The Manney-French Love Story

Nancy Leecraft Manney, born in 1820, was the middle daughter of Dr. and Mrs. James Manney. 

Charles Grafton Wilberton French (born August 22, 1820), a recent graduate of Brown University, came to Beaufort about 1842, from his home in Berkley, Massachusetts, likely as a teacher in Beaufort. Nancy and Charles fell in love, but their romance was discouraged by Dr. Manney.

After a couple of years, French decided it was time to return to Philadelphia and continue his law studies. Before leaving he declared his love for Nancy and asked permission from her father to return as soon as his law studies were complete, to claim Nancy as his bride.

Manney refused consent to any sort of engagement. Nancy promised Charles she would wait for him and Charles promised to return for her.

Dr. Manney began to take steps to stop the romance. In his frustration he contacted his son-in-law Postmaster, William C. Bell, and made an agreement with him to hold any letters from Nancy or Charles. Letters were held and stored in a special box, perhaps with the Postmaster’s belongings. Since mail service in those days was unpredictable due to lack of regulations and Beaufort’s isolation, Nancy and Charles may have thought little of hearing from each other, until time went by with no communication.

In 1851, Charles French, not hearing from Nancy, went on to California and lived in Placer County but moved to Sacramento in 1854. He married, practiced law for many years and also served in the state legislature.

Over the years he had written Nancy, but his letters had been intercepted. The Beaufort Postmaster confessed before he died. One story tells that he had given the letters to her father. Another story says that the Postmaster Bell contacted Nancy before he died, turning over the letters to her directly. Whichever is true, Nancy thought Charles had forgotten about her and wasn’t sure even how to contact Charles.

The Civil War was at its peak. Nancy busied herself with nursing the sick and wounded and time went by...

In the meantime, in 1875, Charles French had been appointed by President Grant to the chief justice of the Supreme Court in the territory of Arizona. In 1880 he was reappointed by President Hayes to a second term as chief justice and assigned to the town of Prescott.

In 1885, after French’s wife died, he decided to write directly to Postmaster Bell to ask about Nancy. One story says Bell turned that letter over to Nancy and that she herself answered French’s letter. Another says that Bell wired Charles and told him to come to Beaufort by the fastest possible way, since Nancy was dying of the “galloping consumption.”

When Charles received this information he returned to Beaufort, and on April 29, 1886, Nancy Leecraft Manney married her beloved Charles Grafton Wilberton French in her home at 305 Ann Street. In less than two months, on June 14, 1886, Nancy succumbed to her consumption and died in the arms of her husband. French returned to California and died a few years later in San Francisco on August 13, 1891.

Nancy Manney French is buried in the Manney family plot with her brother, Dr. James Lente Manney and their parents in the Old Burying Ground on Ann Street not far from the James Manney House.

Image of Charles French scanned from Beaufort's Old Burying Ground by Diane Hardy, Mamre Wilson, and Marilyn Collins.