Martha McGee (McFarlane) (1735 - 1820)

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Nicknames: "Mattie"
Birthplace: Alamance, NC, USA
Death: Died in Randolph, NC, USA
Occupation: midwife
Managed by: Alan Christopher Smillie
Last Updated:

About Martha McGee (McFarlane)

MARTHA McFARLANE McGEE BELL, 1734-1820 Martha McFarlane was born in 1734 in Alamance County, North Carolina of Scottish Parents. At this time I do not have any information about her father or mother. Sometime around 1850 Martha Married John McGee who was born about 1716 and about 15 years her senior. John McGee at his death in 1773 had seven plantations in North Carolina of 40,000 acres and seven children. Martha took over the managing of this large property at this time. Robert McGee in his paper written in 1992 quoted an artical written about Martha but he did not say from whom.

Quoting: " After the death of her husband (John McGee), being the richest widow anywhere in the region, she was much sought after. . . she was 'a little haughty' but this probably orginated with those who could not succeed in gaining her affections. . . 'a good looking woman'. There was nothing about her that could be regarded as masculine and nothing in her deportment, ordinarily, that was at all inconsistent with the modesty and delicacy of her sex but she was a woman of strong mind, ardent in her temperment and remarkably resolute in whatever she undertook. . . Strong in her attachments, and equally so in her dislikes; there could be no better friend, and no more undesirable enemy; but there was no woman in the country who sustained a better character, or was respected by all the better part of the community. High minded, conscious of her integrity, and inflexable in her adherence to what she believed to be right, she seems to fear nothing except her Maker, and to desire nothing so much as the universal perseverance of peace and freedom, truth and righteousness."

Even prior to the Revolutionary War Martha was noted for her courage and intelligence. Caruther's noted that she could instantly create appropriate responses to emergency situations. After John McGee died in the period before the Revolutionary War Martha carried out his job. In one case she rode a horse, with only her memory of his talking of the places that he stopped along the way to guide her. Taking servents with wagons filled with deerskins, furs, flax-seed, and beeswax she set out to trade for provisions for the plantations and supplies for the store. On the 400 mile winter journey to Petersburg and back she found her way through a heavy snow storm by relying on the knowledge that the largest, heaviedt limbs grew on the south side of the pines.

The Revolutionary War actually started many years before official hostilities in savage partisan rivalry. The american Revolution was part regular and part guerilla warfare, part revolution and part civil war and in this war the Scotch-Irish were largly pitted against the british and their supporters the Tories. It was a savage war, as all wars are. It was said that Martha could not stand the sight or the mention of the name of a Tory and refused to intercede on behalf of those condemned to die. During the war the widowed Martha associated with William Bell, a neighbor who lived near Sandy Creek. They were married on the 6th of May 1779 during the war and six years after John McGee's death. William Bell was a rich but childless widower who owned a grist mill on Deep River called Bell's Mill and 40,000 acres of land. Bell's Mill was located about a mile above the Deep River ford on the road from Greensburo to Ashburo at a point where Muddy Creek emptied into Deep River. It was situated just below a high beautiful knoll on which stood their house. In 1990 the chimney was still standing at the house site. Robert McGee stated in 1990 that Bell's mill was still standing a few years ago. The mill site in now under a lake and highway 220 crosses a new bridge over the area of the mill area, the State of North Carolina named the bridge 'Martha McGee Bell Bridge'.

During the war, Tories burned their barn, wounded one of her sons, wounded and drove William Bell into hiding, and threatened to shoot the entire family or burn the house down with them in it. One day when Martha's aged father was visiting her, Tories came with the intention to kill the old man, they draw their swords and started to advance on him but instantaneously, Martha seized a broad-ax and raised it over her head threatening to bring it down on the head of one of the swordsmen, speaking in her Scottish accent with a sternness which was irrestible, " if one of ye touches 'em I'll split ye down with this ax. touch 'em if ye dare." They dared not, sheathing their swords they left the house.

==Find A Grave==

Birth: 1735, Alamance County, North Carolina, USA Death: Sep. 9, 1820, Randolph County, North Carolina, USA

Martha "Mattie" McFarlane married Col. John McGee (d. 1773) around 1759. He was a prosperous land owner and merchant, a widower with two children: Samuel McGee (c.1752-1810) and Ann "Nancy" McGee (1753/4-1832, Mrs. Robert Lindsay). There were five children born to the marriage of Martha and John: Jane McGee (1760-1835, Mrs. John Welborn), Susannah McGee (1761-1843, Mrs. Elisha Mendenhall), Rev. John McGee (1763-1836), Rev. William McGee (1768-1817) and Andrew McGee (d. 1819).

After John McGee's death, Martha married Captain William Bell, who was the first sheriff of Randolph County, NC, and there were no children born to this marriage. Martha was a midwife, and often traveled about the countryside to see to the birth of children, and also to care for those who were ill. She was a devoted Presbyterian, and converted her first husband from the Church of England to the Presbyterian Church, and persuaded him to leave some property to the Church. She was a fiery patriot....and made something of a name for herself as a spy during the Revolution.


Family links:

Spouse:
 John McGee (____ - 1773)*

Children:
 Jane McGee Welborn (1760 - 1835)*
 John McGee (1763 - 1836)*
 William McGee (1768 - 1817)*
  • Calculated relationship
 

Burial: Bell Welborn Cemetery Randolph County North Carolina, USA


Created by: John Field Pankow Record added: Feb 18, 2007 Find A Grave Memorial# 17972512

-------------------- Martha McFarlane was born in Alamance County. No positive record of her parents’ names has been located, but her maiden name indicates that she was Scotch-Irish ancestry. From her childhood she possessed a strong mind and will and manifested devotion to the country of her birth. In 1759, she married John McGee. His untimely death in 1773 left her the richest widow in that frontier region. She was sought after by many widowers and bachelors, but she carried on by herself the business she had inherited. In one case, with her memory of John McGee talking of the places that he stopped along the way to guide her, taking servants with wagons filled with deerskins, furs, flax-seed and beeswax, she set out on a 400 mile winter journey to trade for provisions for the plantations and supplies for the store.

On 6 May 1779, Martha married William Bell, a childless widower. He operated a gristmill in the Deep River community called the Bell’s Mill, which became part of the new Randolph County formed that year. The mill was located about a mile above the Deep River ford on the road from Greensburo to Ashburo at a point whereMuddy Creek emptied into Deep River. Bell was elected the first sheriff of the county 13 Dec 1779 and later became clerk of court. His mill was a gathering place for Whigs. There were no children born to this marriage.

Martha was a midwife and nurse, and often traveled about the countryside to see to the birth of children, and care for those who were ill. She was a devoted Presbyterian and converted her first husband from the Church of England to the Presbyterian Church, and persuaded him to leave some property to the Church. She was a fiery patriot and made something of a name for herself as a spy during the Revolution. She is recorded in the Sons of the American Revolution as a spy.

Her greatest fame is based on General Cornwallis’s visit to Bell’s Mill after the Battle of Guilford Court House on 15 Mar 1781. Cornwallis moved southward to the mill in order to rest, regroup and care for the wounded. He also needed provisions and wished to use the mill for grinding corn mill to feed the troops. Family annals state that Martha regarded Cornwallis as a perfect gentleman even though he was an enemy. She extracted a promise from him that he would do no harm to the home or mill in exchange for her hospitality. As soon as Cornwallis left Bell’s Mill, General Harry Lee arrived. Martha served as his guide to the next campground of the British general, and her knowledge of the countryside enabled Lee to stage a successful counterattack with his small cavalry force. Her services as a nurse kept her in touch with events, and she was often able to penetrate enemy lines and report on troop movements.

Before the cessation of hostilities, she rode horseback with Mrs. Mary Dougan to Wilmington, NC in an unsuccessful attempt to see her son, Colonel Thomas Dougan, who was a prisoner aboard a British ship in the harbor.

Because the Bells were such active Whigs, Colonel David Fanning, leader of the Loyalist troops in the area, made many attempts to catch William Bell at home. This constant danger forced Bell to hid out or stay with patriot forces for months at a time. While he was away, Martha assumed responsibility for the home, children, mill and farm. On one day in 1781, Fanning came to the mill intent on killing the Bells, but the family’s display of strength caused the attacking party to leave without killing anyone or burning the house.

During the war, Tories burned their barn, wounded one of her sons, wounded and drove William Bell into hiding, and threatened to shoot the entire family or burn the house down with them in it. One day when Martha's aged father was visiting her, Tories came with the intention to kill the old man, they drew their swords and started to advance on him but instantaneously, Martha seized a broad-ax and raised it over her head threatening to bring it down on the head of one of the swordsmen, speaking in her Scottish accent with a sternness which was irresistible, " if one of ye touches 'em I'll split ye down with this ax. touch 'em if ye dare." They dared not, sheathing their swords they left the house.

Martha Bell was also instrumental in founding Old Union Methodist Church, where some of the first camp meetings in North Carolina were held.

Martha Bell died a year before her husband, whose death occurred on 22 Oct 1821. They were buried in the Bell-Welborn graveyard near New Market School in Randolph County. A marker at the site of the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, placed there in 1929 by the DAR, honors her memory. The tribute reads, “Loyal Whig, Enthusiastic Patriot, Revolutionary Heroine.”



      
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Martha McFarlane's Timeline

1735
1735
Alamance, NC, USA
1756
1756
Age 21
Guilford County, North Carolina, United States
1757
1757
Age 22
1760
March 5, 1760
Age 25
March 5, 1760
Age 25
Guilford County, Province of North Carolina
1763
June 9, 1763
Age 28
Guilford, NC, USA
1768
January 1, 1768
Age 33
Guilford, NC, USA
1768
Age 33
1779
May 6, 1779
Age 44
1820
September 20, 1820
Age 85
Randolph, NC, USA