|Dr. James Manney House|
Besides tending the sick in Beaufort and at Fort Macon, Dr. Manney was an entrepreneur and a prolific letter writer. President James Monroe appointed Dr. Manney as collector of customs. In the late 1820s, Manney competed with Otway Burns in supplying brick for the building of Fort Macon.
In a 1842/43 session of the North Carolina General Assembly, Dr. Manney was one of eleven men appointed as trustees for a new school—Beaufort Male and Female Academy.* Soon after, Charles Grafton Wilberton French (1820‒1891), a recent graduate of Brown University, came to Beaufort to teach at the school. He soon met and was smitten by Dr. Manney’s daughter Nancy.
In November 1844, Charles decided it was time to leave Beaufort to 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. However, Dr. 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, however, contacted his son-in-law Postmaster William Coale Bell (1807-1850) and made an agreement with him to hold any letters from Nancy or Charles.
Charles French returned to his hometown of Berkley, Massachusetts, where he studied with several prominent lawyers from 1845 through 1848. In December 1848 he was accepted into the Massachusetts Bar and began practice in Dedham, Massachusetts.
|Bell House circa 1830 - Except for a few|
sash, all exterior fabric is replacement;
front porch was added after 1885.
Postmaster Bell continued to hold letters between Nancy and Charles, perhaps storing them in a box with his personal belongings. Since mail service in those days was unpredictable, Nancy and Charles may have not been concerned—until time went by with no communication.
|Manney family on 1850 Beaufort Census|
|1860 New Bern Census|
|1870 New Bern Census|
In 1875 President Grant appointed Charles French to chief justice of the Supreme Court in the territory of Arizona. His wife Abby Ann Haskell died of cancer in 1879. In 1880 French was reappointed by President Hayes to a 2nd term as chief justice and assigned to town of Prescott; he established a law practice there in 1885.
Will you be so kind as to inform me if Nancy LeCroft Manney daughter of Dr. Manney of Beaufort is still living – if not what members of the Dr’s family yet survive. I am a friend of the family and wish much to learn something of them especially of the daughter Nancy. Please do not fail to answer as I feel a deep interest in this matter.
|Charles G.W. French|
Although Charles expected a response from the postmaster, he received one from Nancy.
On September 5, 1885 Charles wrote Nancy:
When I left Beaufort I was convinced of your regard but I did not know how your family regarded the matter. I enclose in this letter a little ring of shining hair which has been my cherished treasure through life and which I mean shall rest upon my heart in my grave. It has been sacredly and safely preserved by me through all my wonderings… After the reception of your letters received by me just prior to my marriage I never ceased to reproach myself for not having gone to Beaufort and visited with you in person. You must not blame the deceased Post-Master too much. (So…Charles learned of the interception of the letters in early 1866, just before his February 18 marriage to Abby Ann Haskell in Folsom, California.)
After almost a year of correspondence, Charles returned to Beaufort and married Nancy on April 29, 1886—almost 42 years since Charles had left Beaufort.
The ceremony likely took place in brother James Lente Manney’s home at 305 Ann Street (built by William Leecraft about 1853). J.W. Jones minister; witnesses, James Lente Manney (1827‒1889), Sidney Whitehurst Styron Manney (1845‒1912, James’ second wife) and Julia A. Howard (1831‒1888, Nancy’s youngest sister).
Charles made a brief trip to Washington, DC to find a home for his bride. Unfortunately, less than two months after the marriage Nancy died from consumption June 14, 1886. Nancy Leecraft Manney French was 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.
Charles French returned to Washington, DC, sold most of his property in Prescott, and returned to Sacramento. He died a few years later on August 13, 1891, on a trip to San Francisco, and was buried in the Old City Cemetery in Sacramento, in the family plot of his first wife.
▪ C.G.W. French letters to Nancy are held in the Rare Manuscripts Collection at the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. They were donated to the library in December, 1982 by Mrs. Max Guggenheimer — Mary Elizabeth Strickland, 1st great grand niece of Nancy Leecraft Manney.
▪ Special thanks to Jim Pool for his research.
▪ Image of Charles French scanned from Beaufort's Old Burying Ground by Diane Hardy, Mamre Wilson, and Marilyn Collins.