The MacAulays, 1715-1832

Blue Horizontal Line


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 9, 1765.
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 identity.
HOME Table of Contents


Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.