John Charles McNeill was born near Wagram in July of 1874 in what was then Richmond County – the area became Scotland County in 1899. Not only was he the state's first poet laureate, he was awarded the Patterson Cup in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt for his many literary contributions.
The Richmond County Historical Society will present a program on John Charles McNeill on Monday evening, April 19 beginning at 7 p.m. at the Rockingham City Hall. The program will be given by Mary Wayne Watson, a great niece of McNeill who also grew up in Scotland County. She presently heads the department of Humanities and Social Services at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount.
Watson's program will be a mixture of humorous events and stories involving McNeill, and several of his most popular poems.
Historical Society programs are open to the public.
McNeill's poetry features the landscapes of the Sandhills of Richmond, Hoke, Moore and Scotland counties. McNeill, skilled in the oral tradition of storytelling in regional dialect as well as in the use of conventional poetic forms, was educated as a lawyer.
Because of his enormous popularity as a poet, achieved largely because of his regular contributions to the Charlotte Observer, he was elected a state legislator.
The youngest child of Duncan and Euphemia Livingston McNeill, John Charles grew up in the 1870s and 80s as a "Sunburnt Boy" on the river he chose to call the Lumbee, officially the Lumber River.
McNeill may have died at the age of 33, but he is still remembered around the region. His birthplace has been turned into a museum in Wagram and Cypress Bend Vineyards has even named a wine after the famous poet.