McCord, Louisa S. (1810–1879)

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McCord, Louisa S. (1810–1879)

American writer, plantation owner, and defender of slavery . Name variations: Louisa Susannah Cheves McCord; (pen name) L.S.M. Born Louisa Susannah Cheves on December 3, 1810, in Charleston, South Carolina; died on November 23, 1879, in Charleston; daughter of Langdon Cheves (a lawyer and politician) and Mary Elizabeth (Dulles) Cheves; educated privately and at Mr. Grimshaw's Academy; married David James McCord (a lawyer, journalist, and politician), on May 2, 1840; children: Langdon Cheves McCord (b. 1841); Hannah Cheves McCord (b.1843); Louisa Rebecca Hayne Smythe (b. 1845); ten stepchildren.

Selected writings:

translation of Frédéric Bastiat's Sophismes Economiques (1848); articles published in Southern Quarterly Review, DeBow's Review, Southern Literary Messenger (1850s); Caius Gracchus (play, 1851).

The fourth of fourteen children in an affluent family, Louisa S. McCord was born in 1810 in Charleston, South Carolina. Her grandfather had traded with the Native Americans in the area beginning in the 1760s, and her father Langdon Cheves was a self-taught lawyer and prominent Southern politician who once served as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. When McCord was a child, President James Monroe appointed Langdon Cheves president of the Bank of the United States, and the family lived in Philadelphia for a time during his tenure. There, her Northern classmates at the private academies she attended taunted McCord about the slaves owned by her family, and thus at an early age she became a staunch defender of the South's "peculiar institution."

Although she was sent, along with her sisters, to Mr. Grimshaw's Academy and to a school run by a French couple, McCord longed for the more rigorous education given her brothers. After she was caught covertly listening to their lessons, her father allowed her to study Latin and math alongside the boys. With her family she also spent time in Washington, D.C., before their move in 1829 back to Charleston, where she was overshadowed socially by her older sister Sophia Cheves . In 1830, at the age of 20, McCord took over Lang Syne, a cotton plantation near Columbia that had been bequeathed to her by an aunt. There she owned 200 slaves, and reportedly made their clothing herself; she also supervised a nursery for the children of field hands, and trained some slaves to run a rudimentary plantation hospital.

At the age of 29, Louisa wed a man 13 years her senior, David McCord, a lawyer in Columbia who also sat in the state legislature and edited a nullification newspaper. (Nullification was an antebellum Southern political doctrine, predecessor of the secession concept, that maintained that a state could declare "null and void" a federal law it deemed unconstitutional.) A widower, her husband also came with ten children and plantations of his own. Together they had two daughters and a son, and lived at Lang Syne. In 1848, at the behest of her husband, McCord put her French to use to translate an economic treatise that became an important part of the South's anti-tariff political platform. Her English-language version of Sophismes Economiques (Economic Sophism or Fallacy) by Frédéric Bastiat was published under the pen name "L.S.M.," and was well received; McCord was offered other assignments, and moved from translation to full-fledged writing. She was reportedly most proud of her five-act tragedy Caius Gracchus, written entirely in verse and published in 1851. Psychological parallels have been drawn between the author and Gaius (Caius) Gracchus' mother Cornelia (c. 195–c. 115 bce).

McCord's articles appeared in such political journals as the Southern Quarterly Review. With a conservative pen, she wrote about women's rights—arguing, for instance, that women should receive access to education, but remain out of the political sphere. Some biographers have speculated that she may have been familiar with such arguments from having used them earlier to convince herself to be satisfied with her own domestic-oriented lot in life. A spirited, energetic woman, both the daughter and wife of politicians, McCord may well have yearned for her own political career, aware that she was equal in intellect to the men in her family. Unlike some defenders of slavery who considered it a necessary evil, McCord, as she stated in 1853 while attacking Harriet Beecher Stowe 's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, thought slavery "a God-like dispensation, a providential caring for the weak, and a refuge for the portionless."

When David McCord died in 1855, Louisa moved to Columbia and began to focus her energies on her son and his political aspirations. She funded and equipped a company which he commanded during the Civil War, but Langdon Cheves McCord, named in honor of her beloved father, died in 1862 during the Second Battle of Bull Run. Back in Columbia, McCord supervised a military hospital that would later be encompassed by the campus of the University of South Carolina, and exhibited bravery under duress when the city was torched by Union troops; this is mentioned in her friend Mary Boykin Chesnut 's war diary. The end of the war and the Emancipation Proclamation ruined her financially, and she moved to Cobourg, Ontario, for a time, to avoid having to pledge an oath of allegiance to the federal government. Eventually she conceded, however, in order to sell her remaining property. McCord lived the rest of her years in Charleston with her daughter, Louisa Rebecca Smythe , and was buried in that city's Magnolia Cemetery after her death in 1879.


James, Edward T., Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Carol Brennan , Grosse Pointe, Michigan

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McCord, Louisa S. (1810–1879)

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