Vital Signs

The Life of an 'Old Republican'

Nathaniel Macon (Dec. 17, 1758- June 29, 1837), "Old Republican" statesman, the foremost public man of North Carolina in the early 19th century, was the sixth child of Gideon and Priscilla (Jones) Macon and was born at his father's plantation on Shocco Creek in what later became Warren County. The Macons were French Huguenots in origin, the Joneses English or Welsh. Both families had entered Virginia in the 17th century and were of the gentry when they moved to lands south of the Roanoke River in the 1730's. Macon's early life is known only in outline. Although he attended school under Charles Pettigrew and was enrolled in the College of New Jersey (Princeton) when the American War of Independence began, he was apparently, like Washington, largely self-taught. Certainly his reading was wide and his mind neither provincial nor narrow as has sometimes been suggested. His speeches indicate an astute knowledge of foreign lands and public finance, and in a not untypical letter Macon could casually mention David Hume, Gustavus Adolphus, and the Apocrypha.

Macon took the field with the New Jersey militia in 1776. When his college closed he returned home to Warren County to read law (which he never practiced) and English history. The interruption in his military service was not unusual since the Revolutionary War was fought by fits and starts and gentlemen served at will. (A similar hiatus occurred in the service of...

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