Neill Webster MacAulay
Neill Webster McAulay spent the la~c:ger part of his inheritance on formal education. He attended Davidson College, Davidson, North Carolina, then transferred to Erskine College, Due
West, South Carolina. The Junior Exhibition of Due West, South
Carolina on June 30, 1874 includes an oration by N.W. McAulay
of Coddle Creek, North Carolina, entitled, “Where There’s A
Will, There’s A Way.” Hugh McAulay, Neill’s brother, also attended Erskine with him. Hugh decided to be a minister in the
Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Neill decided to be a
teacher. He felt it was a calling.
Neill McAulay received his teaching certificate on October
14, 1874 from Mecklenberg Co., N.C. He made 1, the highest
grade, (5 the lowest) on every category except one entitled
“Geography, Map Drawing and History” in which he made a 2. He
could not draw particularly well. The other categories were:
Reading, Writing, Sounds of Marked Letters, Spelling, Mental
and Written Arithmetic, English Grammar and Composition, Making
and Keeping School Register.
Having been duly certified, he taught in a N.C. academy
(private) for a year. There were then no public schools in
North Carolina. Neill decided he wanted his own academy. He
did not find the academy in line with his own ideas. There
seemed to be a greater opportunity for having his own academy
in upper South Carolina. He went there, established his academy at Townville, South Carolina. A newspaper article entitled “Exhibition of Prof. McAulay’s School” begins:
“On Friday, 14th of October, a goodly number of citizens
of Townville, assembled at the Academy to hear the young men of
the school declaim, and the little boys and girls recite extracts, poetry, etc. I can with truthfulness say that all acquitted themselves well, and did honor to their teacher. The
latter is an intelligent Christian gentleman who, though a native North Carolinian, has for some years made his home in our
A record of payment signed Neill McAulay, Townville, S.C., dated October 18, 1882 showed that he and Mr. P. Whitfield received tuition from Nannie, Lou, George and Andy. Each student
paid a nickel only for those days he attended. Nannie attended
103 days and paid $5.15. Andy attended 30 days and paid $1.50.
In Townville Neill was young, of medium height, with blue
eyes, brown hair and shiny whiskers. He was soon in love. He
married Mary Kennedy, daughter of Col. A.P. Kennedy, C.S.A. She
died in childbirth two years after they were married. After a
few years, he married again. She was Clara Broyles of Anderson, S.C. She died October 10, 1887 in childbirth. He was
then living in Seneca, S.C. where he had founded McAulay’s
High School, now the Seneca, S.C. public high school.
After the death of his wife, Neill Macaulay left Seneca to become Commissioner of Public Education for Oconee County, whose county seat was Walhalla,. South Carolina. Although he had founded several academies, he was deeply involved in public education. He had been impressed by the ignorance and
poverty of the multitude. He felt only free public education
could help them.. He had turned McAulay’s High School in Seneca in Oconee County into a public high school to help meet
the needs. He was to be Commissioner of Education for Oconee
County from 1888-92. However, he did not like the job. There
was bureaucracy, insensitivity, legalism. He resigned and
founded his own newspaper, “The Oconee News.”
In 1892 he married, against the wishes of her father, Henrietta Holleman of Walhalla, the county seat. J.W. Holleman
was a well to do contractor, past treasurer of Oconee County,
former intendent of Walhalla, elder of the Presbyterian Church, who lived in a fourteen room house on Main Street. Henrietta was a young and guarded daughter. Neill Macaulay was nearly
twenty years older. But they were in love.
The marriage was actually an elopement. Henrietta had been
sent to visit relatives in Carnesville, Ga. to get her away
from Neill Macaulay. He went after her. Fifty years later
older residents of Carnesville still remembered the excitement.
Everyone knew why Henrietta was there. Everyone was dreading
yet hoping for the arrival of the lover. He came. His horse
was lathered and some say he had a pistol at his side. Small
boys ran up and down the street, yelling the dashing news, “He
done come to get Miss Hettie.” Windows opened. The town
watched as Neill Macaulay rode down Main Street to get his
bride. Henrietta ran out to meet him.
They were married in Georgia on January 6, 1892. They were
to live in Westminster West Union and other small towns in
the area where Neill Macaulay either taught, opened an academy
or an office of his newspaper. Finally they returned to Walhalla to settle. They were to have ten children.
The life at Walhalla for the Macaulay family seems to have been a pleasant one. They lived on the outskirts of the town in a three story white frame house, high on a green cliff over- looking a valley with mountains beyond. The white house was surrounded by fruit trees: apples, cherries, pears and peaches grew abundantly and there were grape arbors to play in.
There was a horse named Dolly. (The children remembered Neill
Macaulay cried when his horse, Dolly, died.)
A sense of security pervaded the place. Good food, fruit, plenty of children to play with. And when father went out at night, he always carried a lantern, and the children late at night could see father’s lantern moving towards them through the valley. It was an oil lantern of course.
A perusal of the newspapers of the town, mentioning the
Holleman and Macaulay names, shows them to have led an active
life of small town picnics, church socials, barber shop quartets
(Neill Macaulay had a pleasant voice and sang in a quartet. He
was particularly remembered for “Sweet Alice Ben Bolt.”) There
were “tacky parties” (Grandmother Holleman was judge of one,
awarding a cake to the tackiest.) There was a fin de siecle
stability: a pleasant town rural age before World War I, the
automobile and neon signs.
Neill Macaulay was a man of the highest possible personal morality. He once wrote his brother, The Reverend Hugh, “Beware the wicked city of Due West, South Carolina.” He was dead serious. In the American tradition, he was distrustful of the city,
finding it lacking the moral simplicitas which he, a Latin scholar, preferred. In this he was a provincial by choice, the country man who preferred Roman simplicitas to sophistication. He
was a moral conservative. His was the attitude of Cincinnatus’
returning. He preferred the old ways. In them was a moral wine
he wished to preserve.
His desire for a simple life was a complex, philosophical
conclusion undoubtedly influenced by his background, classical
scholarship and circumstances. At any rate he eschewed the city,
finding it cheapening and corrupting, choosing a life where he
could practice moral simplicity, enjoy rural serenity and a few
people he could personally know and sincerely teach. It was he
who planted the fruit trees surrounding his children’s play area.
It was he who quoted Horace. It was he who wrote his brother,
“Beware the wicked city of Due West, South Carolina.”
He read Greek, Hebrew and, of course, Latin. He would often
read a Greek play before breakfast in the way people today read
a newspaper. (This matter of reading Greek before breakfast impressed his children more than anything else.) He was totally
familiar with the classics, probably more than his classically
educated contemporaries, and when he drew parallels, it was often from ancient literature.
He read New Testament Greek, for he studied his Bible in the
original tongues, as well as the early classical Greek of the
tragedians. His mind, more early American than Victorian, was a
mixture of classical scholarship, the Bible and shrewd rural
horse sense. His favorite modern poet was Burns, and he quoted
much Shakespeare from memory.
He was a man of deeply felt religious and moral impulses,
accepting of his fellow man, often giving free schooling in his
private academy to the intelligent children of the poor. At
Walhalla he brought home mountain children to go to school for
a while and live with his children. (These things to his wife,
who felt she had children enough to look after, were matters of some irritation.) In the home he gathered his children around him every night, read from the Bible, and had formal prayers when each child knelt beside his chair. Never untoward in religion, he maintained his views with a quiet Presbyterian dignity and strength of character. There was great innocence about him.
His manners impressed many who knew him. He was unfailingly considerate and, in his relationship with women, there
was something of the grand manner. Elderly ladies, forty
years after, would comment how Mr. Macaulay, who had had three
wives and eloped with the last, had the gravest and courtliest
manners with women they had ever seen. The men found him dry
and humourous, showing a remarkable sense of balance and reason. These things were repeated and repeated by those who had
no ax to grind. One understood why people were drawn to him.
Perhaps the most touching tale of the civilizing innocence
of Neill Macaulay, many of which still survive among his students, is that of the poor white boy who had been helped by Mr.
Macaulay. In a school chapel an audience of students, of which
this young man was one, sat as the teachers filed in from the
front. When Professor Macaulay came in, the boy rose and turned to the other students and said, “Stand up. Macaulay is going by.” The boys stood and applauded.
There seems to have been little doubt he was an excellent
teacher. His character and compassion reinforced his excellence in teaching. He drew students out. One of his favorite
jokes in class was to retell the tale, perhaps apocryphal, of
how Burns and Byron met in Edinburgh on a cold day. Meeting
on the narrow Edinburgh street, well muffled, Byron said to the
stranger, “Make some room, you crazy loon, and let a stranger
by,” whereupon Burns replied, “There’s room to pass, you silly
ass, between the wall and I.”
Neill Macaulay was a man of high intellectual attainment, unimpeachable personal morality, deeply felt compassion, remarkable for the gravity of his manners and his courtesy to all.
His views on the city kept him from going where, like a boy he
knew through Davidson, Woodrow Wilson, he might have made a
larger mark on the world. But Neill Macaulay told his son he
wanted two things.
First he wanted to serve where he was needed, which he did.
He organized the first academies and public schools in many small
towns. He helped to start public education in his area, though
he became disenchanted enough to quit it. He wanted a quality
education in an age that wanted a democratic education. He
wanted real schooling, scholarly teachers, intellectual competency and classical knowledge for all bright children: instead, he received a skill education for the mediocre run by a bureaucracy. He was in education a man ahead of his time. It was
his misfortune to find in public education, which he started in
his area, there was to be no room for either classics or intellectual quality.
Second Neill Macaulay said he wanted only enough money to
be able to do right and live with honour. In doing right, the
positive side of his moral nature, he was fearless, right down
to the elopement. He never lied. This Presbyterian was too
aware of the total depravity of man. Life was a living wound
and only truth could pick it. Taught to pray standing, as
Presbyterians were, he stood, though the stadium sat, the silent
witness, because it was right in his eyes. Yet he never accused
anyone else of being wrong. He did what was right in his eyes,
smiled at his neighbors, and tended to his calling.
In honour, the passive side of his moral nature, repulsive things made him cringe: morality or manners, for they were contingent. He had an innate sense of social proportion. He could
not embarrass a student. Untoward displays by anyone embarrassed
him. Many times he had to avert his eyes as a speaker worked
his cliche to a climax. The occasions he examined the wall were
countless. Immarality he left as best he could. To live without shrinkings of the heart from a highly developed conscience
was to achieve, peace and selfworth beyond fame. This was that
cultivated innocence the Victorians called honour.
If Neill Macaulay were not famous or rich, he won, by his
insistence on honour and doing right quietly, the absolute and
undying respect of his family, carrying his values into the third
and fourth generation. He became a spire in the distance. This
was just as well. His students and his children were his joy and
his crown, and his chief desire was to teach them to order their
lives in silence before goodness and great mysteries. That was
the great lesson to be taught: the spiritual attitude from which
civilized actions sprang.
It was also one thing unteachable, and from many frustrations, that the community could not understand, his hair turned
white, he gave up salaried teaching, lines developed in his face
and when he died, he was weary.
On Sunday, July 2, 1916, while his children were at Sunday
School, he went to the barn to get his wife’s buggy for church.
There he suffered a seizure. It was 10:30. The children were
taken out of Sunday School where their aunt, Augusta Seaborn,
was the teacher. She tried to break the news gently.
He suffered courteously many hours of pain until, consigning himself to God, he breathed his last on Sunday evening as
church let out. God touched him and he slept. This was about
9:30. The funeral, held in the Presbyterian Church, was restrained and not elaborate. There was proportion. The body was
placed in Westview Cemetery.
They rang the church bells for Neill Macaulay. He was a teacher who never raised his voice, a father who never struck a child, a man of morality whose mind was well balanced and humourous, a man of truth who was acquainted with good manners.
In the home he was the center of many children: a man of sentiment, yet he was firm and rarely overdid. He went to judgement purely, having judged rarely, for there was understanding
in his attitudes and no accusation in his moral zeal. The spirit that ordered him was honorable, and to do right his only extreme. Balanced and tasteful was his life and godly the leaving
Henrietta Macaulay became matriarch of the family and, true
to Neill’s intellectual values and with great foresight, moved
them to Columbia, South Carolina where her children could attend
the University. She stressed education, family and the Presbyterian Church. (For her there was no other.) She died of heart
failure March 5, 1941, and was buried next to her husband in
By the time of Henrietta Macaulay’s death, most of their
children were settled, successful or on the road to success.
The children were all to be individuals in their own right.
From the time of Ewen McAulay’s Scots flight to America after
the ‘45 and the death of his English-French-German great granddaughter-in-law, Henrietta Macaulay in 1941, was the space of
nearly two hundred years.
1. Sara Macaulay McLeod objected to the portrayal of NWM with
a pistol when he went to Gainesville to elope. She commented
it made him sound like Jesse James. “Papa,” she said, “was a
class above that.” The point is well taken that NWM was not a
frontier plough boy or an adolescent tough. The pistol was
probably necessary for protection on back trails.
2. NWM was accompanied to Walhalla by black Mose, whose uncle,
a former McAulay slave at Coddle Creek, accompanied Lt. Robert
McAulay to the Confederate War. Mose, manservant of NWM, married in upper South Carolina and left a large progeny named
3. Neill and Clara Macaulay had two children: Witt and May. They left no issue. May died young on a visit to a school friend in Richmond, Va., and Witt, an accomplished cellist, studied in Prague for some time. He returned to the U.S., taught at Converse College, never married, and is buried at Walhalla near his father.
Dr. James MacLeod may be contacted through the Neill Macaulay Foundation.