Politician and Prize-Winning Poet John Charles McNeill

John Charles McNeillOn July 24, 1874, poet John Charles McNeill was born in Wagram. He spent a blissful childhood in Scotland County before attending Wake Forest College. After studying law his junior year, McNeill graduated as valedictorian of his class in 1897, and received a master’s degree in English two years later.

At 26, he moved to Lumberton, where he established himself as an attorney, although he preferred journalism and poetry to the drudgery of law. It was in Lumberton that he began submitting material, including poems, to a weekly newspaper.

Elected to the state senate in 1903, McNeill continued to pen poems, a number of which were published in Century Magazine and the Charlotte Observer. He joined the staff at the Observer in 1904. Already an established poet, he became a roving journalist, covering interesting stories from all over the state. In October 1905, McNeill won first place in the competition for the inaugural Patterson Cup, the first literary contest held in North Carolina. The achievement brought McNeill the unofficial title of “North Carolina’s Poet Laureate.”

McNeill died at age 33. His boyhood home has been restored and is open to the public at Temperance Hall in Wagram.

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