Ella Maud Cropsey, known to her friends and family as Nell, was born in July 1882 in Brooklyn, New York to William and Mary Louise Cropsey. Nell was the second of nine children, and she was especially close to her older sister Olive, who was nicknamed Ollie.
In 1898, the family moved from New York to North Carolina, where they purchased a large, rambling house by the Pasquotank River. They named their new home Seven Pines.
Nell soon had a beau, a local man named James Wilcox, who was the son of the sheriff. They were an odd couple: Nell was beautiful and eager to get married. Jim stood at an unimposing 5’2, and was seemingly uninterested in marriage, even though he was five years older than Nell.
Over time, this difference began to strain their relationship and by 1901, they were seeing less of each other. Wilcox still appeared occasionally at Seven Pines, but things had undoubtedly cooled off.