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Jane Williamette Bell


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Jane Williamette Bell
Jane Williamette Bell
Historic Hillsborough Commission

At a Glance

Born in Plymouth in 1841, Jane Williamette Bell was the second child of Dr. James W. and Mary Eliza Walker Bell. According to her granddaughter:  "She was a beautiful, often firey child, strong-willed and self-reliant. Her father believed that females and brains were not biologically incompatible and he recognized in Jane a rare intelligence." [1]


Somewhere between 1854 and 1857, Jane was sent to the Burwell School to further study music with her younger sister Emily. They both stayed at the Burwell home while studying there. According to her granddaughter, Jane left the school after the fire. While there is no record of a fire (though we do not know precisely what happened to the refectory), Jane and Emily must have left by 1857 when the school closed permanently. After that, Jane attended Salem Academy in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

In 1861, she married Dr. William F. Hunter of Halifax County as his second wife. When her husband left to join the medical corps of the Confederate army, Jane took on the job of running their Halifax County plantation. She continued to manage it after the war because of her husband's failing health and despondency over the loss of two sons (by his former marriage) in the defense of Fort Fisher.

Jane Williamette Bell bore nine children, three of whom died in infancy. Three sons and three daughters survived her. One of these was Hope Hunter who became the surrogate daughter to Jane's childless sister Emily. Jane died at the age of seventy in 1911 [1].

Biographical Data

Important Dates

Jane Williamette Bell was born in 1841, in Plymouth, NC. She died in 1911.

Places of Residence

  • Plymouth, NC, between 1841 and 1854. Jane was born in Plymouth and lived there throughout her childhood until she was sent to school in Hillsborough and again after her marriage [1].
  • Hillsborough, NC, from 1854. Jane's granddaughter writes that Jane and her sister Emily lived with the Burwells while they attended the Burwell School and that they left after the fire at the school. While there is no record of a fire at the school, we do not know precisely what happened to the refectory. Either way, the girls both left the school and Hillsborough by 1857 when the school closed permanently [1].
  • Halifax County, NC, between 1861 and 1911. Jane lived in Halifax County after her marriage to her husband in 1861. Here she ran the plantation both during his service in the Confederate Army and after due to his failing health and despondency [1].

Schools Attended

  • Burwell School, from 1854. Both Jane and her younger sister Emily attended the Burwell School sometime between 1854 and 1857 for further musical instruction. The two sisters lived in the Burwell Home during their time at the school. Jane's granddaughter wrote that the girls left the school after a fire but there is no record of a fire at the school. Either way, the girls would have left the Burwell School by 1857 when the school closed permanently [1].
  • Salem Academy, from 1857. Jane attended Salem Academy in Pittsfield, Massachusetts after she left the Burwell School [1].



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