Bonnie Lass by the Well
Bonnie Lass by the Well


Sandra Nipper Ratledge

Here's the story of how a Scottish farm boy from landlocked Franklin, North Carolina came to meet and marry a bonnie lass living near the shores of Eastport, Maine over 1200 miles away. Theirs was a rare story of true love that began at first sight and resulted in a marriage that endured forty-four years! This is the love story of Bill and Mariah (McNeil) McDonald, my great-great-great-grandparents.

David William "Bill" McDonald, the third child of Anguish and Sarah "Sally" (Blythe) McDonald, was born on November 15, 1825 in Franklin, Macon County, North Carolina. At twenty-one years of age on July 27, 1846, he enlisted at Franklin, North Carolina as a private in Captain William T. Sherman's Company D of the Third Regiment U. S. Artillery under Commander William Gates in the War with Mexico. The enrollment record described him as five feet and eight inches in height, florid in complexion, and having dark eyes and dark hair. His occupation was listed as a laborer. The spelling of his surname was recorded as McDonnell for whatever reasons; however, the family commonly used McDonald. He had mustered in for five years.

For some twenty-three or twenty-four months of duty, he scouted the countryside in Mexico from Port Isabelle to Tampico lying on the Gulf Coast due south of what is now Brownsville, Texas. Fortunately, the Mexican War ended early in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo near Mexico City on February 1, 1848, before his five-year duty stint had expired. He remained on duty in Mexico, however, because the treaty did not become effective until July 4, 1848. Sometime in October 1848, he was transferred at Fortress Monroe Virginia from Company D to Company N of the same artillery regiment but commanded by George P. Andrew. At Governor's Island a few weeks later, he was again transferred and designated a sergeant in Company I under Captain Martin M. Burke also of the same regiment. From there, he was sent to Fort Sullivan in Eastport, Maine to complete the remainder of his duty. On July 28, 1851, he was honorably discharged as an orderly sergeant from Fort Sullivan by reason of expiration of service. Yet, he did not leave military service before meeting the woman whose path would merge with his own for the remainder of their lives.

Their first encounter altered the course of Bill and Mariah McDonald's entire lives and began simply enough on a warm, sunny day in Eastport, Maine. Here on the rocky shores of the Atlantic was the only home Rachel Mariah McNeil had ever known. There in the spring of 1825, she had been born on April 18 to loving parents James and Lucy Ann McNeil, and there in Washington County she had grown into a pretty maiden then approaching her twenty-fourth birthday. Typically by that age, most young women had already wed and were well into child-bearing years. However, the right fellow for Mariah had not yet walked into her life.

Little did she suspect that he was about to do just that! Nor had she imagined that thirst would lead him walking along a dry, dusty path directly toward her. Attending to her regular household chores on this day like other days, Mariah was busily lowering a brown wooden bucket into the old stone well and drawing cool water from its depths. Once Bill spotted her working at the well, he immediately headed that way. With every step closer, he grew more thirsty. As his thirst intensified, so did curiosity about this lovely, young woman, alone at the well.

Nearing her, he could see clearly her rosy-cheeked beauty. "I wonder if I might trouble you for a drink of water, M'am?" he asked politely. Obligingly, she smiled, dunked the gourd dipper into the bucket, and then handed him a full dipper. He sipped greedily and begged another dipperful of the cool, refreshing water. "Ahhhhh!" he marveled. "That's the best water I ever swallered." Immediately, he was enamored of her radiant smile, and her genuine kindness struck a chord in his heart. He knew instantly she was the one for him. "If her hand's not already promised," he decided at once, " then I'll make that bonnie lass my bride!" So, he did just that on May 1, 1849, in Eastport, Maine. They enjoyed but a short courtship since both felt meant for one another.

This was his story told and retold countless times around the hearth as dancing flames crackled coals in the grate. Sometimes, midday heat kindled fond memories of this meeting while he sat rocking in his chair on the front porch. He was always ready to share this unforgettable episode with any good listener. Thus, as might be expected, the story was handed down through five generations. So, it was from Cousin Jim McDonald, sitting in the living room of his home on Clearwater Road in McMinn County, Tennessee, that I heard this old, old story for the first time.

©1999--present year by Sandra N. Ratledge. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Any reproduction or inclusion of this website's contents in publication whether online or in print is prohibited. Do NOT copy photographs and upload on Find a Grave or any other internet websites, blogs, attach to family trees, or print in publications. Do NOT copy stories, articles, documents, sketches, anecdotes, letters, obituaries, content data, etc. and attach to family trees or upload on other websites of any kind.

This site is dedicated to the memory of my parents, Tommy and Beulah (Cline) Nipper.

Sandra Ratledge

All you kinfolks, put some mail in that old box!