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MacNeill, Janet Smith (Jennie Bahn)

By Nancy V. Smith, 1991


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.


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)




Jennie Bahn, Janet Smith MacNeill was one of my ancestors. Her name and more family history appear in my genealogy. Where can I find more information?

Two excellent sources on Jennie Bahn McNeill and her family are

Malcolm Fowler's "They Passed This Way, a Personal Narrative of Harnett County History" (1955), and
Daniel McNeill Parker, M.D. : his ancestry and a memoir of his life ; Daniel McNeill and his descendants"(1910). Book text is on-line; read Jennie Bahn's family history starting on p. 45
The author was the descendant of Jennie's son Daniel who was a Loyalist in the war and was exiled to Nova Scotia afterwards. The family members' experiences during the Revolutionary war are related.
I am also a direct descent of hers through her daughter Margaret (Margaret's daughter Mary married a McKay).

Hi Melissa,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your connection to Jennie McNeill and your question.

You may want to look at the books and resources used by this article's author, as a place to start.  There are two other sources I've located that mention Jennie Bahn, the second is available online:

Barefoot, Daniel W. 1998. Touring North Carolina's Revolutionary War sites. Winston-Salem, N.C.: J.F. Blair.

McAllister, D. S. 1900. Genealogical record of the descendants of Col. Alexander McAllister, of Cumberland County, N.C.; also of Mary and Esabella McAllister. Richmond: Whittet & Shepperson, printers.

The N.C. Government & Heritage Library has genealogy sources related to the McNeill family surname.  These are available onsite at the library in Raleigh, N.C.  Here is a link to the library's genealogy resources that specifically mention the McAllister family -^*&searchType=0&recCount=25&setLimit=4&filter=Y.  Some may also be available at libraries near you or through interlibrary loan. It is possible that the State Archives of NC also has records relating to Jennie McNeill.  Here is a link to their database of collection finding aids:

If you would like help finding additional information, please feel free to post another comment.  And visit the "About Us" page on the N.C. Government & Heritage Library website for information about the library's collections, services, and contact information.

I hope this helps and good luck!

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library



I am descended from some McNeills from this area and wonder how I could find if I am connected to Jennie Bahn. Any help would be appreciated.

Hi Jackson,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and taking time to share your comment.

That's a great question!  The short answer is that you will need to start a family history project to find out if you are related to her.  

I'm including a link to the Genealogy Resources page at the N.C. Government & Heritage Library --  You'll find information about researching North Carolina ancestors and about how to contact and visit the library.  

If you are new to family history research, the library has an online tutorial series to help get you started. Here is a link to that page --

Finally, if you are in North Carolina, please visit us in Raleigh.  The library is open to help genealogy researchers and you'll find information about visiting on the website as well.  If you are located farther away, your local public library may be a good place to start.  Many libraries have subscriptions to databases such as and you can access resources there.

Please feel free to reply to this post if you have additional questions.  I am also replying to the email address youl included with your post.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


A letter in the McAllister Papers at the NC Depart of Archives and History states that Jennie was not quite 20 in 1748, putting her birth year around 1729.

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