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John Steele was a prominent politician in Salisbury in the early years of the Republic. Steele served as a Congressman between 1789 and 1793, and in a variety of positions in the state of North Carolina. He acted as the comptroller of the United States Treasury between 1796 and 1802. His home in Salisbury, called “Lombardy,” still stands.
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Born in 1764, John Steele was raised in Salisbury and attended the English School at Salisbury and Clio’s Nursery. He married Mary (Dolly) Nessfield of Fayetteville in February 1783 and launched his political career the following year.
Serving in the North Carolina House of Commons in 1788, and between 1793 and 1795, Steele became known for his moderation and his political ties across parties. He was elected to the 1st and 2nd Congresses, representing the Yadkin district. A strong Federalist, he was defeated in both 1792 and 1795 for election to the United States Senate by the General Assembly.
Steele was appointed Comptroller of the United States Treasury by George Washington in July 1796. He remained Comptroller until September 1802, when he resigned rather than serve Anti-Federalist President Thomas Jefferson. Steele was a strong defender of the taxing power of the federal government and supported the creation of a national bank. Upon his resignation, he returned to Salisbury and focused on agricultural interests.
Between 1808 and 1811, Steele acted as an agent for the Bank of Cape Fear. He also served on the Boundary Commission Board, helping to establish the North Carolina boundary with both South Carolina and Georgia. Steele returned to the House of Commons several times, acting as Speaker of the House in 1811. He died on August 14, 1815, shortly after his reelection to the House of Commons for the upcoming term. He is buried in Chestnut Hill Cemetery.
John Steele’s house in Rowan County, called “Lombardy,” was erected between 1799 and 1801 by local builder Elam Sharpe constructed the house. A two-story house with interior chimneys, it was modeled after the Philadelphia homes that Steele had seen. Steele hired the Philadelphia house carpenter John Langdon to create an elegant, finished Federal interior for the house with neoclassical elements.
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, V, 432-434—sketch by William S. West
James S. Brawley, A Rowan Story, 1753-1953 (1953)
Hugh T. Lefler and Albert Ray Newsome, The History of a Southern State: North Carolina (1973)
Davyd Foard Hood, The Architecture of Rowan County, North Carolina (1983)
Catherine W Bishir and Michael T Southern, A Guide to the Historic Architecture of Piedmont North Carolina (2003)