Eleanor McNeely Letter

“One of the most interesting stories of the Scottish McPherson clan was a letter written by Eleanor McNeely when she was twenty-five years old. The letter was written before she married Robert McPherson that she writes about in her letter. Eleanor had the fascinating idea of writing a letter to her great-granddaughter. The following letter gives a good description of living conditions in the early days of our country.” [i]

Rowan County, North Carolina  Monday, December 18, 1797

To My Great-Grand Daughter, To be born about 100 years hence.

This is my 25th birthday. If I do not watch out I will be an old maid. I feel like I was ever so old, but I get to wondering about a hundred years from now. My children will all be dead, my grand children old and married, and I will probably have a great grand daughter. Everything will be so different from now. Then I thought, why not write her a letter? BROTHER ISSAC has just given me some beautiful white paper and pen and ink. So here is the letter.

Everything here has changed so much since I was born. I was born in this house but it was then in the Province of North Carolina, America. I have heard my father tell how GRANDFATHER AND UNCLE ADAM came to this part of Carolina, about their killing buffalo and deer for their meat, about their buying grants of land from the Council, and how later on the Earl of Granville persuaded the King to give him the land, and how he demanded them to pay him rent, and threatened to take their homes from them, and the Governor, the hated William Tryon [ii] sent an army to make them pay rent. Father and hundreds of other Regulators surrounded General Waddell, and he didn’t make them pay it. But that was all before my day.

I do not remember when Mecklinburg County declared their declaration of Independence, [iii] nor even when Congress passed their Declaration. But I do remember when General Horatio Gates was going to drive the British out of Carolina, that BROTHER ARCH volunteered in Captain Stevenson’s company. He was only seventeen, but almost as large as father. [iv] He said that father was too old and that he would go in his place. I was proud of him when he marched off with half dozen other boys from Thyatira. But he looked very different when he got back just ahead of Green’s army. He was ragged and dirty, his shoes worn out. Mother got him clean clothes and Pa swapped him his boots for the old shoes. The next day Captain Stevenson’s brigade reached our home. They were tired and hungry, and father gave them the two beeves he was fattening for our use. General Nathaniel Green’s army had just gone across the Catawba River the day before, when General Cornwallis’s army overtook them. The river rose during the night so the army took time to get dinner at Thyatira. Arch went on with the army. Captain Stevenson and he are great friends. Arch was one of his sergeants.

Sister Maggie and Mr. (name unreadable, maybe William Miller) were married last month, that leaves me the oldest of the girls at home. I have four sisters and three brothers at home, all younger than myself, so there is quite a house full.

Fifteen years ago I started to school. Pa wanted me to go the year before, but mother thought she could not get along without me. I learned my letters the first day and the teacher bragged on me. But I knew them by rote before, but it was many days before I knew them in spelling. One day I slipped a slate and pencil and copied some of the letters, but the teacher saw me and made me stand on the floor an hour. I wonder if you will have to stand on the floor for making pictures on a slate.

Mr. Robert McPherson was here the other day and talked to me a little while. He is an old bachelor, must be forty years old. He is from the Centre Neighborhood. They have a mill which he thinks is better than CATHY’S MILL. He says they are going to put in a saw to cut lumber. It takes so long to cut it by hand. They want to put in some floors, and he even thinks they will weatherboard their house with Poplar lumber. BROTHER ISAAC jokes me about him, says he wants to witness the marriage bond! [v]

We had nearly an acre of cotton in last summer, and have enough to clothe the whole family. But it is such a job to pick the seeds out. Pa fixed a little press to squeeze the seeds out, but it bursts some of the seeds and messes up the lint. Mother says it isn’t much of a job when a dozen persons get at it. Mother and Maggie have done the weaving and I have done most of the spinning. But the family is getting small now, only ten left at home to make clothes for.

ISSAC was gone to the CUMBERLAND COUNTRY all last summer, and he says the land is so much richer. He wrote me two letters while he was gone. He got me the paper, pen and ink so I could answer him. One of his letters was on very large paper, the postmaster wanted to charge me 50 cents for it, said there were two sheets, but I opened it and showed him that there was only one.

We have preaching quite often at Thyatira, almost every Sunday. We had Sunday School last summer. But it was too far to go in the winter – six miles. It is only a mile to our schoolhouse.

I wonder how far you will have to walk when you get big enough to go to school? One of MR. BOWMAN’S boys wants to be a preacher, he is in Mecklenburg County now at an Academy, is studying Latin and Greek. He says when he gets through there his going to Princeton, Pennsylvania. [vi] I wonder if they will let girls go to college a hundred years from now. Stranger things than that have happened. Our preacher said that the time would come when we would not be surprised when we could get our pictures made without sending for the painter. He had looked through a box and saw the person head down. It made quite a good picture. He said that in Paris, France there was a man who made pictures on a copper plate. I wonder if you will ever have your picture made? There are so many new things in the world now. The world has changed so much in the past twenty-five years, what will it be in the next hundred. I wonder if they will ever learn to write by machinery?

Mother showed me her old Bible this morning, her mother bought it when she was a girl, it is the finest book I have ever seen, it was printed in Edinburgh in 1740, 1741, and 1742, as it is printed MDCCXL [1740], MDCCXLI [1741], and MDCCXLII [1742]. It has the Psalms of David in it, so that if every one had one they could sing with lining.[vii] I asked Mother to give it to me, and she said I could have it when she died.

Well, there is to be a new world here on this earth some say, and we all believe that those who love Jesus go to a new world when they die, where sickness and death never come, if the Lord will, I want to live in this world fifty more years. If I do I am sure I will see many strange things in this world. I may go away to the West, even as far as the great river, [viii] possibly over it. But I do not want to go out of the United States, the country in which I now live.

With best wishes I close this letter, wishing you a long and happy life, and many wonderful birthdays. Your Loving Great Grand Mother Eleanor McNeely.


[i] Source of this article: Provided by Genealogical Society of Cape Girardeau, MO. Permission was given by Mrs. Alice Johnson of Fredericktown, MO to use her records. Mrs. Johnson is the great, great, granddaughter of Eleanor McNeely./McPherson.[i][ii] (Note: He was British Colonial Governor in North Carolina)

[iii] (Note: May 20, 1775)

[iv] (Note: Gates, Horatio, c.1727-1806, American Revolutionary general “In June, 1780, General Gates was ordered south to command in the Carolinas. In the Carolina campaign poorly organized supply, badly trained troops, and hasty planning paved the way for a disgraceful defeat at Camden (1780). He was plunged into deep disgrace and was superseded by Nathaniel Greene. An official investigation of the affair was ordered but never took place, and Gates rejoined (1782) the army. He returned home the following year. Gates later freed his slaves and moved to New York, where he spent the rest of his life.” (Encyclopedia.com))

[v] (Note – he did).

[vi] Most probably, New Jersey

[vii] (Note: to read out a hymn, a line or two at a time for repetition in singing).

[viii] (Mississippi)

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