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Benjamin Franklin Grady of Duplin County
Educator, Patriot, Statesman
by Bernhard Thuersam
Cape Fear Historical Institute Papers
United States Congressman Benjamin Franklin Grady
One of the most distinguished sons of Duplin County is Benjamin Franklin Grady (pronounced “Graddy”), an accomplished author and one who served his region as an educator, Justice of the Peace, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and United States Congressman from 1891-1895.
Grady was born on October 10, 1831 near Serecta in the Albertson Township, the descendant of a great-great-grandfather who emigrated
from Ireland in 1739. He was the oldest son of Alexander Outlaw
and Anne Sloan Grady.
The Grady and O’Grady’s genealogy is traced back to Ireland in the
4th Century, and in 1365 a John O’Grady is found as Arch Deacon of Cashell; in 1405 another John O’Grady was Bishop of Elfin---the
cathedral founded by St. Patrick in the mid-5th Century. A Standish O’Grady was appointed Attorney General of Ireland in May, 1803
and later served as a Justice and Chief Baron of the Exchequer.
The first Grady to settle in Duplin County was John, who acquired
fertile land at the fork of the Northeast River and Burncoat Creek in 1739.
He was to marry Mary Whitfield. Two sons of this union, John and Alexander, were to fight at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge in
1776; the former losing his life there and for whom the lone
After the Revolution, Alexander Outlaw Grady and wife Nancy Thomas lived on the family farm, and his son Henry, referred to by the Grady family as “Lord Harry,” married Elizabeth Outlaw on January 6, 1799. This last marriage produced Alexander Outlaw Grady on February 17, 1800.
Alexander would marry Anne Sloan, daughter of Gibson and Rachel (Bryan) Sloan in 1830, and the following year would witness the birth of Benjamin Franklin Grady.
Grady's Early Years:
Alexander Outlaw Grady was a slaveowner with “twenty-five or thirty slaves” who were Grady’s playmates and friends during his childhood, and Grady related that “as I grew up I hunted and fished with the Negro boys, and worked with them in the fields and woods except during about three months each winter when I attended the “old field schools.” He states that “My boyhood days were spent on the farm, where I worked with the slaves during nine months of the year…”
As was common in antebellum North Carolina, his father and neighbors employed a classical scholar to teach their children ten months in each year from which Grady. benefited, and in 1851 he was under the instruction of Rev. James M. Sprunt who taught in the Grove Academy in Kenansville.
Grady entered the University of North Carolina in September 1853
and graduated four years later, returning to Kenansville to teach two
years at the Grove Academy under Dr. Sprunt’s supervision. He
obtained the position of professor of mathematics and natural sciences
at Austin College, located at Huntsville, Texas, beginning work there in
the summer of 1859. Grady continued in his position until classes were suspended by impending invasion in 1861, and in his words,
“soon afterwards typhoid fever prostrated me and unfitted me for
military service until May 1862.” Grady married Olivia Hamilton
(a grandniece of Alexander Hamilton) of Huntsville, Texas and they
had one son named Franklin.
Olivia passed away in 1863 whilst Grady was a prisoner of war, and he later married Mary Charlotte Bizzell of Clinton, North Carolina in 1870. This marriage produced nine children.
In his own brief biography in 1898, Grady writes of his father’s
prevalent political beliefs:
“By intermarriages his (my great-great-grandfather’s) blood in
my veins was intermingled with that of the Whitfield’s, Bryans, Outlaws and Sloans. All hese families were Whigs during the Revolutionary War; and they were advocates of “strong government” in 1788-1789. Most of them, however, if not at all, gradually
drifted toward Jefferson’s exposition of the powers of the
Federal Government; and my father, Alexander Outlaw Grady, became a disciple of John C. Calhoun in 1832-1833, after hearing that statesman defend his position before the General Assembly
of North Carolina, of which my father was a member.
In 1860-1861, he was a secessionist.”
Grady enlisted in a local unit which eventually became K (troop) of the 25th Texas Cavalry Regiment under General (Thomas C.) Hindman,
but was soon dismounted leaving him to serve as infantry. He served as
an Orderly Sergeant during the war and twice refused the captaincy of a company in order to carry a rifle, often detailed as a sharpshooter.
Grady reported of his capture by Northern forces:
“On January 11, 1863 we were captured at Arkansas Post---about
3000 of us and 45,000 of the enemy with 13 gunboats---
and carried to Camp Butler near Springfield, Illinois.”
Grady wrote of the inhuman treatment at the hands of his Northern
captors, writing that Southern prisoners were shot at by guards for
refusing to remove their caps in the presence of Northern officers,
robbed of any personal effects and exposure to the cold winters with
only a blanket as protection.
In the middle of April 1863 Grady was freed in an exchange for
Northern prisoners held by Southern forces, and sent to General Braxton Bragg’s command near Tullahoma, Tennessee. He fought with Bragg’s army as it moved to North Carolina near the end of the war, serving in (General Hiram B.) Granbury’s Brigade of (General Patrick R.) Cleburne’s Division in (General William) Hardee’s Corps. Grady was lucky to survive the war in Cleburne’s division as every officer above lieutenant rank
had been killed by the end of the war, including Cleburne and Granbury.
He participated in all the engagements of his brigade (excepting Nashville and Bentonville): Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, New Hope Church,
and Atlanta; and witnessed the deaths of his commanders Granbury
and Cleburne at the Battle of Franklin in November of 1864.
Grady writes: “On the 19th of March 1865, while the cannon were booming at Bentonville, and my command preparing to leave the railroad for the scene of action, I was sent by our surgeons to Peace Institute Hospital in Raleigh where typhoid fever kept me till May 2.”
Grady would lose two brothers in the war, one killed at Bristoe Station
and the other at Snicker’s Gap; his remaining brother would lose a hand. He was himself wounded twice, suffering a hand wound and one to the
face that left a deep scar near the right eye.
Grady describes his view of the South’s war for independence in the following passage from his “Case of the South Against the North”:
“I did not agree with my father regarding the policy of nullification
or of secession. While I subscribed to the doctrine that no State in the Union had ever relinquished the right to be its own judge of the mode of measure or redress whenever its welfare and it peace should be
put in jeopardy by the other States, acting separately or jointly,
I doubted whether the nullification of a Federal act was consistent with the obligations imposed by the “firm league of friendship”
with the unoffending States, if any….”
“As to secession, I believed it to be the best for the Southern States
to remain in the Union, and trust to time and the good sense of
the intelligent people of the Northern States for justice to
themselves and their children. This hope was strengthened by
the circumstance that the interests of the expanding West being identical with those of the South, the time was not far distant
when that section would join the South in the struggle for riddance
of the burdens imposed by the shipping, fishing, commercial and manufacturing States of the East.”
Grady concludes by stating:
“this was the stand I took and held until Mr. Lincoln compelled
me to choose whether I would help him to trample on the
Constitution and crush South Carolina, or help South Carolina
defend the principles of the Constitution and her own “sovereignty, freedom and independence.” I went with South Carolina as my forefathers went with Massachusetts when “our Royal Sovereign” threatened to crush her.”
Postwar Life and Teaching:
“without money, without decent clothing, and suffering from the effects of the fever, I went to my father’s (home) and obtaining employment in the neighborhood at my chosen profession, I waited
on him in his last sickness and saw him die of a broken heart in
the year 1867, having survived the war and lived to see the dark shadow of “reconstruction” and government by the ex-slaves hovering over his beloved Southland.”
Thus Grady returned to his hometown of “Chocolate” at war’s end.
His father would die of a broken heart, the family servants had scattered
and the farm was in ruinous condition.
He returned to education and after organizing a school in Moseley Hall (today LaGrange) and teaching for two years, he established the Clinton Male Academy with fellow teacher Murdock McLeod at nearby Clinton (Sampson County). There Grady taught until failing health in 1878 forced him to return to his Duplin County family homestead to farm where he,
his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were born.
Grady continued to teach at his home, and provided instruction for
young men unable to attend the university; and additionally conducting Sunday school at Sutton’s Branch School House. In 1867 he published
a school textbook entitled “An Agricultural Catechism,” and would go
on to write two more books at the end of the century.
The mid-1870’s would see Grady begin a long career of public-service beginning with Justice of the Peace (1878-1889); appointed a Trustee
of the re-established University of North Carolina in 1874 (serving
until 1891 when congressional duties limited his time); and elected Superintendent of Public Instruction for Duplin County in 1881, serving
in that capacity for eight years. While serving as Superintendent, brother Stephen Miller Grady held the post of Chairman of the Board of Education as both advanced the cause of education in Duplin County.
Grady was elected twice as a United States Representative to Congress from the Third District (Democrat), serving in Washington City from
March 1891 to March 1895 in the 52nd and 53rd Congresses. He was known by his congressional colleagues as “the encyclopedia as his mind remembered everything. He campaigned for repeal of the Sherman Act
of 1890, writing the New York Times on June 11, 1893 from Wallace, North Carolina:
“I prefer a cheap money of our own. I will vote to repeal the Sherman law with a free coinage substitute and a tax on State banks. Let the people rather than the Government control money volume.”
Benjamin Franklin Grady held political views consistent with his North Carolina roots, especially regarding the War Between the States. In May 1894 while serving as a US Representative he penned a response to a Pennsylvanian in which he reflected upon the dismal outcome of that war. He condemned the “cranks, fanatics and unscrupulous tyrants” who were in national political power and regarded his own State of North Carolina as a conquered province of the victorious North. He saw the unbridled military power of the Washington government unleashed during the War as dangerous; and verbally attacked the “advocates of imperialism” who viewed the globe as their own.
His viewpoint on the War Between the States as this:
“the cause of the South was the cause of Constitutional government, the cause of government regulated by law, and the cause of
honesty and fidelity in public servants.
No nobler cause did ever man fight for!”
Grady was wary of politicians and government, and saw that “Extravagance is almost unavoidable when the method of taxation enables the Legislature to lay unperceived burdens on the shoulders of the taxpayers.” He saw too the dangers of unrestrained democracy and demogogues as:
“written constitutions present no effective barrier to the avarice
of classes, the ambition of individuals, the schemes of party, or
the machination of fanatics; and so long as the mass of the people
are unable to understand the structure and administration of their Government, they will continue to be dupes of callow statesmen
and professional office-seekers, and victims of misgovernment."
He looked to future generations of Americans to recognize misgovernment and to strive for the vision of the Founders by stating:
“We cannot retrace our steps or right the wrongs of the past; but it
is not too much to hope that a more enlightened generation now entering upon the duties of guarding themselves and their posterity from recurrences of the mistakes of the past, may strive to restore
and vivify the principles on which alone any just government can
be founded, and by reestablishing the system of governments in
and between these States which our fathers hoped would be “indestructible, “insure domestic tranquility” and “secure the blessings of liberty” to themselves and their posterity.”
Return to Teaching:
In 1899 Grady established the Turkey Academy (in Turkey, NC) with
son Henry Alexander who had studied law at the University of North Carolina. Since 1896 Henry had been working as a law clerk with his
half-brother Franklin, an attorney in New York City, who had earned a
law degree at Georgetown University.
In 1900, Henry would leave the Academy in the summer of 1900 to
pursue a short law course at the University of North Carolina, and being licensed to practice by the Supreme Court in September 1900. For three years he was a member of the firm Faison & Grady of Clinton, his partner being the well-known Henry Faison. He afterward became a partner of Archie McLean Graham, a connection that was maintained for twenty years. In 1922 he was elected to the bench of the County Court in Sampson County and continued to serve in that capacity until
January 1, 1939, when he retired and under law became emergency
judge of the Superior Court for life.
After Henry Alexander’s departure, Grady would spend his last years “teaching and pursuing literary work.” His literary retirement gave him
time to write two exceptional books, the first published in 1899 entitled
“The Case of the South Against the North; and the second published
in 1906, “The South’s Burden.” Both are articulate and well-reasoned Constitutional arguments regarding the Southern States struggle for independence from 1861-1865. They are currently reprinted and
available through www.confederatereprint.com.
Benjamin Franklin Grady died on the 6th of March, 1914 and is buried
in the Clinton Cemetery.
Grady’s son Henry Alexander went on to legal success as mentioned above, and the other siblings were Cleburne; James B.; Stephen S.; Benjamin; Louis D.; Lessie R.; Mary Eva; and Anna B. Grady.
It is said that Benjamin Franklin Grady was a lover of literature and:
“as scholarly a man as ever lived (and a) first class man in Greek, Latin, French, and mathematics at the university, a born teacher, (and) conveyed to his son(s) his knowledge in such a way the son’s education is equal to that of any college graduate.”
After his death, the Sillers Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Clinton wrote the following about Grady in their periodical, the Southern Cross:
“Franklin, as he was called by the family, attended the old field schools and was prepared for College by the Rev. James Sprunt. Among his classmates were Colonel Thomas S. Kenan, Judge
A.C. Avery, Major Robert Bingham, Dr. D. McL. Graham, Captain John Dugger, Honorable John Graham, and many others of like
kind, who have helped to make history honorable in North Carolina.
Two of his brothers had been killed in the war, one at Bristoe Station and one at Snicker’s Gap; while the remaining brother had lost the use of a hand. He saw that it was necessary to build up a New South upon the ruins of the past.
Teaching was his chosen profession and he believed that in the education of the people lay the salvation of the country.”
About the Author:
Bernhard Thuersam is the Executive Director of the Cape Fear Historical Institute in Wilmington. A native of the Niagara Falls, New York area,
he has been a devoted student of world history since 1958 and is a
former Chairman of the Cape Fear Museum Board of Trustees.
Contact him at email@example.com.
Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, William S. Powell, 1986
Henry Alexander Grady, Biographies of Leading Men, L. Wilson, 1916
Case of the South Against the North, B.F. Grady, 1899
The South’s Burden, The Curse of Sectionalism, B.F. Grady, 1906
North Carolina: Old North State and the New, A. Henderson, 1941
©2006 Cape Fear Historical Institute