A political conservative, McCrady espoused limiting political participation by blacks and poor whites, leaving the levers of gov- ernment firmly in the hands of a white elite. Elected to the S.C. House of Representatives, he represented Charleston County from 1880 to 1890.
Lawyer, soldier, legislator, historian. McCrady was born on April 8, 1833, in Charleston, the second son of Edward McCrady and Louisa Rebecca Lane. In 1853 he received his degree from the College of Charleston and began to read law in his father’s office. Admitted to the bar in 1855, McCrady energetically pursued his career. On February 24, 1863, McCrady married Mary Fraser Davie.
Following South Carolina’s secession in December 1860, McCrady enlisted in Confederate service as a captain. Promoted to lieutenant colonel, McCrady was seriously wounded at Second Manassas (August 29–30, 1862) but returned to active duty to fight at Fredericksburg (December 1862). Injured in 1863, he left combat duty and assumed command of an instructional camp at Madison, Florida, in 1864. After the Civil War, McCrady served as major general in the South Carolina militia and worked with the Survivors’ Association to collect records of South Carolina’s involvement in the war.
During Reconstruction, McCrady enhanced his legal career by trying bank and railroad cases. He actively campaigned for the election of Wade Hampton III for governor in 1876. McCrady also played a prominent role in the post-Reconstruction disenfranchisement of African Americans, writing the infamous Eight Box Law of 1882. A political conservative, McCrady espoused limiting political participation by blacks and poor whites, leaving the levers of gov- ernment firmly in the hands of a white elite. Elected to the S.C. House of Representatives, he represented Charleston County from 1880 to 1890.
McCrady wrote political pamphlets before publishing his first historical article, “Education in South Carolina prior to and during the Revolution,” in 1883. This initial voyage into historical waters set the tone for future McCrady contributions: unabashed loyalty to South Carolina. In 1889 the editors of the American Commonwealth Series asked him to write the South Carolina volume. Although he never wrote for the series, this request was the catalyst for McCrady’s thirteen-year odyssey into the history of South Carolina. Given his lack of historical education and his continued pursuit of his legal profession, McCrady’s four-volume history of South Carolina from 1670 to 1783 is remarkable. The first volume, The History of South Carolina under the Proprietary Government, 1670–1719, appeared in 1897. Though largely a chronicle of political events lacking archival documentation and heavily dependant on the work of the historian William J. Rivers, the volume was favorably received. His second volume, The History of South Carolina under the Royal Government, 1719–76, was published in 1899 and relied on previous works by David Ramsay and Alexander Hewatt, but in its writing McCrady also consulted colonial newspapers and other printed materials.
McCrady’s last two volumes focused on the Revolutionary War in South Carolina. They were The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1775–80 (1901) and The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 1780–83 (1902). McCrady treated the Loyalists in South Carolina fairly, but his work reflected his lowcountry bias. Although he preferred shortcuts to detailed research and ignored South Carolina’s rich archival holdings, McCrady nevertheless gave the state a readable history of its formative years.
The South Carolina Historical Society elected McCrady president in 1899, and in 1902 the American Historical Association named him second vice president. He died in Charleston on November 1, 1903, and was buried in the cemetery of St. Philip’s Church.
Holden, Charles J. In the Great Maelstrom: Conservatives in Post–Civil War South Carolina. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002.
–––. “‘The Public Business Is Ours’: Edward McCrady, Jr. and Conservative Thought in Post Civil War South Carolina, 1865–1890.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 100 (April 1999): 124–42.
Obituary. Charleston News and Courier, November 2, 1903, p. 3.