Attorney, legislator, governor. Jefferies was born at Star Farm, Union County (later Cherokee County) on February 27, 1888, the youngest of eleven children born to John Randolph Jefferies and Mary Henrietta Allen. After graduating from the University of South Carolina in 1910, he moved to Ridgeland, where he read law. While in Ridgeland, he was the superintendent of the elementary school and assisted in the formation of Jasper County. After his marriage to Annie Keith Savage on July 26, 1911 and his admission to the bar in December 1912, Jefferies moved to Walterboro. He served Colleton County as master in equity, and in 1918 was elected probate judge. In 1926, he was elected to his first term in the state Senate. Over the next thirty-two years, he won seven more terms.
In the Senate, Jefferies quickly attained power and influence. He became part of the loose coalition of fiscally conservative lowcountry legislators known as the “Barnwell Ring.” He rose to become Senate President Pro Tempore and chairman of the powerful Finance Committee in 1941. However, he would not remain long in either of these positions. When Governor Burnet R. Maybank was elected to the U.S. Senate in November 1941 and Lieutenant Governor Joseph E. Harley died the next February, Jefferies succeeded to the governorship on March 2, 1942.
In his eleven months as governor, Jefferies guided the state through economic and racial upheavals during World War II. He worked to earn federal military contracts for the state and encouraged industrial development. He appointed the Preparedness for Peace Commission in the fall of 1942, charging it with planning a transition from a wartime to a peacetime economy. This proved to be a farsighted decision, for the commission recommended creating the modern State Development Board and proposed other reforms in state government. Jefferies did not seek a term as governor in his own right. Instead, he ran for and won his old Senate seat from Colleton County, which had remained vacant. Having lost his seniority when he became governor, he did not resume any of his leadership posts.
Jefferies was closely involved with the growth of Santee Cooper, the South Carolina Public Service Authority. He was the principal author of the 1934 act creating the authority, and he served as its general counsel until becoming governor. After leaving that office, he became the general manager of the authority. Under his leadership, Santee Cooper became one of the leading supporters of economic development in the lowcountry, providing cheap power to new industry and rural electric cooperatives.
Jefferies was not reelected to his Senate seat in 1958, but remained at the helm of Santee Cooper until his death on April 20, 1964. He left a daughter and a son, who married the daughter of his longtime legislative ally, Senator Edgar Brown of Barnwell.
R. Phillip Stone II