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Emma Newkirk


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At a Glance

Mrs. Ethel Parker Wray the great-granddaughter of Burwell student Emma Newkirk recalled a Civil War anecdote of her great-grandmother where a resourceful Emma, hearing Union soldiers approaching her neighborhood, took hams from her smokehouse and hung them under the planks of the bridge which the soldiers crossed [1].


Emma Newkirk was born on June 5, 1837, in New Hanover County, NC, the daughter of Bryan Newkirk, a man of considerable wealth, and Margaret Hawes.

Emma attended the Burwell School as a boarding student c. 1848. Emma's parents considered their daughter frail and sent a slave girl to accompany her to the school, because they felt she was too delicate to go alone.

Emma studied music and is briefly mentioned in a letter by Mrs. Burwell (Margaret Anna Robertson) dated January 19, 1856, but there is no surviving record of her in her student days, save her name appears in the Burwell School Catalogue of 1848-51 [2].

On December 29, 1854, at the age of seventeen, Emma married Erskine McKoy. Her marriage came almost immediately following her departure from the Burwell School. The couple, who had seven children, lived on a plantation in Cumberland County, NC, where they owned a number of slaves.

Erskine McKoy fought in the Civil War and died a few years later. According to family records, Emma Newkirk owned a considerable amount of jewelry and silver. Near the end of the war when she saw Union soldiers approaching her home, she took steps to save a few of her valuables. She tied some of her jewelry in a rag and tossed it into some litter on the floor. Two pieces of this jewelry were inherited by her great-great-granddaughter, Mrs. Jo Ann Meacham McAllister.

After her husband's death, Emma taught music. She lived in Fayetteville, NC and drove a horse and buggy to teach students in their homes. Emma died at the age of forty-six in Cumberland County, NC on October17, 1883. She and her husband, Erskine McKoy, are buried at Old Bluff Presbyterian Church, Wade, NC.

Two of Emma's matching  "fancy chairs"  with spindle backs, were given to the Burwell School by her great-great-granddaughter Mrs. Jo Ann Meacham McAllister [1].

Biographical Data

Important Dates

Emma Newkirk was born on June 5, 1837, in New Hanover County, NC. She died on October 17, 1883, and was buried in Old Bluff Presbyterian Church, Wade, NC [1].

Places of Residence

Schools Attended



  1. Mary Claire Engstrom. The Book of Burwell Students: Lives of Educated Women in the Antebellum South. (Hillsborough: Hillsborough Historic Commission, 2007).
  2. Burwell School Catalogue of 1848-51.