South Carolina Encyclopedia Guide to South Carolina Writers

By Tom Mack | Go to book overview

McCants, Elliott Crayton (1865–1953).

Novelist, short story writer, educator. Born near Ninety-Six, South Carolina, on September 2, 1865, Elliott Crayton McCants was a man of two callings: educator and novelist. McCants attended the Citadel, graduating in 1886; as a condition of his scholarship to that institution, McCants was required to teach for two years in Abbeville, South Carolina. After fulfilling this obligation, McCants then tried his hand at farming, but this venture was a miserable failure; after a year on the farm, McCants found himself broke, so he returned to the classroom, which is where he would remain for the remainder of his professional career. He died on October 23, 1953, in Anderson, South Carolina, at the age of 86.

While McCants was inducted posthumously into the South Carolina Academy of Authors in 1996, teaching was his professional calling. He spent 58 years as an educator, most of those years in Anderson, South Carolina, where he closed out his career as the superintendent of the city’s public schools, retiring in 1945. He is remembered there as one of the most public-minded citizens of his day, and McCants Middle School is named after him. McCants was a vigorous and outspoken educator whose pastoral sensibilities found their way into the classroom in a significant way: he believed hard work to be the single most important aspect of a student’s education. His writings on the topic continually stress the importance of education not solely for the talented students but as much or more for the average learners who make up the majority of any student body. McCants was a true believer in the role of education to create a better society; in the February, 1937 issue of Forum magazine, he writes, “Left to themselves, most people, whatever their need, will teach themselves nothing.” Shortly thereafter he provides an effective synopsis of the role of the educator in society: “Even with all the aid which environment gives, self-made men are usually ill made.” Effective education, McCants believed, would lead to a better society.

Yet teaching was only one side of McCants’s life of letters; he was also a novelist of some note in his own time. McCants’s literary output was never very prolific, undoubtedly due to his obligations as an educator. His publications fall into two distinct stages. In the first stage, the first decade of the twentieth century, McCants published the works for which he is perhaps best remembered: the postbellum novel In the Red Hills: A Story of the South Carolina Country (1904) and a volume of shorter pieces titled One of the Gray Jackets (1908). While he wrote and published hundreds of short stories in his career, McCants fell silent in terms of longer works for nearly two decades. Then, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, he published a spate of books including Histories, Legends, and Stories of South Carolina (1927); the novel White Oak Farm (1928), set in Reconstruction-era South Carolina; and the novel Ninety-Six (1930), a work also set in South Carolina, but this time during the Revolutionary War.

McCants’s literary works consistently deal with pastoral and historical themes within the specific context of South Carolina and its people. In the preface to Histories, Legends, and Stories of South Carolina, McCants describes the book as “an attempt to present that which, for want of a better name, may be called the atmosphere of South Carolina history.” His novels, likewise, explore the collective psyche

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