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John Charles McNeill Papers

Finding Aid & Inventory

John Charles McNeill (1874-1907) was a Wake Forest alumni and one of North Carolina's most celebrated poets. His published works include Songs of Merry and Sad and  Lyrics From the Cotton Land, the latter of which was published posthumously. The McNeill papers contain personal correspondence, scrapbooks, unpublished poetry, newspaper clippings, and photographs.

Biographical and Historical Note

John Charles McNeill, one of North Carolina's most celebrated poets, was born on July 26, 1874 in Scotland County near Wagram. Charles was the youngest of five children born to Duncan McNeill and Euphemia Livingston McNeill. His father was one of the first graduates of Trinity College, now Duke University, and in addition to running a sizable farm was at various points of his life an editor, lecturer and writer. John Charles McNeill was first and foremost a student of nature and grew up hunting and fishing along the banks of the Lumber River. It was there that his love of his native land, so often referred to in his poems, was cultivated. John Charles McNeill began his formal education at Richmond Academy and stayed there until he was 17. In 1891 he moved to Whiteville, North Carolina and spent a year with his sister, Mary Catherine Memory, while attending Whiteville Academy. At the age of 18 McNeill accepted a teaching position at a one-room school near Statesboro, GA near where his sister Ella Caroline Watson lived.

In September 1894 John Charles McNeill entered Wake Forest College as a freshman. McNeill quickly distinguished himself by winning the Thomas Dixon Medal for an essay entitled  "Causes and Results of the Crusades" . It was at Wake Forest that Charles would meet Dr. Benjamin Sledd, the head of the English department. Dr. Sledd would spend many evenings with McNeill discussing poetry while "piles of compositions were forgotten as we talked the hours away over poets." While English was McNeill's major field of study, in 1897 he passed the bar exam and received a license to practice law in the state of North Carolina. He graduated from Wake Forest College with a Bachelor of Arts in 1898 and a Master of Arts in 1899. McNeill taught English at Wake Forest College while working on his Master's degree.

Upon graduation Charles headed to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia to teach English grammar and composition. His stay there was short lived, and in 1900 he moved to Lumberton, North Carolina and began practicing law. McNeill purchased an interest in the local newspaper, the  Argus, for which he occasionally wrote editorials. He sold his interest in the paper in 1902, returned to Scotland County, and opened a law practice with Angus McLean in Laurinburg. During this time McNeill was elected to a one-term seat in the State Legislature.

While his trade was practicing law, McNeill's life work and craft was dedicated to writing. In 1902 his poems began to appear in the Century Magazine and the  Youth's Companion. It was McNeill's sincere desire to make writing his career, and in 1904 he was given that opportunity when the city editor of the Charlotte  Observer, H.E.C Bryant, offered him a job as a freelance writer for the newspaper. The editor of the  Observer, J.P. Caldwell, gave McNeill complete freedom to "write whenever and whatever he pleases." His writings ranged from short stories and overheard conversations to intimate essays.

In 1905 McNeill was honored as the first recipient of the Patterson Cup, an award given to honor a writer of "the highest literary skill and genius" in the state of North Carolina. President Theodore Roosevelt, who happened to be touring the state at the time, presented him with the cup. One year later his first volume of poems entitled Songs of Merry and Sad was published. The book was a collection of poems previously published in the  Observer, the  Century Magazine, and the  Youth's Companion.

In 1907 McNeill's health began to fail and he was forced to return home to recuperate. On October 17, 1907 John Charles McNeill, at the age of 33, died suddenly from a bout with pernicious anemia. He is buried in Spring Hill, North Carolina. A second volume of his poetry entitled Lyrics From the Cotton Land was published posthumously.

Collection Overview

The McNeill papers contain biographical material, personal correspondence, newspaper clippings, notebooks, photographs, scrapbooks, and unpublished poetry. A few items from McNeill's relatives are in the collection, such as a Psalm book belonging to his uncle, the Reverend Daniel White, and a diaray from Duncan and Euphemia McNeill, his parents. Also included are materials created and collected by David Kelly Jackson about McNeill.

This collection is arranged into six series: Series 1. Correspondence; Series 2. David Kelly Jackson materials regarding McNeill; Series 3. General; Series 4. Manuscripts of poems and essays; Series 5. Pictorial materials; and Series 6. Scrapbooks and notebooks.

Collection Inventory

  • Biographical materials by and about
    • Bachelor of Arts diploma from Wake Forest College box 2 folder 58
    • Biographical information box 1 folder 1
    • Bibliographies box 1 folder 2
    • Duncan and Euphemia McNeill diary box 1 folder 54
    • Engravings box 1 folder 47
    • Law certificate for state of North Carolina box 2 folder 57
    • Master of Arts diploma from Wake Forest College box 2 folder 59
    • McMillan, John Arch. "John Charles McNeill: The Sunburnt Boy," paper read to Winston-Salem's Torch Club (1941 February) box 1 folder 61
    • Newspaper clippings box 1 folder 50
    • Obituaries and remembrances box 1 folder 49
    • Poe's Tales by Edgar Allen Poe, JCM's personal copy box 1 folder 56
    • Postcard of JCM bust box 1 folder 51
    • Psalm book belonging to Reverend Daniel White box 1 folder 55
    • Publications featuring JCM box 1 folder 53
    • Railway passes box 1 folder 52
    • Report cards box 1 folder 48
  • Correspondence
    • (1894) box 1 folder 15
    • (1895) box 1 folder 16
    • (1898) box 1 folder 17
    • (1899) box 1 folder 18
    • (1900) box 1 folder 19
    • (1901) box 1 folder 20
    • (1902) box 1 folder 21
    • (1903) box 1 folder 22
    • (1904) box 1 folder 23
    • (1905) box 1 folder 24
    • (1906) box 1 folder 25
    • (1907) box 1 folder 26
    • (1908) box 1 folder 27
    • (1914) box 1 folder 28
    • (undated) box 1 folder 29
  • David Kelly Jackson materials regarding McNeill (circa 1930-1989)
    • Correspondence regarding JCM (1933) box 1 folder 56
    • Jackson, David K. "McNeill Again," The Archive, vol. 45, no. 7 (1933) box 1 folder 57
    • Jackson, David K., writings about JCM (undated, 1980s) box 1 folder 58
    • Notes possibly by Jackson (undated) box 1 folder 59
    • Newspaper clippings (circa 1930s, 1974) box 1 folder 60
  • Manuscripts of poems and essays
    • "Some Notes on the Life Reverend Daniel White" box 1 folder 3
    • "Causes and Results of the Crusades"  (1897) box 1 folder 4
    • "Washington's Case Reviewed" , typescript box 1 folder 5
    • "Stockholders Trip to Wilmington" box 1 folder 6
    • Untitled (missing pages 5 and 6) box 1 folder 7
    • "The Scotsman" [The Rejected Scotsman] box 1 folder 8
    • "Requiem" box 1 folder 9
    • "Oh, Ask Me Not" box 1 folder 10
    • Select Prose of John Charles McNeill by Jasper L. Memory box 1 folder 11
    • Columns written for the Charlotte Observer box 1 folder 12
    • Acceptance speech for Patterson Cup box 1 folder 13
    • Unpublished and published poems, transcribed by Jasper Memory box 1 folder 14
  • Pictorial materials
    • Portrait taken at Hord's Studio (undated) box 1 folder 30
    • Portrait (undated) box 1 folder 31
    • Birthplace photograph (undated) box 1 folder 32
    • Restored birthplace photograph (undated) box 1 folder 33
    • Tombstone photograph (undated) box 1 folder 34
    • Family photograph, including JCM (undated) box 1 folder 35
    • Photograph of JCM and unidentified woman (undated) box 1 folder 36
    • Train trip photograph with Governor Glenn (1905 September 17) box 1 folder 37
  • Scrapbooks and notebooks
    • Scrapbook of newspaper clippings following McNeill's death box 1 folder 40
    • Wake Forest College student notebook box 1 folder 41
    • Scrapbook (1905) box 1 folder 42
    • Wake Forest College scrapbook (1896) box 1 folder 43
    • Wake Forest College grade book (circa 1896-1898) box 1 folder 44
    • Wake Forest College expense notebook (circa 1894) box 1 folder 45
    • Scrapbook items box 1 folder 46

Summary Information

Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives
John Charles McNeill Papers
Date [inclusive]
circa 1894-1989, undated
3.8 Linear Feet  1 record carton, 1 oversized box

Administrative Information

Publication Information
Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives
Revision Description
 Revised by Stephanie Bennett, Stephanie Bennett 2015, 2020
Access Restrictions
This collection is open for use. 
Copyright Notice
Copyright for materials resides with the creators of the items in question or their descendants, unless otherwise designated. Users of this collection are responsible for using the materials in conformance with U.S. copyright law. 
Preferred Citation
John Charles McNeill Papers (MS204), Special Collections and Archives, Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA. 

Controlled Access Headings

Corporate Name(s)

Personal Name(s)


Collections: Jasper Livingston Memory, Jr. Papers (MS253), Special Collections and Archives, Z. Smith Reynolds Library, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, NC, USA.

Books: McNeill, John Charles. Songs Merry and Sad. University of North Carolina Press. McNeill, John Charles.  Lyrics From Cotton Land. University of North Carolina Press Poe, Edgar Allan.  Poe's Tales. World Library.

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