, Francis, born in the royal Winter Palace in 1859. The Russian emperor gave Francis the nickname “Douschka”, Russian for darling, a name she would go by her entire life.

In August of 1860 with South Carolina secession looming and the prospect of civil war on the horizon, the Pickens family returned home. Francis W. Pickens was elected governor of South Carolina by the General Assembly on December 17. Just three days later South Carolina would be the first state to secede from the Union. Lucy Pickens is said to have watched the bombardment of Fort Sumter from the safety of a Charleston rooftop.

In November 1861, using funds from the sale of jewels, gifts from Alexander II, Lucy Pickens outfitted a legion of South Carolina troops who then called themselves the Lucy Holcombe Legion. Pickens was a vocal proponent of Southern secession. Due to her wide spread fame and position as first lady of South Carolina, her likeness was chosen to appear on issues of the new Confederate States currency. She appeared on the Confederacy’s first $1 bill in 1862; this note is known as Type 44. She would appear on the later style of that $1 note, also dated 1862 but with green overprint, known as Type 45. In late 1862 she was featured in the central portrait on the Confederate $100 note, Type 49. She was subsequently featured on the final two Confederate $100 types in 1863 and 1864, Type 56 and Type 65.

Pickens died at her home in Edgewood, South Carolina, of a cerebral embolism in 1899. She was buried along with her husband and Douschka in the Edgefield Cemetery.

           

 

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