Steele, John, 1764-1815

Alternative names
Birth 1764-11-16
Death 1815-08-14

Biographical notes:

Army officer, public official, and U.S. representative from North Carolina, 1789-1793.

From the description of John Steele correspondence, 1782-1792. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 70980527

John Steele of Rowan County, N.C., was a merchant; planter; banker; influential Federalist; U.S. representative, 1790-1792; state and federal Indian commissioner; U.S. comptroller of the currency, 1796-1802; major general of the militia; and member of the N.C.-S.C. boundary commission. He married Mary Nessfield of Fayetteville, N.C., and they had three daughters: Ann Nessfield Steele (d. 1804), Margaret Steele Ferrand (d. 1830), and Eliza Steele Macnamara (d. 1836). Mary managed family business interests after her husband's death and cared for her granddaughters after their mother Margaret's death.

From the description of John Steele papers, 1716-1846 [manuscript]. (Oceanside Free Library). WorldCat record id: 23739575

U.S. Representative, 1789-1793; Federalist from North Carolina; member, N.C. House of Commons, 1787, 1788, 1794, 1795,1806, and 1811-1813; native of Salisbury, N.C.

From the description of John Steele papers, 1790-1845. (University of South Carolina). WorldCat record id: 40693228

Congressman from N.C. and comptroller of the treasury, 1796-1802.

From the description of Letters, 1797-1825. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 39100434

John Steele (1764-1815), son of William (died 1773) and Elizabeth Maxwell Gillespie Steele (died 1790), was born in Salisbury, N.C., where his parents operated a tavern. John Steele received his education in Salisbury and engaged in an early career as a local merchant. By 1783, Steele had extended his business connections to link himself with the mercantile concern of Robert Cochran in Fayetteville. He solidified the partnership when he married Cochran's daughter-in-law, Mary Nessfield. They had three daughters who lived to adulthood: Ann Nessfield Steele (died 1804), Margaret Steele Ferrand (died 1830), and Eliza Steele Macnamara (died 1836).

John Steele demonstrated an early interest in politics, and his burgeoning career in public service followed the course of the new nation. He began on the local level, in 1784, as assessor of the town of Salisbury. He became a town commissioner in 1787, and, in that same year, he was elected to the North Carolina House of Commons, where he served two terms. During that time, the legislature appointed him to negotiate a treaty with the Cherokees and Chickasaws. In 1789, he was a delegate to the Fayetteville convention which finally brought North Carolina into the Union. Steele was immediately elected to the House of Representatives of the first Congress, serving two terms. His campaign for a Senate seat failed in 1792. Returning to North Carolina, Steele again became a member of the House of Commons, serving from 1794 to 1795.

Although he was a plantation owner, Steele was never enchanted with farming. On 15 December 1796, he wrote his wife that his plantations ...have been to me hitherto a plague, without either gain, or satisfaction. Thus, in 1796, he eagerly accepted when George Washington appointed him comptroller of the Treasury, serving in that office until 1802, when he resigned. Following his retirement from politics, Steele devoted much time to diverse business interests, including his cotton plantations in Rowan County, mercantile interests in Salisbury, horse breeding and racing. From 1807 to 1811, he was the agent in Salisbury for the Bank of Cape Fear. Steele was once again elected to the state House of Commons in 1815, but died before taking his seat.

Mary Nessfield Steele managed family business interests after her husband's death. When her daughter, Margaret Steele Ferrand died in 1830, Mary raised her two orphaned granddaughters, Mary Steele Ferrand and Ann Nessfield Steele Ferrand.

From the guide to the John Steele Papers, 1716-1846, (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Library. Southern Historical Collection.)


Loading Relationships

Constellation Information

Ark ID:


  • Plantation life
  • Legislators--Correspondence
  • Women--Social life and customs
  • Horse racing--History
  • Slaves--Correspondence
  • House construction--History--18th century
  • Banks and banking--history--19th Century
  • Politicians
  • Women--Education--History--19th century
  • Legislators
  • Horse breeders--History
  • Slavery
  • Families--Social life and customs
  • Indians of North America--Government relations--History--18th century
  • Indian agents--History--18th century


  • Army officers
  • Representatives, U.S. Congress--North Carolina
  • Public officials--North Carolina


  • Tennessee (as recorded)
  • Rowan County (N.C.) (as recorded)
  • North Carolina (as recorded)
  • Louisiana (as recorded)
  • North Carolina (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • North Carolina--Salisbury (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • Philadelphia (Pa.) (as recorded)
  • Florida (as recorded)
  • North Carolina--Rowan County (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • North Carolina (as recorded)
  • Washington (D.C.) (as recorded)
  • South Carolina (as recorded)
  • Salisbury (N.C.) (as recorded)