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MacNeill, Janet Smith (Jennie Bahn)

By Nancy V. Smith, 1991

1720–91

Janet Smith MacNeill (Jennie Bahn), subject of North Carolina legend, was born in Scotland, the daughter of John, a lowland Scot, and Margaret Gilchrist Smith. The Smiths migrated to the colonies about 1739 and settled in the region that became Harnett County, N.C. Margaret Gilchrist died on the voyage to America and John Smith died sometime before 1754.

A contemporary of Flora MacDonald, Janet Smith was well known to her Scottish neighbors as a spirited, attractive young woman. Traditionally, she is said to have been small, redheaded, and fair complected. Her neighbors nicknamed her "Jennie Bahn," meaning Jennie the Fair.

Jennie Bahn and her husband, Archibald MacNeill, were said to be the largest cattle raisers in America before the Revolution. One of the earliest and most famous legends surrounding Jennie Bahn has her regularly driving 3,000 head of cattle from Cross Creek to Philadelphia. Because it was impossible to take enough feed for a herd this size, much less buy it during the long journey to Philadelphia, this legend has been refuted. It is known, however, that she would occasionally help drive a herd of around 1,500 to Petersburg, Va. According to one story, on one trip she tried to buy feed from a Virginia farmer but he refused to sell it to her. Not to be outdone, she let her cattle inside his fences to graze. It is also known that Jennie Bahn did visit Philadelphia, where she met Benjamin Franklin. She was so impressed by Franklin that there has been a Benjamin Franklin in the MacNeill family and collateral families since that trip.

Another legend concerns her original, though inaccurate, surveying techniques. She would take a slave to a tract of land and send him walking until he heard her bell. At the clang, he would change direction. Her neighbors did not like her methods of surveying and accused her of infringing on their land. She was never taken to court for these infringements, however, because she wisely patented the tracts under the names of her husband and children. Her name never appears on the records at the land grant office in Raleigh or on the records of the Fayetteville courts.

As the driving force in her family, Jennie Bahn is said, at the start of the Revolution, to have divided her six sons so half would serve the king and the other half would serve the cause for independence. She remained neutral in order to sell cattle to both sides. This way the MacNeill family could brag about its sons no matter which way the war was going and make money at the same time. Actually, five of her six sons served with Loyalist forces. Of these five, "Nova Scotia" Daniel and "Leather Eye" Hector were known as outstanding Tory leaders, and "Cunning" John led his troops in the on-slaught at the Massacre of Piney Bottom. As for Jennie Bahn, it is said that she regarded the British troops stopping by her home with the utmost distaste.

Jennie Bahn married "Scorblin'" (scrubbling) Archibald MacNeill sometime before 1748. They had seven sons and two daughters. After the war Jennie Bahn and Archie MacNeill moved to their home in Cumberland County on the lower Little River in the Sandhills. They were buried together in the nearby MacNeill cemetery. The final legend surrounding Jennie Bahn comes after her death. Her tombstone is said to have been so heavy that it was 125 years before it was taken from Fayetteville and placed on her grave.

References:

Malcolm Fowler, They Passed This Way (1976)

Ben Dixon MacNeill, "Highland Family Comes Home to Celebrate" (clippings, North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill)

John Oates, Story of Fayetteville (1972)

 

Comments

My name is Keith Lassiter. Flora McNeil Peterson was my 4th great grandmother. I am having a problem establishing ties to her grandfather Archibald "Scrubbing Archie" McCormick McNeil. Her father appears to be John "Cunning" McNeil (1753-1809), but I cannot find him listed as one of Archibald's children. The closest I find is John Malcolm McNeil, who has a birth date listed as 1748. Are these two men the same man? They do not appear to be.

Hello, 

Have you found a will for Archibald or deeds or court records? In some cases, older children are not named in a will of their father because they already received their share of their inheritance when they received a deed before the father's death. Take a look at the county records if you haven't already for Archibald. 

As for the two men named John, a good way to distinguish if they are the same man or not is to create a timeline for both men, listing in chronological order events in each person's life, including their appearance in records - including the date, the information, and the source. Doing this can help prove or disprove that they are the same person and, in the process, help find family members for each of them. 

If you need additional help, please contact our library at https://statelibrary.ncdcr.gov/contact-us/contact-us-form 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Thanks Erin. I have not checked those yet. As for "older children" not being listed in a will, John "Cunning" or John Malcolm (1753 and 1748 respectively) would not be among the "older children." Thanks again for your help!

You're welcome. Good luck on your research. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library

Im a descendent. Raised in Dunn NC. Live in Wilmington now. My relative Edward Mckay has done quite a lot of research. He is listed above I think.

I am a direct descendant of Malcolm Smith. I live on the sandhills of Cumberland County. My father was a James William Smith and his father was James Russell Smith. They both farmed tobacco, corn and soy beans. James was the first in our family to use tractors or combines. Before him, it was all done with mules. We always had lots of livestock for food in the smokehouse. Always had a large vegetable garden and fruit trees. Life was good but it was a full day of work every day growing up. I would love to meet some other family members.

My name is Robert Smith I am a descendent of Malcom smith through his son Joshua Wiesman Smith. My great grand father was Robert D. Smith, migrated to southern Illinois. Abt 1865, from Macon Tenn. would welcome mor info from family.

Dear Mr. Smith,

Thank you for visiting Ncpedia. I am forwarding your request to our reference team.

Francesca Evans, Government & Heritage Library

I'm a direct descendent of Janet, through her brother Malcolm. His son Daniel my 3rd great grandfather, his son Neil Mckay Smith 2nd, his son Charles McKay Smith great grandfather, his son Ira smith grandfather, his son my dad Ira Herman Smiths . I live in Henderson county Texas, where Charles came with his family sometime before 1880. 1880 census, Goshen Henderson county . Goshen is a ghost town now. Thank you Donna Smith Mueller

she also is my grand mother and can be traced back to her marriage to Archibald.

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