Legislator, writer, reformer. Crafts was born in Charleston on January 24, 1787, the son of William Crafts and Margaret Tebout. His father, a Boston merchant who moved to Charleston in 1783, achieved considerable wealth. The younger Crafts received a classical education in Charleston and entered Harvard in 1802. He graduated with distinction in 1805, returned to Charleston, and studied law there and at Harvard. He was admitted to the South Carolina Bar in 1809. Crafts achieved no great success or reputation as a lawyer, apparently because he lacked the discipline to attend to the finer details of the law. But he won local prominence as a writer and orator, especially for his speeches on behalf of various reforming causes. In 1807 he joined Stephen Elliott, Thomas Smith Grimké, and others to found the Conversation or Literary Club. Crafts and Hugh Swinton Legaré were the dominant literary figures in the city during the first part of the nineteenth century.
Crafts was elected to the S.C. House of Representatives from St. Philip’s and St. Michael’s Parishes, serving from 1810 to 1812 and again in 1813, but he failed to achieve one of his cherished goals: election to the U.S. Congress. Crafts’s political ambitions were undoubtedly thwarted by his Federalist affiliations and opposition to the War of 1812. Some of his contemporaries blamed an indolent manner and an attachment to unrealistic goals for his failure to achieve greater things. Yet Crafts played a significant role in several reform movements of the early nineteenth century. He helped to expand the rights of Catholics and Jews. In 1813 he gave what many people considered his finest speech in the General Assembly on behalf of a successful fight to prevent the abolition of the new system of free schools. He also supported the campaign to establish the Medical College of South Carolina in Charleston, which opened in 1824.
Crafts was a strong advocate for the education of the hearing-and speech-impaired. Around 1820 his interest in this cause brought him into alliance with key supporters of a state lunatic asylum, men such as Samuel Farrow and James Davis, who had been campaigning for such an institution for several years. In 1821 Crafts was elected to the S.C. Senate, where he would serve for the remainder of his life. Soon after his arrival, he convinced legislators in a moving speech to pass an act authorizing a state lunatic asylum and school for the deaf and dumb. But the funds allotted proved insufficient for both projects. Plans for the school were abandoned, while cost overruns, political squabbling, and delays on the asylum project slowed its opening until 1828.
Crafts, who married his cousin Caroline Homes of Boston in 1823, did not live to see the asylum finished. After a long illness, he died on September 23, 1826, in Lebanon Springs, New York, where he had gone to restore his health. He was buried in the King’s Chapel Churchyard in Boston.
Bailey, N. Louise, Mary L. Morgan, and Carolyn R. Taylor, eds. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina Senate, 1776–1985. 3 vols. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1986.
Crafts, William. A Selection in Prose and Poetry from the Miscellaneous Writings of William Crafts, to Which Is Prefixed, a Memoir of His Life. Charleston, S.C.: C. C. Sebring and J. S. Burges, 1828.
McCandless, Peter. Moonlight, Magnolias, and Madness: Insanity in South Carolina from the Colonial Period to the Progressive Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996.