Author, diarist. Born in Abbeville District, Mary Moragné was the eldest of eleven children of Isaac Moragné, a planter, and Margaret Blanton Caine. Moragné grew up on her father’s small plantation, Oakwood, near New Bordeaux. Her formal education consisted of attending neighborhood schools and local female academies. She was an avid reader and began writing at an early age. She was a keen observer of both the social and the natural worlds around her and recorded these observations in a journal that she began keeping in 1834.
In the fall of 1838 Moragné entered a fiction-writing contest sponsored by the Augusta Mirror literary magazine. Her entry, a short historical romance entitled The British Partizan, was awarded first prize. The novel was based on the life of her maternal grandfather’s uncle, a British sympathizer during the Revolutionary War. Published in the Mirror in installments from December 15, 1838, through January 26, 1839, it was immediately popular. Within a month after its appearance, the Mirror’s editor William Tappan Thompson published the novel in book format. He became an early, enthusiastic supporter of Moragné and from 1838 through 1842 printed everything she submitted, including her second short novel, The Rencontre (1841), as well as several excerpts from her journal and some of her poems.
Moragné’s work was well received by her contemporaries. A favorable review appeared in the Knickerbocker in May 1839, recommending The British Partizan to its readership. Thompson continued to heap praise on her, admiring her style of composition over all other contributors to the Mirror. The writer and editor William Gilmore Simms recommended Moragné for inclusion in Evert and George Duyckinck’s anthology of American literature, although in the end she was not mentioned there.
In the fall of 1842 Moragné married William Hervey Davis, a Presbyterian minister and pastor of the nearby Willington Presbyterian Church. Together they had nine children. At the time of her marriage, Moragné began to question the propriety of writing romantic fiction, and much to the consternation of her publishers and some family members, she gave it up. She did, however, continue to produce poetry and articles of a religious nature. In 1888 she published a book of her collected poems, Lays from the Sunny Lands. She also wrote two textbooks, one on biblical history and the other on science, but was unable to get either work published.
Moragné is best remembered, however, not for her early fiction or poems, but for her unpublished journals covering the years 1834–1842, 1863, 1867, and 1899–1903. They provide readers with careful descriptions and observations of family and community life in the rural South. Their focus is on neither the gentry nor the uneducated, but on the lives of the common folk of the Carolina upcountry—what they thought, how they managed, what they did for entertainment, and the role religion and family played in their lives. In 1951 Moragné’s early journals were published by her great-granddaughter Delle Mullen Craven under the title The Neglected Thread: A Journal from the Calhoun Community, 1836–1842.
Moragné died in 1903 in Talladega, Alabama. She is buried there in Oak Hill Cemetery.
Craven, Delle Mullen. “The Unpublished Diaries of Mary Moragné Davis.” In South Carolina Women Writers: Proceedings of the Reynolds Conference, University of South Carolina, October 24–25, 1975, edited by James B. Meriwether. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1979.
Endres, Karen A. “Mary Moragné’s The British Partizan.” In South Carolina Women Writers: Proceedings of the Reynolds Conference, University of South Carolina, October 24–25, 1975, edited by James B. Meriwether. Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1979.
Moragné, Mary E. The Neglected Thread: A Journal from the Calhoun Community, 1836–1842. Edited by Delle Mullen Craven. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1951.