He was born in 1874 near Wagram, which at that time was part of Richmond County before Scotland County was formed in 1899.
His great-niece, Dr. Mary Wayne Watson presented a sketch of his life Monday night to those attending a meeting of the Richmond County Historical Society at Rockingham City Hall.
His life was cut short by illness, and he died at age 33. But before his death, he became a teacher, lawyer and state legislator from Scotland County, wrote poetry and was a regular contributor to the Charlotte Observer.
Many of his poems reflected life in the Sandhills Section as he remembered it, especially as a youth.
For his manuscript collection of "Songs, Merry and Sad," he won the first Patterson Cup in 1905, the state's highest literary honor.
n McNeill's honor, Watson created the McNeill Seminar which she presents to keep his works a part of society today.
She heads the Department of Humanities and Social Services at Nash Community College where she teaches English composition, research writing, American and British literature, and film.
McNeill was named to the N.C. Literary Hall of Fame in 1998. A state highway historical marker honors him in Wagram.
Watson said he has had an impact on other writers and sparked the interest of many people in literature.
As one of the speakers in recent years against a proposed toxic waste dump in Scotland County, Watson said she quoted from one of McNeill's poems about nature to make her point in opposition to the proposal.
She said his work in poetry, and the newspaper columns of his day which he wrote were down-to-earth and widely accepted.
McNeill's poetry about the crisp days of October, the "possum time" of rural North Carolina, and of his days with his "sunburnt boys" swimming in the dark waters of the Lumber River (he called it the "Lumbee") were popular in his day, and remain so today, Watson said. Two editions of his poetry are still in print.
A collection of 40 of McNeill's prose pieces in the Observer was published in 1998 by St. Andrews College Press in Laurinburg under the title, "Home in the Sandhills."
His poetry is available on the World Wide Web at poetry.poetryx.com