RENNERT — The town of Rennert was the gathering place of about 100 people on May 13, including Tartan clad Scotsmen and Lumbee to celebrate the restoration work on McAlpin-McNair cemetery. Arriving were the sounds of the bagpipes provided by Piper Peter McArthur.
Over the past 50 years the cemetery was so neglected that many times it was overgrown with vines and trees that the centerpiece 20-foot-tall main monument erected in memory of Duncan and Catherine McNair could not even be seen. A couple of years ago, Thomas Hall, a native of Rennert, spearheaded the efforts to reclaim the monument and graveyard from the debris and vines. He contacted then mayor of Rennert, Michael Locklear, to see if anyone was willing to help with the effort.
Hall said he was surprised to learn from Locklear that people in the community were willing to donate time and heavy equipment to preserve what they considered to be an important part of their history. They managed to not only put the cemetery into the best physical shape that it has seen since 1932, but reclaimed the Tolar Cemetery that adjoins it. The beautiful gravestones and wrought iron fence were hidden by vines and trees that had grown up twisting the fence.
The effort to erect a monument to the McNairs was headed by their great-granddaughter Etta Brown, French professor at Flora MacDonald College and historian of the Virginia Dare chapter of the Daughters of American Colonists. She contacted descendantsand found many willing to contribute toward the cost of the monument.
The results lead to a railroad car of Mount Airy granite being delivered to the old McAlpin-McNair graveyard. where the McNairs are buried. The monument was built with a square base eight-feet-by-eight-feet that is 20 feet tall. The front has a gray marble tablet that reads “McNair” while a matching tablet on the rear reads “Duncan McNair and his wife Catherine McCallum McNair. They came from Scotland to N.C. in 1786.”
The monument was dedicated with a large crowd of descendants present in April 1932. In June 1932 Miss Etta Brown presented a marble memorial tablet to the St. Pauls Presbyterian Church, which is in a place of honor in the sanctuary. It reads “Duncan McNair First Ruling Elder of this church elected 1799.”
The May event was opened with prayer by Rev. P.J. Southam of the St. Pauls Presbyterian Church. Next Hall went into detail about all the work contributed by local members of the Lumbee tribe. The Rev. Rocky Williamson, who owns the business in front of the monument, provided heavy equipment needed to clear the area around the cemetery. The men of the community spent numerous hours cutting and hacking away to clean around the graves — taking back from nature the historic, sacred ground.
Hall presented Williamson with an autographed copy of the book “To Die Game” by St. Pauls native McKee Evans and an autographed photograph of the author. The book tells the story of Henry Berry Lowry, a Lumbee who was arrested for killing a Confederate official. While awaiting trial, he escaped and took to the swamps with a band of supporters. For eight years, with the support of locals, they eluded capture. In 1872, Henry disappeared and some of his other followers were eventually hunted down and killed by bounty hunters.
Hall also recognized the efforts of Michael Locklear, Maixe Maynor, and Julius Butler.
The Rev. Jack Morgan delivered greetings in Gaelic and discussed the history of the two Scottish flags, that of St. Andrews Cross and the Lion Rampant. McArthur presented a detailed history of the different types of bagpipes and their participation in war. Greetings were brought by Donald McLeod, the president of the Saint Andrews Society.
He spoke about local places which have Scottish origins such as Duart and Tobemory and Dundarrach. A history of the McNair family and the monument was also presented.
Hall said the scheduled date of the next annual gathering is April, 28, 2018 and plans are well under way for an educational and entertaining event.
Blake Tyner is a historian and author from Robeson County.