An Enduring Love

The Beaufort Historical Association is pleased to host guest speaker Jim Pool from Prescott, Arizona during a living history program, on Wednesday, October 15 at 3p.m. The program will take place on the Beaufort Historic Site, at the 100 Block of Turner Street in the Carteret County Courthouse c. 1796.

Mr. Poole will discuss the most famous love story affectionately told to those who visit Beaufort’s Old Burying Ground.  It is the story of Nancy Manney French who was the middle daughter of Dr. and Mrs. James Manney. Dr. Manney hired Charles Grafton Wilberton French, a recent graduate of Brown University, to be a tutor for Nancy.  French lived and taught in Beaufort for a few years, and then returned to Philadelphia to continue his law studies. Before leaving, he declared his love for Nancy and asked Dr. Manney’s permission for her hand in marriage upon his completion of law school and subsequent return to Beaufort. Dr. Manney refused to consent to his daughter’s engagement and immediately began to take steps to stop the romance.   He contacted his son-in-law Postmaster, William C. Bell, and made an agreement with him to hold any letters to and from Nancy or Charles. Letters were held and stored in a special box, perhaps with the Postmaster’s belongings.

Given the unpredictable nature of the mail service as well as the remote location of Beaufort, correspondences were not timely nor expected as frequently. Thus, Nancy and Charles may have thought little of hearing from each other. In 1851, after not hearing from Nancy, Charles French went on to California.  He married, practiced law for many years and served in the California state legislature.  He was later appointed to be Chief Justice over the Arizona Territory by President Ulysses S. Grant.

Wearing on his conscience for what he had done, Postmaster Bell contacted Nancy before he died and turned over the letters to her directly. However, Nancy did not know how to contact Charles or even of his whereabouts. Yet, in 1885 after his wife died, French decided to write directly to Postmaster Bell to ask about Nancy. Bell then wired Charles and told him to come to Beaufort by the fastest possible way, since Nancy was dying of the “galloping consumption.”

After 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. A little over a month later, 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 14, 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.

Jim Pool has been investigating the life of Charles Grafton Wilberton French for many years.  After his retirement from a career pursuing and managing research in mathematics, computer science and physics, Mr. Pool moved to Prescott, Arizona.   He became a volunteer for the Sharlot Hall Museum, and began his research on Charles French mainly to determine how he became the owner of the Governor’s Mansion in Prescott, Arizona which is now the principal asset of the Sharlot Hall Museum.  In addition to serving as a docent and pursuing research projects related to the museum and early Prescott residents, he is a member of the Museum’s Board of Trustees.  His primary current project is the preparation of the biography C. G. W. French, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Arizona from 1876 to 1884.  His trip to Beaufort is part of this project.  Mr. Pool says of his upcoming trip, “I welcome the opportunity to talk about Judge French and hope that perhaps a member of the audience will provide insight leading to additional information about French in Beaufort.” He added a few of his many questions about French such as “Why did a recent graduate of Brown University come to North Carolina?  How did French learn that his letters and Nancy’s letters were held in the Beaufort Post Office?  Where did French go after Nancy’s death?  Where is French buried?”

Seating for this event is limited to 40 people and advance reservations are recommended. For more information, or to reserve your seat for the history behind Beaufort’s most famous love story, please call (252) 728-5225, email offficemanager@beauforthistoricsite.org, or stop by the Beaufort Historical Association Visitors Center at 130 Turner Street.