The MacAulays, 1715-1832
|Ewen McAulay was born in Scotland on January 5, 1715. He
is said to have fled to America after fighting for Bonnie Prince
Charlie in the ‘45. This could be true. Ewen McAulay spoke
only Gaelic, never learning to speak English, and a Gaelic
speaking Highlander would be more likely to follow in the rising of the clans, less influenced by the predominantly English
speaking Hanoverian party. And a war might have had a certain
amount of appeal for a young Highlander of thirty. Certainly,
it is doubtful whether such a provincial man would emigrate to
the colonies without some urgent reason.
Many descendents of Ewen McAulay believe he was a member of
the Black Watch, knocked down a King’s Guard, and fled to America, with a “price on his head." Some of the older members of
the family, custodians of tradition, said that tradition might
have been about John Black, another Scots ancestor.
The tradition and facts together suggest a simple Gaelic-
speaking crofter living in the Highlands in the atmosphere of enflamed nationalism following the ‘45. The Black Watch was the
King’s guard, a body whose duty was to patrol and police the
Highlands after the fighting of the ‘45. For a crofter, feeling
himself put upon, to knock down one of these guards, then run,
closely followed by the offering of a reward on the part of the
government, would not be unusual.
Whatever the case Roderick Ewen McAulay was in North Carolina in the latter half of the 18th century, settled in the
conservative Scottish area around Sardis Associate Reformed
Presbyterian Church, (Mecklenberg Co., North Carolina) which is
near Charlotte. He was a farmer, attended Sardis Church, lived
to be 102, and was buried in Sardis Church yard, where his
tombstone still stands today. Ewen McAulay died Oct. 15, 1817.
Ewen McAulay married Christian McDonald by whom he had two
sons, Daniel and Roderick. Roderick McAulay was born November
The family supported the American Revolution, which leads
to the belief Ewen did not take the famous oath of loyalty to
the King, too perhaps he had a Scottish realism about forced
oaths, but the older son, Daniel, took part in the Revolution, writing home for money so he could buy, “a Bible and whiskey.” He took part in the battle of King’s Mountain, and kept a journal which is owned by his descendents.
Roderick McAulay married Margaret Black, a daughter of John
Black, an officer in the American Revolution, on March 22, 1803.
Roderick was a farmer and seems to have prospered. His will,
dated Feb. 7, 1844, leaves nine slaves by name, mentions land in North Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee, and allows “all the balance of my property to be sold publickly except my land in Alabama and Tennessee, that I authorize my executors to sell privately or anyway or anytime that they can make the best out of
it.” The phraseology is an insight into the ingenuity, working
in a rising economy, that produced the prosperity. And that
Neil McAulay was named trustee to “anyway, anytime, make the
best out of it” tells even more.
Roderick McAulay died on October 4, 1844. In his will
Roderick mentions their sons, John B., Neil, Zecheriah, William,
Hugh, and a daughter, Elizabeth Kistler. (She was the wife of
Peter Kistler..) Roderick McAulay had continued to live at Sardis, and to worship at Sardis Associate Reformed Presbyterian
Church of which he was an elder.
According to tradition Roderick McAulay reared a family
containing some colorful members. This can probably be explained by the fact the family, considering past circumstances, were
somewhat nouveau riche; the sons, most of whom were successful
businessmen surpassing their father, were discovering the joys,
not having settled down to the responsibilities, of money.
Hugh McAulay is said to have been excommunicated by the Presbyterian Church he attended. He was supposed to have married his first wife’s niece, which was against the literal interpretation of scripture too often common at the time. A man of some realism, Hugh responded by joining the Methodists, giving them a large sum of money, whereupon, seeing the money flow, the Presbyterian Church offered to take him back. Hugh returned to a comfortable Presbyterianism asking philosophically, “When does a sin cease to be a sin?” and answering himself
cynically, “When you have enough money.”
Neill’s brother, Zechariah, has come down in family tradition styled appropriately as Uncle Rye, to characterize a proclivity for drink so great the family is said to have removed a
source of Victorian social embarrassment by settling him on land
the family owned in Tennessee. Roderick’s will left Zechariah
$400 in care of a trustee to be used for Zechariah’s benefit by
“loaning the money or buying land,” and Roderick’s estate was
to be divided equally among his children “provided that Zechariah’s part go into the hands of the trustee.” Certainly,
Zechariah, for some reason, was not trusted business-wise and
the will mentioned land in Tennessee.
Neill McAulay, trustee of his father’s will, was born
September 6, 1805. He attended an academy under Peter Stewart
Ney, the legendary schoolmaster who was believed by many, including himself, to have been Marshall Ney of France, the cohort of Napoleon during the 100 Days. Neil was to remain interested in this question of his schoolmaster’s identity all his life. The quality of Neil’s reading was good and some of his books are still in use. There were many religious works and they were balanced by solid literary works, Shakespeare, history, and he was trying to be au courant: by 1850 he was reading Poe. He did surveying and traveled about a great deal.
In 1828 he purchased, while he was a bachelor aged 23, a
desk and bookcase at a sale of the Brevard family. He had a
taste for furniture as well as books. The desk and bookcase was
eight feet tall, of walnut, straight front, and with a richly
carved interior. The name of the craftsman has been asked by
the Smithsonian museum, but unfortunately we do not know the
highly talented provincial craftsman. At the time he bought
this he was reading The Gospel Truth by the Reverend Messrs.
James Hogg, Thomas Boston, Ebeneezer and Ralph Erskine, collected by John Brown, First American Edition, Johnston and Stockton Printers, Pittsburgh, 1827.
On Sunday, January 12, 1832, after the church service, as
was the custom then, he married Melvina Blair Grier in the
Sardis Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, where her uncle,
the Reverend Isaac Grier, was minister. The silk stockings she
wore on her wedding day have been preserved as heirlooms; they
show her to have been a tiny, almost child—like woman. She was
eighteen years of age; he was twenty-seven.
For her it was a successful match. She had been an orphan,
treated unkindly if given necessities, made to eat her meals in
the kitchen with the servants, and not made to feel particularly
welcome. Young Neil was already a most promising and already
well-to-do young businessman and planter, and, as Mrs. Neil McAulay, she no doubt bade her adopted parents a thoroughly enjoyable farewell. The planter and his lady went to live in Iredell Co., North Carolina. Neil and Melvina were to have a small
plantation there at a place called Coddle Creek.
N.B. Neil MeAulay’s schoolmaster was definitely not Marshall
Ney who was shot in 1815. The teacher was definitely deluded, but, nevertheless, he was a learned and brilliant
scholar who stimulated young Neil’s imagination. Many books
have been written in N.C. on the question of this master’s
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.