The family of Jennet Little, wife of Rev. Malcolm McNair, was
long a mystery. For years details eluded
us. Wonderful gems of knowledge have now become available in the form of
(1) an original transcript of the Anna Belle McNair letter to her nieces and
nephews furnished by Jim Patterson and (2) a
petition for the division of the estate of Jennet's half
brother John P Little. The fascinating history of this family still has
much to be uncovered. Who were Neill Little's parents? And what was
the Petersburg, VA Dickson/Harrison lineage of his 2nd wife Jane? Does our
family's lineage truly lead back to Pocahontas?
From a letter by Anna Belle McNair to her nieces & nephews:
"Copied from the Original"
I am often asked by my nephews and nieces to tell them something about their
ancestors, and also relatives who are now living. My knowledge of them is very
imperfect but the little I know myself and what I can ascertain from others I
will write down for their benifit hoping it may give them as much pleasure to
read it as it is to write.
Your grandpa was a great man and one of the most talented
ministers of his day, was for twenty years Pastor of Centre, Ashpole, Laurel
Hill and Red Bluff, was born 26th August 1776 and died on the 4th August 1822
and was buried at Laurel Hill which was then the home of his nephew Tryam
McFarland and one of his own Churches. He married your grandma who was a native
of Petersburg, Va. and was then living at Laurel Hill the home of his
half-brother Duncan McFarland, and her Uncle by marriage in 1809. I cannot tell
much about my Grandma's relatives. She (this obviously refers to her mother,
rather than her grandmother) left Petersburg when only twelve years of age.
I used to sit for hours when a child and hear her and my grandma tell about
Petersburg and their friends there but I have forgotten it now. Her mother's
maiden name was Harrison. She was an Orphan and was raised by her Uncle by the
name of Harrison who was wealthy but had a large family so she did not inherit
any of his wealth but I remember hearing her speak of style in which her uncle
lived. She was of English extraction and was a member of the Church of England
as she called -- Episcopal -- She used to say that she was a descendant of the
great Indian Queen Pocahontas. She was a distant relative of Rev. Daniel Baker
who was a great Revivalist and passed through this country some forty-five or
fifty years ago, and stayed at John R. Buie's and in the course of conversation
spoke of the Harrisons' as his relatives. Cousin Margaret Buie told him of your
grandma and where she was living and he said he was sorry he did not have time
to call on her as she was his relative. Your grandpa sent for grandma after he
married but she never was satisfied and always wanted to go back to Petersburg.
She was one of the nicest Old ladies I ever saw. I can remember her so well
although she died when I was a child at the age of 68. Grandpa was a widower
with two children when he went to Petersburg and married grandma. The children
were Aunt Katie Wilkinson -- Polly Wilkinson's mother -- and Uncle John Little
who died many years ago. Grandpa had no brother but four sisters. His sisters
were Aunt Molly McFarland -- Uncle Duncan's wife -- and Jennet Alford -- Uncle
Marrow's wife -- and for whom your grandma was named, Aunt Effie McNair -- Judge
McNair's mother died in Brook Haven, Mississippi some years ago, and Aunt
Barbara Cade. Grandpa had but two children after he married grandma, that was
your grandma and Aunt Margaret Surles, you have all heard of her. Grandpa's name
was Neill Little. He died and was buried in Petersburg, Va.
And now my pen is worn out and I am very tired. I have told
you all I can recollect. You have often asked how you were kin to McFarlands,
Alford, Buies of Philidelphus, and now you can see for yourself and if it will
afford any satisfaction for which it was written will be answered.
You Aunt Belle
Now that we know Jennet Little mother came to live with the
newlyweds and died in North Carolina, we are able to learn her identity from
North Carolina newspaper records. Research on this family is
ongoing. Correspondence with anyone able to provide further information
would be greatly appreciated.
February 8, 1826 Issue, Fayetteville Observer: Died at Cowper Hill, Robeson County on the evening of the 1st, Mrs. Jane Little, formerly of Petersburg, VA. Source: M&D Notices 1816 - 1840
A petition for division of the estate of Jennet Little's half
brother John P Little sheds much light on the Little family relationships.
It also chronicles Jennet's move from her Petersburg, VA birthplace to live with
her Uncle Duncan McFarland in North Carolina.
JOHN P LITTLE ESTATE
State of North Carolina Robeson County
Court of Pleas & Quarter Sessions November Term A. D. 1840
To the Worshipful, The Justices of the County Court of Robeson
Humbly Complaining Showeth unto your worships, your Petitioners Jennett McNair,
(blank) Surls in right of his wife Margaret, that, John P Little late of Robeson
County decd Some time in the year 1835 intestate Seized and possessed of a Tract
of Land, lying on both sides of Lumber River or Drowning Creek, joining the land
of William McNeill and Others Commonly called the Red Bank place, Containing
about Seventeen Hundred acres. That, the said John P Little left no heirs him
surviving. That, your Petitioners Jannett McNair, Margaret Surls, and one
Catharine Wilkison are the half sisters of the deceased and his only heirs at
law and are therefore each entitled to one third of the said land. Wherefore
your Petitioners humbly pray your Worships to decree a division of the said land
among your Petitioners Jannett McNair, Margaret Surls and Catharine Wilkison and
that Commissioners may be appointed for that purpose according to law, to make
said division and report to the Court. Your petitioners further pray that a copy
of this Petition together with the states writ of subpoena may issue to the said
Catharine Wilkison, Commanding her under a certain penalty therein named to
appear before the County Court of Robeson to be held on the fourth Monday of
February, hereof at the Court House in Lumberton and answer said petition he and
your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. Smith Solicitor for
Petitioners. A Copy from the original filed in my office as Given under my hand
and seal at office 2nd January 1841. Seth Howell Clerk.
State of North Carolina Robeson County
Court of Pleas & Quarter Session February Term 1841
The Answer of Catharine Wilkinson to the Petition of Surls & Margaret his Wife
and Jannete McNair. This Defendant Catharine Wilkinson saying and resening to
herself and advantage of exception in for answer to the Complaint to Petition
suit. That she is the sister of the whole blood of the intestate John P Little
and not the half sister with the next of heirs and heir at Law of the said John
P and entitled to the inheritance as she is informed and believes. The Defendant
further answering saith that the said John P Little died sometimes in the month
of January 1835 and that upon his death she took the possession of the premises
in the Complaint and Petition mentioned, namely the tract of Land known as the
Red Bank place and has since that time contained in the sole and ? adverse
possession thereof, claiming the sole tenant therein, and that the said
complainants are not, and have not been tenants in common with her and just
possession with her in these premises, and therefore she denies their right to
call upon her for partition of said land. The defendant further answering saith
that she does not admit, but doth deny that the said complainants are the half
sisters of the said John P Little; for although the complainants may have been
the reputed children of her father the late Neal Little, yet she is advised and
believes and so charges that her father never intermarried with the mother of
said complainant and even if thess are the children of the said Neal Little, yet
as they were not born in the lawful wedlock they are not in contemplation of
law, the sisters of the said John P Little, and so not entitled as this
defendant contends not entitled to claim partition of the lands in said Petition
described, or heirs at law of the said John P Little. And this defendant further
answering saith that even if the Complainants were heirs at Law they are not
entitled to Partition until the debts of the intestate were fully paid and
satisfied. For that the said John P Little decd possessed of and entitled to a
very small personal estate and that upon his death Administration was granted to
one Neal L. Wilkinson and upon its being ascertained that the estate which came
unto his hands were insufficient to discharge his debts (part of which was the
purchase money for this very land) this defendant being desirous to assume the
payment of all the just debts of the said John P Little and to save the land,
and being advised that she alone is entitled to it as sole heir, agreed with the
Administrator that he should assume the debts and ? of the said intestate over
and above the assets ?? and that she would hold and consider the land liable for
the excess - that accordingly he did pay and otherwise render himself liable for
debts of the estate, was and above in a few claim of the Administrator against
the Land, unto whose hands soever it may cause. And the Defendant for the causes
above ? charges that the said complaint is not entitled to Partition of the said
Set Out in their Petition and Prays that the said Petition be disruped. And that
her Cnt be allowed. Eccles for Defendant. Catharine Wilkinson maketh Oath that
the matter, as charges herein set forth as of her knowledge are true… Signed:
State of North Carolina Robeson County
Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions February Term 1841
Jannett McNair, Martin Surls & Wife Margaret vs Catharine Wilkinson
Jannett McNair and Martin Surles and Wife Margaret reply to the answer of the
defendant Catharine Wilkinson and say that the possession of the said Catharine
is not, and has not been adverse to the petitioners, but that the possession of
the said Catharine was in fact and in truth the possession of the petitioners
Jannett McNair and Martin Surles and Wife Margaret, that they are tenants in
common with said Catharine and as such rightfully entitled to call upon said
Catharine for a partition of said lands, there having been no actual order. Say
further that they (the petitioners) are sisters of the half blood to John P.
Little deceased - that they are the children of Neal Little, born in lawful
wedlock, their father and mother having been lawfully married, and as such
entitled to claim a partition of the lands mentioned and described in the
petition as heirs at law of the said John P. Little. And of this they put
themselves on the country. Smith for Petitioners.
State of North Caroline Robeson County
Jennet McNair vs Catherine Wilkinson
State of Mississippi Covington County SS
Be it remembered that on this tenth day of February AD Eighteen hundred and
forty three at Williamsburg in said county and state last aforesaid before us
Gilbert D. Gere and William Worthy two of the Justices of Assigned to keep the
peace in and for the county of Covington & state last aforesaid came Effy McNair
and she being duly sworn to the following interrogatories testified as follows.
Each of said interogatories as a witness in the above entitled case.
Interogatories 1st: What is your age
Answer: I was sixty eight years old last August
Interogatory 2: Were you acquainted with Neill Little Decd who it is said died
in Petersburg Virginia several years since?
Answer: I was
Interogatory 3: Were you related to said Neill Little & if so in what way were
you related to him?
Answer: I was related to him - he was my brother.
Interogatory 4: Did you ever hear that said Neill Little was living with Jane
Dickson the mother of the present plaintiff without being legally married to
Answer: I heard so once
Interogatory 5: Did not Duncan McEachin write a letter to said Neill Little
asking of him to state the truth or falsehood of said charge - State what was sd
Answer: Said Duncan McEachin did not write of to said Neil Little. But Neill
Little wrote to Jannet Little his sister.
Interogatory 6th: Did you ever see said letter. If so what did said letter state
relative to his marriage with Jane Dickson & what became of said letter?
Answer: I have seen said letter and read it. It stated that he said Neill Little
was married legally to said Jane Dickson & that if ever he was married to his
first wife he was to his last. Said letter was burnt when Duncan McEachin's
house was burnt.
Interogatory 7th: Do you not know that Duncan McFarland decd late of Laurel Hill
N. Car. went to Petersburg Virginia some time after the death of said Neill
Little & brought from thence his two daughters Jennet McNair the present
plaintiff & her sister Margaret?
Answer: I do.
Interogatory 8th: Did not those children pass in the family of said McFarland &
among the relatives of said Neill Little as the lawful children of said Neill
Little. State fully all you know about it?
Answer: Said children were always regarded as the children of said Neill Little
by all the relatives of said Neill Little and as his lawful and legitimate
children and I never knew it to be directly disputed and only indirectly once by
one person who recently said that "her husband did not think that Neill Little
was married to said Jane Dickson." This is all I know of my own knowledge about
And as the said Justices do hereby certify that as have fully examined said Effy
McNair as to what or such things as she knows in relation to said suit as will
on the part of the plaintiff as of the defendant and have caused her to sign her
name to the same.
In witness whereof as hereunto sign our hands and seals at Williamsburg
aforesaid on this 10th February AD 1843 of Independence the 67th. Gilbert C.
Gere, William Worthy
State of North Carolina Richmond County
Pursuant to the annexed complaint to and directed of the House of William W.
McFarland at Laurel Hill in the County & State aforesaid on the 25th day of
March 1843. Arcd J McKay agent for the Plaintiff, being pursuant the proscodend
to take the following depositions of Barbara Cade, William McFarland & John R.
Buie who having been sworn in due form if having to depose the truth the whole
truth & nothing but the truth between the said parties have I in this commission
depaonth & said as follows:
Question 1th by Plaintiff agt A. J. McKay to Barbara Cade - Are you acquainted
with the Parties to this Writ - Answer: I am.
Question 2nd by Same - How old are you?
Answer: I believe I am Sixty Two Years of age.
Question 3rd: Were you acquainted with Neill Little who it is said died in
Petersburg Va. Answer - I was when I was Small
Question 4th: Were you related to said Little & if so in what way -
Answer: He was my brother.
Question 5th: Do you or do you not know that Duncan MacFarland of this place
went to Petersburg, Va. & brought home with him after the death of said Little
his Two daughters Jennet & Margaret Little?
Answer: He brought home with him the Two Girls ? & they were called Neill
Question 6th: Were they or were they not treated in this family of said
MacFarland as the Lawful children of Neill Little?
Answer: As far as I know they were further thing deponent Said Not.
Signed: Barbara Cade
Questions by same to William McLeod. You are acquainted with the Parties to
this Write. Answer: Yes
Question 2nd: What is your age
Answer: Upwards of Sixty Years
Question 3rd: Were you related or connected with Duncan MacFarland decd. who
lived at this place & if so in what being.
Answer: I was married to a daughter of said McFarland
Question 4th: Do you or do you not know that said Duncan McFarland went to
Petersburg Va & brought home with him two little girls viz Jennet & Margaret
Little the reported daughters of Neil Little his brother in Law.
Answer: I understood he did.
Question 5th: Do you or do you not know that said children were always treated
in the family of said McFarland & by the relations of said Neil Little as the
legitimate & lawful children of said Neil Little?
Answer: I think they were.
Question 6th: Did you ever see the reported mother of said children Jennet &
Margaret Little in Petersburg VA
Answer: In March 1809 I had occasion to pass through Petersburg & I was ugusted
by same adm of Neill Little citation to deliver a message or letter to Mrs.
Little who an enquiry I soon found & she her called Mrs. Little by way person of
Whom I enquired she asking particularly about her Two daughters Jennet &
Margaret Little which had been brought and here by Duncan MacFarland and further
this deponent Said Not. Signed: Wm McLeod
Questions to John R. Buie by Same
1th: How old are You
Answer: Fifty Gross of age last Jany
Question 2nd: Are you acquainted with these parties to this Writ. Answer: Yes
Question 3rd: Were you acquainted with Duncan MacFarland Decd who lived at this
place. Answer: I saw him several times during his life.
Question 4th. Did you or did you not see said Duncan MacFarland pass through
Cumberland when on his way home with two little girls he represented to be the
daughters of his brother in law Neil Little.
Answer: I saw him pass by my fathers who lived eighteen or nineteen miles worth
of Fayetteville on the main Neile forty road going in the direction of
Fayetteville with two little girls & he stated to same person at my Fathers
within my hearing that said little girls were the daughters of his brother in
law Neill Little - further this deponent saith not. Signed: Jn R. Buie