Ann Eliza Lindsay Morehead is better known by her married name, Mrs. John Motley Morehead. Morehead was the first North Carolina governor to serve two terms, and remains a high-profile figure in state history. However, his somewhat elusive wife led a fascinating life that in ways exceeded her husband’s in associations with Guilford County history, wealth, and culture.
“Eliza,” as she was known for most of her life, was born into the Lindsay family of Guilford County. The Lindsay’s were associated with a resettlement group of two-dozen or so families who arrived in the area around 1753. The group was known as the “Nottingham colony” and originated from the Nottingham Presbyterian Settlement area near the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. The family’s patriarch was Robert Lindsay, Sr. (c.1735-1801).
An account of the family history was handed down by Robert Goodloe Lindsay, Eliza Lindsay Morehead’s youngest brother. He stated, “Our family is of Scotch-Irish descent. Our great grandfather came to this country from that portion of Ireland known as Scotch-Irish. The Lindsay blood is decidedly more Scotch than Irish.” He continued, “Afterward some of them emigrated to America and, with other Scotch-Irish colonists, settled in the lower part of Pennsylvania and upper part of Maryland; and then a number sought new homes farther south. The greater portion of the number that came to North Carolina settled in Mecklenburg County, near and around Charlotte. Our grandfather [Robert Lindsay, Sr.] pitched his camp in Guilford, in Deep River, about twelve miles west of Greensboro as it now stands. He never left the place he first settled upon, but raised his large family there, consisting of six boys and two girls.”
As an associate of the Nottingham contingent, Robert Lindsay, Sr was probably a member of the Buffalo Presbyterian Church. By 1768, he acquired a plantation on Deep River on land previous cultivated by Martha and John Buis/Bewes. Lindsay grew his holdings to include 2,000-acres of land in what is today northern High Point. In 1769, he was granted a license by Rowan County officials to “Keep a Tavern at his Own dwelling house in this county” in what is today Guilford County. Although early records for the area were destroyed by British troops in 1781, his name was referenced on a Rowan County tax list as an early reference to indicate his settlement in the area. The family also operated a store, which began a tradition of Lindsay merchants in the Carolina piedmont.
In addition to managing his plantation, tavern, and store, Lindsay held a role in politics. When Guilford County was formed by the General Assembly in 1771, the “great hall” of his residence was the first seat of government until a court house could be built in 1774. A fragment of the old Lindsay home remains, though in ruinous condition. Robert was a Captain in the NC Militia. He served in the first independent House of Commons in 1777 and 1778, and was presiding Judge of Guilford County from 1781 to 1788.
Robert Lindsay Sr. was married twice, and fathered at least ten children. His first wife was Elizabeth Mebane, and by this marriage, there were two children, a daughter Elizabeth, who died young, and a son John A. Lindsay (1767-1828). Robert Sr’s second wife, whom he married 23 June 1772, was Ann “Nancy” McGee (1753/4-1832). Nancy McGee was a daughter of British Colonel John McGee (d.1773) and his first wife, likely named Elizabeth Ridge. McGee was quite wealthy for the backcountry, owning a mill, a country store, and several plantations around the family home near Julian, NC. John McGee’s second wife was Martha McFarlane and with her had five more children. Martha later played a heroic role in the Revolutionary War. At his death, land and cash were distributed among his children, including his eldest daughter, Ann “Nancy” McGee Lindsay. It is through Colonel McGee that the family is presumed to have assumed great wealth. McGee Street, immediately south of Blandwood in downtown Greensboro, is named for Eliza Lindsay Morehead’s grandfather, Colonel John McGee.
Robert Lindsay, Sr. and Ann “Nancy” McGee had at least eight children, including Samuel (c.1773); Robert, Jr. (1776); William (1777); Jane (1779); Elizabeth (1784); Andrew (1786); Susannah (1789); and David (1793). The couple are likely interred at the Lindsay family cemetery adjacent to the homeplace off Sandy Ridge Road in north High Point.
Col. Robert Lindsay, Jr. (26 September 1776-28 October 1818), the second son of Robert, Sr. and Ann “Nancy,” was likely born at this family homeplace. Upon reaching the age of majority, he acquired land at the new Guilford County seat Martinville around 1797. There, he operated a store and/or tavern. On 9 June 1803 he married Letitia “Letty” Harper (27 February 1785-25 July 1835) of Richlands plantation in Randolph County (silhouettes, right). There is no documentation on how he received the title “Colonel.”
Letty Harper was a daughter of Colonel Jeduthan Harper and Gazeal Parke. Colonel Harper (1736-1818) held political and military accomplishments. He was a member of the first State Convention in Hillsborough in 1775, where he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel by Ambrose Ramsey of the Army of North Carolina, also known as Chatham’s Regulars. In 1780 he was selected as a member of the House of Commons. Late in his life, he entered merchandising with his son-in-law Robert, Jr.
Robert, Jr. and Letty began their life together in the village of Martinville. In 1804, Robert purchased lot number 2 on Green Street in the West Square section of Martinville from William Dillon for $30. The crossroads community had been established in 1775 and grew into a commercial center for Guilford County adjacent to the Guilford Courthouse. President Andrew Jackson practiced law in Martinville around 1790. As merchants, the Lindsay’s grew influential and by 1806, they owned a dwelling lot valued for tax purposes at 400 pounds, another (presumably commercial) lot valued at 325 pounds (image, right).
Lindsay family genealogist Margaret Isabella Lindsay wrote “Robert settled a fine home at Martinsville [sic], then the county seat of Guilford, and on the site of the battle field. He was a fine gentleman of handsome person, and a great industry and energies, and all he touched or undertook seemed to prosper; he added year by year to his fortune…”
Robert, Jr. and Letty raised a family of six children: Ann Eliza Lindsay (15 October 1804- 29 July 1868), Jeduthan Harper Lindsay (1806-1881), Jesse Harper Lindsay (1808-1886), John Allen Lindsay (1811-1812), Mary Teas Lindsay (1813-1847), and Robert Goodloe Lindsay (1816-1886).
Young Eliza Lindsay was raised in the courthouse village of Martinville. The village was located between the Quaker families of New Garden Friends Meeting to the west and the families of Buffalo Presbyterian Church to the east, and she likely had acquaintances within both circles. She was described by her daughter Ann Eliza Morehead Whitfield, “She was a lovely little blonde, fair hair and complexion, bright, twink-ling eyes, timid, gentle, and modest to a painful extreme.”
The village of Martinville grew increasingly unpopular as an administrative center, and influential citizens rallied behind an initiative to plat a new courthouse town closer to the center of Guilford County, named Greensborough. Robert Lindsay participated in the creation of the new village by purchasing one of the first lots in April, 1808. The $52.50 lot was located at the northeast corner of today’s South Elm Street and February One Place. Family tradition states that he and Letty established a residence in the village after their son Jesse was born in 1808. In addition to a residence, they established a new store and a tavern.
Robert, Jr.’s reputation in the county was strong enough to allow his service for one term as a member of the House of Representatives for Guilford County in 1812, and as a postmaster for Martinville in 1816. By 1815, Robert Lindsay’s store was one of only ten in the county and his tavern one of eleven retailers of spirits. That same year, Robert Lindsay was listed as the eleventh wealthiest person in the county, owning 1,100 acres of land and enslaving seven people. One piece of their furniture illustrates their community stature, a corner cupboard crafted near Martinville, that is on display at Blandwood.
An advertisement in November 1818 posted by Robert Lindsay stated his attempts to settle his business concerns at Greensborough and Martinville as a result of deteriorating health by stating, “The Subscriber, in consequence of his bad state of health, has determined to draw in his business. All those indebted to him for Goods bought at Greensborough, are hereby notified that their accounts must be closed by the first day of January next, by note or otherwise. The late firm of LINDSAY & HARPER, at Martinville, having been dissolved at the death of Mr. Harper, those indebted to said firm, are called on to settle their accounts immediately by note or otherwise. The subscriber having purchased a large and general supply of seasonable Goods, which he is now opening in Greensborough, proposes to – them by the piece or retail for cash only. He pledges himself to his customers that they will find his Goods as cheap as any Goods of the same quality ever sold in the County. I purchased the whole of them with Cash and on the best terms.
Eliza’s childhood in Martinville was on the verge of abrupt change in 1818, when her father fell ill. He rewrote his last will and testament on 16th of July, stating “I Robert Lindsay being in sound mind and memory…”, perhaps an indication that his body was failing. He died on 28 October, just 13 days after Ann Eliza’s 14th birthday and was interred at Buffalo Presbyterian Church at 43 years of his age.
He left a large and young family, consisting of Eliza, the eldest; Jeduthan had just turned 10, Jesse was two months shy of 8 years, Mary was two years old, and baby Robert was six months old. He provided for his wife “the tract of land whereon I now live called the Old Town Tract together with my dwelling house, store house & other out buildings thereon with all my house furniture stock of horses cattle & hogs” plus $10,000 in cash. Each of his sons was bequeathed land, an enslaved person, and $12,000 in cash. Both of his daughters received land and $11,000 in cash. Specifically, he designated that his eldest daughter “Ann E. Lindsay” receive 218 acres of land adjacent to the McCain’s property, along with $11,000 in cash.”
Intriguingly, Robert, Jr. arranged for the protection of his daughters from unscrupulous men, by stating, “Whereas it frequently happens that women in marrying find themselves much deceived in the way men they may have made choice and instead of finding a protected for themselves and their property much the tyrant & spend thrift to guard my wisdom & daughters from want should it be there unfortunate lot to — — such men, I have thought proper to appoint J. Harper Lindsay, Absoleme T. Harper Andrew Lindsay my trustees for the remainder of my will.”
In the years after her father’s death, Eliza attended school at the Salisbury Academy. The Salisbury Academy was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church and Guilford County’s own David Caldwell. The school expanded in 1807 to receive both male and female students, and expanded in size in 1815 with a new main building. In June of 1820, the Western Carolinian reported on “the Examination of the Pupils of the Salisbury Academies” and referenced the progress of three Lindsay girls: Ann, Ann E., and Letitia. Ann and Letitia Lindsay were likely the daughters of Samuel, Robert’s older brother. Letitia M. A. Lindsay (b. 1802) and Laura Ann Lindsay (b. 1809) were likely enrolled at the Salisbury Academy with their cousin Ann Eliza after the death of their father in 1814.
In the 1820 report, Ann E. Lindsay was reported to have made considerable progress in arithmetic and music, with special regard as “the most correct and graceful” reader. There is also a reference that Eliza Lindsay took on a embroidery piece.
In the summer of 2018, an embroidered sampler reputed to be of the hand of Eliza Lindsay, was bequeathed to Preservation Greensboro and Blandwood Mansion from the estate of Shirley O. White and Dr. William Elliott White. The subject of the piece was not an academic demonstration of lettering, nor an image of a building or a map, but a representation of a bouquet of pink flowers. She initialed her work on the back hemline of the piece that was handed down through her daughter Mary Corinna.
On 6 September 1821, Eliza married the Rockingham County lawyer and state representative John Motley Morehead. Their marriage bond recorded Ann Eliza Lindsay’s name, with “Ann” written over “Eliza,” perhaps a mistake in remembering that her given name began with “Ann.”
Just two months later, Eliza’s mother accepted a proposal for marriage by widower Henry Humphreys (1787-1840). He and Letty wed on 7 November 1821. Humphreys was perhaps the wealthiest person in Guilford County at the time. Being a merchant in a similar capacity as Letty’s first husband, the Humphreys could afford the third pew in the Buffalo Presbyterian Church. The blended family first rented, then purchased, Blandwood, a four-room “hall and parlor” plan farmhouse on “the Salisbury Road” built in 1795 by Charles Bland. Humphreys expanded the house to six rooms after he purchased it in 1822.
The Humphreys next embarked on a grand new town house on Jefferson Square at Elm and Market, derisively known as “Humphrey’s Folly.” Upon completion of the Folly, the couple sold Blandwood to John Motley Morehead in 1827. The Letty and Henry had three more children – two of whom would survive to adulthood – before Letty’s death in 1835 “after lingering confinement.” Both Letty and Henry are interred at Buffalo Presbyterian Church.
After their marriage, Eliza and John settled in the old Lindsay house in Martinville. Their first child, Letitia, was born there in 1823. It was shortly thereafter that Morehead, his wife, and baby Letitia moved to Greensboro to begin their life at Blandwood. In 1825, Mary Corinna was born, followed by Ann Eliza in 1827, Mary Louise in 1830, John Lindsay in 1833, Emma Victoria in 1836, James Turner in 1840, and the baby of the family, Eugene Lindsay in 1845. Daily life in this six-room house must have been hectic, but Eliza likely received help in managing her family by enslaved people and her eldest daughters, as they matured.
Eliza was a perfect complement to John Motley Morehead. Her unassuming and introverted character might have balanced her husband’s gregarious and extroverted personality. “Always shrinking from publicity,” wrote her daughter Ann Eliza Morehead Whitfield, “she, nevertheless, became mistress of the Governor’s mansion in 1840-44, and afterwards shared with him the administration and attention of the whole State. The Governor was grand and courteous and delighted to call up the blushes to her cheek, and introduced her with great pride to his illustrious associates.”
Although she was prone to shrink from publicity, she held an astute sense of civics. Morehead described his wife’s social acumen in a letter to statesman Henry Clay: “Madam accompanied me to the north & on our return we spent a day in Washington – she thought it probable she would not attend yr inauguration on the 4t March – but postpone her visit until she could have the pleasure of paying her respects to Mrs. Clay – In the meantime she wished to pay a visit to the White House – but would not go a foot if I went – she had no idea of letting the Govr of N. C. call upon Captain [President] Tyler. – I yielded of course & she & some other ladies accompanied by Gov. Dudley made the call – If our men were such whigs as our ladies we have nothing to fear –”
Eliza was a prolific letter-writer, and her letters indicated the angst she felt for her family as her family struggled with ailments and death. Eliza was grief stricken over the loss of daughter Mary Louise Patterson (1830-1862): “…there is not a day passes that I do not think of my dear precious Louise and can scarcely realize, that I shall never see her again, in looking over some of my old letters a few days ago, I picked up one written just about this time last March inviting me to come up for Easter and bring the girls – – it made my heart ache to read it. We have nothing but trouble and sorrow now. I spend many anxious hours about my dear Turner he still enjoys being in the service and is in fine health…”
She expressed similar grief at the loss of her son-in-law William Waightstill Avery (1816-1864): “Oh! What a severe shock to me, when I heard of my beloved son-in-law’s sad and painful death, we heard how badly he was wounded but still they wrote us he was not considered dangerous…Mr. M. and Letitia went up and spent a few days with Corinna and the Dr. told Mr. Morehead he died from nervous exhaustion …I don’t know what Corinna will do and how she can get on without Mr. A she was so dependent on him for everything, he will be greatly missed.”
Eliza held an influence in shaping her husband’s progressive political position. According to an article written by Earle Godbey, editor-in-chief of the Greensboro News Company, “Mrs. Morehead had been reared in the abolitionist community of New Garden Church, and had always opposed her husband’s investing largely in [slaves].” Governor Morehead held a complicated position on the enslavement of people as he balanced popular politics with the position of his constituents, and his wife.
Similarly, her own education at the Salisbury Academy might have influenced Morehead’s investment in women’s education. Morehead established the Edgeworth Female Academy in 1840, but it was never a profitable operation for him. It is remembered that “At times he sacrificed great amounts of money for the development of a policy he believed in. An excellent example of this was the Edgeworth Female Seminary in which he invested great sums of money for little or no return.” Eliza’s position on the value of women’s education very well might have led to the establishment of the school, “…the only girls school of the period founded and owned by an individual.”
The design and architecture of the Morehead family home, Blandwood, is also indicative of Eliza’s temperament. In 1844, New York architect Alexander Jackson Davis presented plans for a large addition to the previously modest six-room Blandwood that provided for grander public rooms. The Reception Hall, and East and West Parlors with high ceilings and plaster moldings and marble appointments contrast dramatically with the older portions of the house. The old and new are segregated by a lack of a grand stair, and with the simple action of closing one door, Eliza’s private home could be closed off from her husband’s grand and progressive parlors. Additionally, family legend states that she never moved the Dining Room into the newly built wing out of nostalgia for the Dining Room in the oldest portions of the house.
In the last years of her life, Eliza Morehead and her husband were the subject of portraits by preeminent North Carolina artist William Garl Browne. In the portraits, each spouse is represented with a treasured object. In the case of her husband, he holds the Annual Report for the North Carolina Railroad. Eliza, falling back on her Salisbury Academy report card, holds her reading glasses…an indication of her love of reading.
In August 1866, Eliza suffered the death of her husband while he tried to regain his health in Rockbridge Virginia. Her own constitution, perhaps weakened by the loss of her immediate family, began to wane. She died on July 29, 1868. The Greensboro Patriot reported, “We regret to announce the death, on yesterday, of Mrs. Eliza Morehead, consort of the late Gov. John M. Morehead. This estimable lady had been feeble for some months.” She was 65 years old.
Educated and cultured, Eliza Morehead served as North Carolina’s First Lady as well as a dedicated mother and wife. However, she was often eclipsed by her husband due to her modest disposition and character. With a review of her family history, her interests, and her home, greater clarity on her own life provides a greater understanding of the prominent Morehead family and their home, Blandwood.
Written by Benjamin Briggs
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