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Steel, Elizabeth Maxwell

William S. West, 1994

1733–22 Nov. 1790

Elizabeth Maxwell Steel, Salisbury innkeeper, Revolutionary Patriot, and the subject of legend, was born in western Rowan County. The Maxwell family was of Scotch-Irish origins and emigrated from Pennsylvania to the Carolina frontier in 1733. Elizabeth's first husband, Robert Gillespie, was scalped by Cherokees following a siege of Fort Dobbs and died in 1760. Their daughter, Margaret, married the Presbyterian preacher and teacher, Samuel Eusebius McCorkle.

After the death of her second husband, William Steel, in 1774, Elizabeth continued to operate an ordinary in Salisbury, engaged in local real estate speculation, and managed, despite a lack of formal education, to accumulate a modest estate. In addition, she provided more than adequate parental care for her son, the Federalist statesman John Steele.

During the Revolution Elizabeth was an ardent Whig Patriot. This is largely reflected in letters written to her brother-in-law, Ephraim Steel, a resident of Carlisle, Pa. Other correspondence, as well as the opinions of her contemporaries and descendants, indicates that she was a strong-willed, self-sufficient woman of unusual capabilities. According to legend and a number of unverified secondary sources, the "Widow Steel" provided lodging and a gift of three bags of specie to a despondent General Nathanael Greene during the 1780–81 Cornwallis campaign in western North Carolina. But whether or not this incident actually occurred, it is evident that Elizabeth Maxwell Steel was largely responsible for the acquired values and character of her son John.


James S. Brawley, The Rowan Story (1953)

Archibald Henderson, "Elizabeth Maxwell Steele: Patriot," North Carolina Booklet 12 (October 1912), and The Old North State and the New , 2 vols. (1941)

Archibald Henderson Papers, John Steele Henderson Papers, James M. McCorkle Papers, and Ephraim Steele Papers (Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

Lou Rogers, Tar Heel Woman (1949)

Jethro Rumple, A History of Rowan County, North Carolina (1929)

Wills of William Steel (1774) and Elizabeth Steel (ca. 1789) (Rowan County Wills, Carolina State Archives, Raleigh)


Origin - location: 


I see information on Elizabeth Maxwell that her 2nd husband, William Steele left a will. I would very much like a copy of will and any information on his ancestry.
Thank you in advance,
Jan Church

Dear Jan,

I have forwarded your question to reference services at the NC Government & Heritage Library.

A librarian will contact you at the email address you provided to help with your question.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library

I am looking for information on Elizabeth Maxwell Gillespie Steele born 1733 I think in West Rowan NC. I need to know her parents names. All I can find is MR and MRS Maxwell. I know she had one brother named James Maxwell. Elizabeth was only one born in the US the others ether Scotland or Ireland. Please let me know if you can help.
Thank You

Have you had luck finding out who her parents were? I am looking for this information too!

Hi Brenda,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and posting your question.

Unfortunately, NCpedia does not have information on her parents and it appears that the writer of this entry may have been unable to locate this information as well.  If you're interested in trying to uncover more about her ancestry, you may want to contact the librarians here at the Government & Heritage Library and Genealogy Services.  They have expertise in conducting family history and genealogy research. You can find their contact information at

A copy of this reply has also been sent to the email address you provided with your question.

Good luck with your research!

Kelly Agan, NCpedia Staff, Government & Heritage Library



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