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Margaret McLester


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At a Glance

Orphaned as a young girl, Margaret McLester lived at her grandfather's estate, Ayr Mount in Hillsborough, NC and likely enrolled at the Burwell School in 1850 or 1851. Never married, she played the role of maiden aunt to the children in her extended family [1].


Margaret McLester was the daughter of Scots merchant William Kirkland's child, Phebe Kirkland, who married Nelson McLester of Columbus, GA. The little girl came very early as an orphan to her grandfather's great brick manor house, Ayr Mount in Hillsborough, NC, and spent the whole of her long life there. Margaret McLester is listed in the Burwell School Catalogue of 1848-51 [2]; she therefore must have enrolled in 1850 or 1851 at the age of eight or nine. The little girl probably walked in each morning from Ayr Mount, possibly with an older Kirkland, Susan Mary Kirkland , who also walked in later years from Ayr Mount to the Nash & Kollock School. So far is known, this is the only schooling Maggie McLester received.

Adopted by John Umstead Kirkland at Ayr Mount in Hillsborough, NC, she devoted the whole of her long, useful life to his family. She seems to have become the pattern of the  "maiden aunt"  to absolute perfection. Although she never married, the name  "Maggie McLester"  is not forgotten--a number of loving friends named their children for her (e.g. Margaret McLester Strudwick, who married Thomas May Van Planche.

Ann Spotswood Strudwick has left this thumbnail sketch of Maggie McLester in her book, Ladies in the Making:

"[At] Ayr [the maiden aunt] was Miss Maggie McLester who busily darned the socks and bound up the wounds of the lively little Kirklands. Pleased by the prospect of a changed scene, she accepted Aunt Maria's (Maria J. Nash) offer (to become a companion to the Nash & Kollock School), and was soon established in the niche from which matrimony had so suddenly removed her predecessor. Miss Maggie was good company and a good housekeeper, but possessed of a will and a temper quite as determined as cousin Sarah's (Sarah Jane Kollock ). Naturally, when the two came together under one roof there was daily conflict, a source of amusement and sometimes of dismay to those of us whose purpose it was to occupy a position of strict neutrality."

Mrs. Nash (Ann Spotswood Strudwick does not say so, but each of the proponents was a Burwell girl, an orphan who had had to learn to fend for herself. It is interesting that each should have confronted the other in the old Margaret Lane household (see Sarah Jane Kollock ).

To earn her living after losing her ample inheritance invested in Confederate bonds, Miss Maggie became a housekeeper in a series of families. She died unmarried at the age of seventy-nine. She is buried in the Kirkland Family Cemetery at Ayr Mount in Hillsborough, NC in the shelter of a great deodar cedar. A rough fieldstone marks her grave. In the late 1960s one could discern the letters,  "Maggie McLester,"  but these have been eroded away [1].

Biographical Data

Margaret was called Maggie.

Important Dates

Margaret McLester was born on September 3, 1842. She died on August 1, 1921, and was buried in Kirkland Family Cemetery at Ayr Mount in Hillsborough, NC.

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.