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Fayetteville Forever | By Allison Williams

As long as there has been a Fayetteville, N.C., there have been MacRaes here.

Well, almost. The city was established in 1762. The MacRaes arrived from Scotland about 10 years later, in 1773 or 1774, and not long after began a new life in what is now downtown Fayetteville.

Back then, the city was called Campbellton. Scots settled on the banks of the Cape Fear River, among them the McNeills, the McFadyens and the MacRaes. The MacRaes were a fighting and feuding clan, bitter over the British takeover of Scotland. The English government called them “the wild MacRaes.”

Those wild MacRaes would become some of North Carolina’s most well-known and hard-working citizens. They would include Civil War veterans, postmasters, a North Carolina Supreme Court judge, the first dean of the law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the first female graduate of that university.

Now, nine generations later, the MacRaes continue to make their mark. The streets we use every day bear the names of their extended family members: Hinsdale, Broadfoot and Nimocks. For every long-time Fayetteville family, there is most likely a link to MacRae. The MacRaes often work quietly behind the scenes at St. John’s Episcopal Church and for many civic boards and charities. You have probably passed the office of MacRae, Perry & MacRae where the fifth generation of MacRaes to practice law works across the street from the Cumberland County Courthouse. On display at the Museum of the Cape Fear are artifacts that the family has held dear for almost 200 years.

It all began with Duncan MacRae, who left Invernesshire, Scotland, with his wife Ann Cameron. They first settled in Wilmington, then moved to Moore County and finally to Fayetteville. It is likely that they were related to the MacRaes of Wilmington, a family that would eventually own 70,000 acres of land in New Hanover, Pender and Columbus counties, establish successful banking and business careers and, perhaps most famously, turn Grandfather Mountain into an international tourism destination.

Duncan and Ann MacRae made the long journey to North Carolina with their young son. The younger Duncan MacRae grew up in Fayetteville. He married Rhoda Young, and they had a son, John. John became the city’s longtime postmaster, serving from 1818 to 1853, and owned the local newspaper for a few months in the 1820s. It seems he was always in the right place at the right time. He attended the funeral of George Washington, served as a pallbearer for Andrew Jackson, spent a day with Washington Irving and accompanied the Marquis de Lafayette when Lafayette toured North Carolina. MacRae married three times.

But it was his son who stole the show in 1825 at the young age of five. Little Duncan Kirkland MacRae was hoisted up on a table to greet Lafayette, a national hero. The Frenchman came to the American colonies to volunteer his services during the Revolutionary War. He gained fame on the battlefield and was instrumental in defeating General Cornwallis at Yorktown. Many American cities changed their names in honor of the marquis. Campbellton became Fayetteville, and the North Carolina city was the first namesake in the country and the only one Lafayette visited during his national tour in 1825.

“I beg you, my dear sir, and the citizens of Fayetteville,” the marquis said at his rock-star welcome, “to accept the tribute of my deep and lively gratitude for your very honorable and gratifying reception.”

And where did he sleep during those nights in Fayetteville? Home of the MacRaes. The house stood on what is now the old Cumberland County Courthouse on Gillespie Street. A marker out front commemorates the occasion. The bed the marquis slept in has remained in the MacRae family for generations and was recently on display at The Woman’s Club in downtown Fayetteville. Lafayette wore a rosette badge to a grand ball given in his honor. At the ball’s closing, he removed the rosette from his lapel and presented it to his hostess. The MacRaes have held on to that artifact, too, and it is on display at the Museum of the Cape Fear, along with a brass candlestick which Lafayette presented to his MacRae hosts.

When little Duncan MacRae’s parents lifted him on to the table to welcome Lafayette, perhaps it was that moment that laid the groundwork for generations of MacRae men. Duncan and his half-brother, James Cameron MacRae, would go on to become famous attorneys. James Cameron would become the first of five generations of MacRae men to practice law.

Duncan quickly became known as an eloquent speaker. President Pierce appointed him consul-general in Paris. He came home to North Carolina and ran for governor but was defeated by John W. Ellis in 1861. MacRae fought in the Civil War and earned the nickname “Immortal.”

But it was the Civil War that would test the MacRaes. James Cameron MacRae and his four brothers all fought, four of them for the Confederacy and one for the Union.

Alexander MacRae was a Southerner through and through, but the Fayetteville native made an oath when he graduated from the United States Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. It wasn’t an easy decision. As Southern states passed secession ordinances, his fellow officers at Fort Union, N.M., began to resign their commissions and return home. In February, a colleague at Fort Union wrote, “Of all the officers here, only Lt. MacRae of North Carolina, Capt. Shoemaker, M.S.K., and myself are thoroughly loyal.”

On Feb. 21, 1862, MacRae faced 1,000 charging Texas Confederates. “Captain MacRae, beyond hope, drew out his pistol and calmly seating himself on one of his guns defended until he was shot to death,” Lt. Franklin Cook told a Philadelphia newspaper. Some say he was slain by fire from a half-dozen revolvers as he clung to a gun barrel. MacRae eventually became the namesake for streets, an Army post and even a canyon, but his heroism went unmentioned in his hometown newspaper, the very paper his father had once owned. The paper did not even print his name.

Five years after his death in the Battle of Valverde, his body was escorted across the country to be buried in the cemetery of the U.S. Military Academy. The Cincinnati Times reported, “The memory of the gallant MacRae belongs to his countrymen one and all. The most heroic death in the national army was his.”

Today, a brick paver outside the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in downtown Fayetteville acknowledges the war that literally pitted brother against brother. Alexander MacRae wore blue. His four brothers wore gray.

One of those brothers, James Cameron MacRae, was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly. He was appointed superior court judge and then in 1892 elected to the bench of the North Carolina Supreme Court. In 1899, he was elected as the first dean of the law school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He married Frances Broadfoot Hinsdale. Three of their sons, Samuel Hinsdale, Cameron Farquhar and James Christopher, were lawyers. His daughter, Mary Shackleford, was the first female graduate of UNC. She married Robert Lilly Gray. Their son, Robert L. Gray, would go on to become editor of The Fayetteville Observer.

It was Duncan MacRae who was considered the unlucky brother. He turned down a chance for the governorship, speculated on the railroad and lost and dated the infamous Ann K. Simpson, who, years later, would go on trial for murder.

On Nov. 8, 1849, Ann’s husband, Alexander, a wealthy carriage shop owner, died suddenly. Autopsy results revealed that he had been poisoned. A warrant was issued for Ann’s arrest, and she was extradited from Havana, Cuba, where she had fled shortly after Alexander’s death. She was the first woman ever tried for murder in Cumberland County. At her trial, prosecutors presented letters alluding to infidelity and Ann’s visit to fortune-teller Polly Rising, who predicted that Alexander would be dead within a week. Prosecutors said Ann used rat poison to taint her husband’s coffee at dinner in the famous Fayetteville landmark, the Oval Ballroom.

Duncan MacRae delivered the closing argument. “You cannot give her peace,” he told jurors. “You cannot restore her joy. But gentlemen, you can let her live.”

The jury declared her not guilty.

So the irony of the unlucky Duncan MacRae is that he turned out to be lucky after all.

The MacRae men, famous and infamous, consume most of the family history. Women, who lose the family name when they marry often become lost over the generations. But the MacRae women should not be overlooked.

It was Mary Ann Shackleford MacRae who became the first woman to graduate from UNC. MacRae women have been poets, authors, founding members of Fayetteville’s Junior League, beloved teachers and the backbone of numerous charities.

And there is Elizabeth MacRae, who left Fayetteville to pursue acting.

“I was the renegade,” she said recently, laughing.

Elizabeth MacRae left Fayetteville for New York City on Oct. 3, 1956, with a $100 bill and a dream of becoming an actress. Her father, Superior Court Judge James MacRae, gave her the money and told her to come home when it ran out.

MacRae is perhaps best remembered as Lou Ann Poovie, the girlfriend of “Gomer Pyle, USMC.” She also co-starred beside Gene Hackman in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1974 film “The Conversation.” In fact, she appeared in more than 50 television shows. She played April Climbly, the girlfriend of Festus on “Gunsmoke.” She was also Meg Baldwin on “General Hospital.” She traveled the world and eventually settled in New York.

But MacRae wanted to be home. In 2001, MacRae and her husband, Charles Halsey, moved back to Fayetteville. It is this generation, Elizabeth MacRae, her brother Jim MacRae and nephew Jim MacRae Jr., plus dozens of other family members scattered throughout Fayetteville and beyond, who are the keepers of this history. They have kept and passed down an historical scrapbook started by their mother and grandmother, Dorothy Hendon MacRae.

They have discovered that not only do their roots go back to Fayetteville’s first beginnings but indeed, years before, to the original founding of our country.

MacRae said it is this history that inspires her family. By remembering what their ancestors have accomplished, it reminds them that there is work left to be done.

“They were leaders,” she said. “They were pioneers, brave courageous people interested in bettering the community in which they lived. To know where you come from gives you an obligation to keep it going.”