From Ulster to Texas: Six generations of Neelys in the United States
(by way of Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, Tennesse, and Alabama)
(Initiallly prepared by William W. "Bill" Neely, Jr., June 2002, who again cautions that source material covering the Neelys' progress on the early American frontier and during the Civil War continues to be fragmentary and often requires interpretation.)
Thomas Neely Sr.  and his wife Agnes were born at the end of the 1600s in Tyrone, Ulster. They married in Tyrone about 1721 and at least three of their children (Samuel, Thomas , and John) were born in Tyrone before the family left Ulster for the Pennsylvania colony about 1728-1730. Through the next several decades, records show that Thomas paid taxes on several Pennsylvania farms, evidently first settling west of Philadelphia in Upper Chichester, Chester County, and then moving gradually westward to land in West Nantmeal, Chester County, to land in Lancaster and York Counties, and finally settling by about 1746 in Tyrone Township in what was York County, Pennsylvania but is now Adams County. These were small farms, 100 to 120 acres each, but large enough to indicate that Thomas left Ulster with enough money to pay for his family's passage and to buy a reasonable amount of land to farm in the New World. A 1756 security bond filed in Tyrone Township indicates he died in that year at about 61 years of age. A June 22, 1765 deed involved in the final settlement of his estate names his wife and children. As the Family Tree indicates, Thomas and Agnes had five sons and one daughter; half of them stayed in Pennsylvania and half moved to the Carolinas.
Why Thomas and Agnes came to the Pennsylvania frontier. By 1728 Pennsylvania was the logical destination for the Ulster Scots because land was becoming expensive in New York, while other colonies, such as Massachusetts, had been founded by religious groups that did not welcome them. Numerous poor Ulster Scots had to indenture themselves to merchants and farmers in the immediate Philadelphia area for long periods of time to pay for their passage. The relatively few who had money paid for their passage and settled immediately in what was then the frontier in Pennsylvania — the counties west of Philadelphia. The fact that Thomas and Agnes appear in tax records on the Pennsylvania frontier after their arrival in America and soon owned land helps confirm that they came from reasonably well off families in Ulster.
Thomas Neely Jr.  and his wife Hannah Starr. Thomas was born in Ulster in 1723 and would have been about six or seven when the family arrived in Pennsylvania. He married Hannah about 1749 in York County, Pennsylvania. Thomas (probably Thomas rather than his father) applied for a Royal Land Grant in the new Carolinas colonies about 1751, and a grant was confirmed in 1754 for over 600 acres of free land on the banks of Steele Creek, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Thomas and Hannah Starr set out for the Carolinas sometime between 1749 and 1754. The usual route south from Pennsylvania in that period was by a wilderness trail that ran along the line where the coastal plain meets the Appalachian Mountains. Two of Thomas's brothers, Jackson and Matthew, apparently followed him south a few years later. Thomas settled on all or part of the Royal Grant land in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, while his brothers settled in York County, South Carolina. These communities were very close together and probably in the same colony initially. The modern border between North Carolina and South Carolina in this area was only defined after the Neelys arrived. In the early days of the settlement, families often lived in York but went to church in Steele Creek until there were enough York residents to form their own church. Soon Thomas established himself as a prosperous frontier farmer and a founder of the Steele Creek Presbyterian Church where many Neelys then and later worshipped and are buried. By 1767 Thomas, perhaps assisted by funds from the settlement of his father's Pennsylvania estate, was well enough off to be able to purchase 1050 acres along Steele Creek. Although he was already in his mid-50s during the Revolutionary War, the DAR Patriot Index indicates that he enlisted and served as a private in a North Carolina unit. A number of important battles, such as King's Mountain, were fought in this area. As a frontier housewife, Hannah raised five sons and three daughters, most of whom married and remained in the Mecklenburg area and are buried at Steele Creek Church. Hannah died in 1785 at about age 57 while Thomas lived past 70; possibly both are buried at Steele Creek but only Hannah's headstone exists. His brothers, Jackson and Matthew, and their most of their families are buried at Ebenezer Presbyterian Church at Rock Hill in York County.
Thomas Neely III and his wife Ann built on the firm foundations established by Thomas Neely, Jr. Thomas  was the first of the succession of Thomas Neelys in this line to be born in America, in 1757 at Steele Creek. There are records of his land transactions that indicate this Thomas continued to be a successful member of the local community. The DAR Patriot Index identifies him as a Revolutionary War soldier in a North Carolina unit. Both his will and his wife's passed substantial land and other assets on to their surviving children. They had three sons and three daughters, but one son, William Whitsitt Neely, predeceased them in 1794. Thomas and Ann died in 1795 and 1798 at ages 38 and 43 respectively. (Their headstone and that of Thomas's mother, Hannnah, have elaborate carvings of a Neely heraldic design or coat-of-arms; see the section on Neely heraldry pages 28 and 29.) These three deaths could have been the result of one of the epidemics, or of the almost endemic cholera and dysentery that increasingly plagued the settlement at this time. The health problems probably were often caused by improper sanitation magnified by an increasingly large local population, but the settlers did not fully understand how to stop them and the attraction of a new frontier with free or inexpensive, fresh land just over the mountains began to attract an increasing number of families to move to Tennessee.
Prosperity and leadership. Except for health problems, times were largely good for the Neelys in the Carolinas from their arrival in the mid-1700s through the early-1800s and they assumed appropriate leadership positions in their churches and communities. This parallels the success and leadership enjoyed by other Ulster Scots in the early life of our country. Mecklenburg, isolated as it might seem, was a center for political thought and revolutionary initiative in the period leading up to the Revolutionary War. The Mecklenburg Convention assembled in May 1775, more than a year before the Declaration of Independence was signed, and "without any assurance of support from any other quarter, did there dissolve the political bands which connected them with the mother country." (Note: See this Project for more about the controversy and history of this Convention.) Two of the 27 Mecklenburg Convention members were elders of Steele Creek Church and Thomas Neely , as a fellow Steele Creek Church leader, might well have discussed issues with them as they prepared for the Convention. Ulster Scots played a role out of all proportion to their numbers in the American Revolution. For example, both John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, and George Washington were of Ulster Scots ancestry. When the British appeared to be gaining the upper hand in the Revolutionary War, Washington is quoted as saying: "If defeated everywhere else, I will make my stand for liberty among the Scots-Irish in my native Virginia." One British officer went so far as to assert that it was not really an American rebellion at all but was "nothing more or less than a Scotch Irish Presbyterian rebellion" against the Crown. It is true that their experience in Ulster left many Ulster Scots disillusioned and angered by British broken promises and ill-treatment. This likely was a factor in their overwhelming support of the Revolution. Interestingly, most of those Scots who emigrated directly to the American colonies from Scotland remained loyal to the Crown during the Revolutionary war.
After the Revolution, many of our early Presidents were of Ulster Scots background and two were from the immediate vicinity of Mecklenburg. The 7th President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, was born in 1767 on the banks of nearby Waxha Creek to a very poor Ulster Scots farm family. The 11th President, James K. Polk, who is said to have had some Neely ancestry, was an even closer neighbor; he was born in 1795 in a log cabin on his parents' farm just a couple of miles from Steele Creek. When Polk was eleven his family moved to Tennessee. The Neelys of this line were soon to take the same path. The Polk home is in Maury County, Tennessee; the fifth generation of this line of Neelys moved to Maury and then to nearby Lincoln, County, Tennessee. A glimpse of the Neelys' politics at the time probably can be gained by looking at the goals of the Mecklenburg Convention, and the beliefs of these two Presidents: freedom, independence, fierce self-sufficiency, trust in the wisdom of the common man, support for the westward expansion of the country, and a strong desire to keep the federal government small.
Thomas Newton Neely  and his wife Margaret Carothers. Just as they did in Ulster, the Neelys seem to have married within their ethnic and religious group and Margaret Carothers is an example of this. The Carothers were another Ulster Scot Presbyterian family who paralleled the Neelys' moves to Pennsylvania and the Carolinas and who married various Neelys many times through the years. A current day Carothers believes he has identified over 100 Carothers-Neely marriages. Both Thomas Newton and Margaret Carothers were born in Steele Creek about 1781 but lived in nearby York after they were married. They had five sons and four daughters. Thomas Newton died in 1819 at age 38, perhaps in another outbreak of disease that occurred at about this time. Margaret held the family together and, when her oldest daughter married a man from Maury County, Tennessee, in 1829, appears to have moved with some of her remaining family to Tennessee.
Legal papers were filed in 1831 distributing family property and setting up guardianships for some of the younger children and it would be reasonable to assume that this was because Margaret had died. However, 1850 and 1860 census information indicates that Margaret probably lived with various of her children for the next thirty years and didn't die until sometime during or just after the Civil War when she was in her 80s. In the 1850 census she is recorded living with her sons George Newton Neely and James Wilson Neely in Madison County, Alabama (just south of Lincoln County, Tennessee) and in the 1860 census she is shown living in a separate house on her son's (Thomas Carothers Neely) farm in Lincoln County, Tennessee along with a young man, Thomas Edwards, who appears to be her grandson (a son of Margaret's oldest daughter, Mary Ann Neely Edwards). In this period and earlier, a widow fairly frequently did not retain control over her husband's assets, even if legally entitled to do so, but instead distributed most assets to her children with the understanding that they would support her in the future. A reasonable inference is that this is what Margaret did. The increasing dispersion of her children, the difficulties of communication for those on the Tennessee frontier, and/or some mental or physical problem could also have encouraged her to put the family's affairs in other hands.
Other Neely lines and genealogy research problems on the frontier. There are at least two other Neely family lines that make it difficult to piece together the history of our Neely line as they moved through frontier areas where records were, in any case, fragmentary. All three lines probably are related but distantly with many of the connections being back in Ulster. As previously mentioned, the 'New York' line entered the New World a little earlier than ours and settled initially in Ulster and Orange counties, just north of New York City, before moving south. Descendants of that family moved to Kentucky, northeastern, central, and western portions of Tennessee and, later on, to Texas and Mississippi. Overlap with Thomas Neely, Sr. line, and the opportunity for confusion is most present in central Tennessee and in many locations in Texas. What I will call the 'Fishing Creek' line is either descended from the New York line or possibly entered the Carolinas directly from Ulster. From the mid-1700s onwards many of them lived in Chester County and in southern York County in South Carolina along Fishing and Neely Creeks. In some cases they lived only a few miles from the Thomas Neely relatives who were located in northern York County. Some descendants of this line moved to Blount County, Alabama and neighboring St. Clair County, to Tennessee (a William Neely of this line was among the earliest settlers around Nashville and was killed by Indians at Neely's Bend of the Cumberland River in 1780), and to many locations in Texas, further complicating research for all Neely genealogists. The main problems, however, with frontier and southern genealogical research are the scarcity of records and the fact that many of those that originally existed were destroyed during the Civil War. The Civil War also scattered many southern families, including our own, in ways that make tracing their journeys conjectural at times.
The uncertainties discussed above surrounding Margaret Carothers Neely's later life, are a good example of how these other lines complicate genealogy. In addition to the 1831 papers, there are graves in Maury County for a Thomas Neely and his wife which seem to support the idea that she died about 1831. It is only because we know that there were Thomas Neelys of the other Neely lines in Maury County at the time (and that this lineage's Thomas  was buried in Steele Creek in 1819) that we can decide not to weigh this evidence too heavily and instead rely on the census evidence. The evidence surrounding the next generation of this line of Neelys is even more limited and confused due to the disruptions of the Civil War. It is only recently that a close study of an 1866 Alabama state census and of the 1870 federal census has revealed enough information to sketch a picture of what happened to the family after 1860.
Thomas Carothers Neely  and his wife Mary A. The 5th Thomas Neely in this line was born before December 1810 in York or Steele Creek. As previously noted, his parents belonged to Steele Creek Church but probably lived just across the North Carolina/South Carolina border in York County. They probably married in Tennessee. Mary likely was also of Ulster Scot Presbyterian descent but her last name can not yet be proved. There is a recorded marriage for a Thomas Neely in Maury County, but also evidence that that Thomas probably was from another Neely line. Clearly, the Neely's move to Tennessee was disruptive and costly but Thomas  appears to have been able to re-establish himself on new land in southeastern Tennessee's Lincoln County. At least one of his brothers, Elias, and a sister, Nancy C. Hopkins (Neely) also moved to Lincoln County. Some of their descendants still live in Lincoln County and in nearby Madison County in northern Alabama, and have added information to this account. By 1846 Thomas appeared in the Lincoln County tax rolls and by 1860 he had built up a 300 acre farm near the small town of Camargo. There is an agricultural schedule attached to the 1860 census that details the farm's assets and production just before the Civil War. While not large, they seem sufficient, and sufficiently varied, for a comfortable and self-contained life. By this time Thomas and Mary had a large family — a total of seven sons and five daughters appear in the 1850 or 1860 censuses. At least one child, Jane, died as an infant and childhood deaths (or the perils of the Civil War) may account for the fact that two or three of the other children haven't yet been identified in post Civil War records. Confederate war records suggest that at least two and perhaps all four of the older boys served in Tennessee Infantry or Cavalry units. Theophilus Monroe Neely [generation 6], who was the ninth of the twelve children, was only twelve when the war began, and doesn't appear to have served in the military.
The Civil War and its costs. Although Tennessee joined the Confederacy, the people of eastern Tennessee were particularly conflicted in their feelings towards the issues of the Civil War. They were small hill farmers whose parents and grandparents had been ardent supporters of the Revolution and the formation of the Union. They felt little affinity for the rich planters of the deep South and had few if any slaves themselves. Thomas Carothers Neely  had none. Initially, many simply wanted to be left alone. But they were Southerners and, as the war came to be perceived more and more as the War of Northern Aggression, this line of the Neelys and most of their neighbors sided with their Carolina relatives. As was true of other families, the Neelys were split by the Civil War with the descendants of those Neelys who had remained in Pennsylvania and New York fighting on the Union side. The war must have brought our Neelys great suffering. From the summer of 1862 through the end of the war, Union forces repeatedly swept through southeastern Tennessee in their campaigns to take Chattanooga and the railroads that ran just to the east and west of Lincoln County on their routes south from Nashville to Chattanooga and to Alabama. Descendants of Thomas's brother, Elias, and sister, Nancy C. (Neely) Hopkins, report a family story that Thomas and his family left Lincoln to go back to the Carolinas towards the end, or just after, the Civil War but what actually happened to them in the turmoil of this period in the South and where and when Thomas  and Mary died is unclear from the few available records. Thomas and Mary's son, Theophilus Neely, definitely married (to Sarah Hood) and settled in Blount County, Alabama early in 1865. An 1866 Alabama state census for Blount County indicates that Theophilus, two of his brothers (Thomas  and John), and a total of eight other family members were living near the Scotts and Hoods at the time of the census. The three brothers appear as heads of households but this state census only provided age and sex categories for additional family members. The eight are of the correct age and sex to be Theophilus's wife Sarah Hood, their first son William Henry Neely , Lafayette Neely, Thomas 's wife and child, two of Theophilus's sisters, and the brothers' mother, Mary ; however, without names, we cannot be sure. The absence of anyone who could be Thomas  from this or later census's suggests that he died in approximately 1864-66, perhaps while relocating his family. The idea that the older lady listed in the 1866 census was, in fact, Thomas's widow, Mary, is supported by the fact that she was living in the household headed by John in 1866 and is then specifically named, in the 1870 federal census, again living with John and Lafayette. In 1870 Mary was listed as the head of household and owner of the small farm they were living on near Mooresville in Limestone County, Alabama, not far to the northwest of Blount County. Mary does not appear to be in later censuses, so her death is estimated to have been between 1870 and 1880, probably in Limestone, County. Several marriages took place in Blount between 1869 and 1881 that appear to involve some of Mary's children (Emily, Lafayette, and Sarah) and provide additional support for the family's presence in the area.
Despite the frustrating lack of detail (for example, no definite burial sites have yet been located for Thomas, Mary, or their children), the limited evidence suggests that, whatever their intent when they left Lincoln County, Tennessee, many members of the Thomas Neely  family settled in Blount and Limestone counties in northern Alabama for a period of time after the war. Judging from Theophilus's circumstances (see below) and the fact that Mary, John, and Lafayette were farming a property valued at only $300 in the 1870 census (a common valuation for the smallest farms in the area), the war likely had stripped this line of the Neelys of most of their assets except for their previously demonstrated Ulster Scot determination to work hard and bounce back.
Theophilus Monroe Neely  was born in Lincoln County, Tennessee in 1849 while his future wife, Sarah Hood, was born in 1845 in Blount County, Alabama. (Possible circumstances bearing on the selection of his first name are discussed Off's profile page.) The early census records are clear regarding Theophilus' birth date. Later statements that he was born about 1847 or even as early as 1845 possibly were prompted by a desire to portray him as mature enough to have married Sarah in 1865 (she was about twenty at that time and he only sixteen). The war, however, likely had forced Theophilus to mature quickly (particularly if, as seems possible, all of his older brothers were away in the war) and he must have felt ready to take on the responsibilities of marriage and a family. Their first child, William Henry "Will" Neely [generation 7], was born about fourteen months after Theophilus and Sarah's February 16, 1865 wedding. Theophilus, who was referred to by the nicknames "T.M." and "Off, was a tenant farmer, renting and farming whatever land was available on reasonable terms. The land he farmed in Blount County probably was either owned by, or near land owned by, his in-laws and their relatives, the Hoods and Scotts (see the family tree and discussion of Sarah Hood's maternal ancestors below).
Theophilus and Sarah, sometimes referred to as "Serry", had five sons and one daughter but the second son, T.H., died young. Although the 1860 census lists Theophilus at age eleven as "in school," apparently his education was so interrupted by the Civil War and working on his father's farm that by 1870 the census records him as not able to read or write. Sarah, growing up in a little more settled circumstance, was better educated. U.R. Neely (in a February 5, 1988 audiotape) related what he had been told by his father, Will Neely, about the austerity of their life even at the best of times. He said that his family "lived in a log cabin on a rented hilly country farm, and as I remember being told, life was very hard. The custom was to live on what could be produced on the farm and to purchase what could not be produced at a country store where there was a water-powered mill to grind wheat and corn. The purchases would be bare necessities such as sugar, coffee, spices, needles and buttons. Sugar was bought only when the cane crop was a failure so that syrup could not be made. Cooking was done over a fireplace in cast iron vessels, which were bought at the country store. The beds were made in the corners of the rooms with logs laid on the dirt floor in more or less squares and filled with corn shucks and covered with blankets and quilts. Remember that much of the cloth was homemade." The big problem for most farmers in Blount County at this time, but particularly for the poorer tenant farmers, was that the soil was simply wearing out. There was good topsoil when the area was originally settled in the 1820s and 1830s but on the many hills the topsoil was a thin overlay above the Alabama clay. By the 1870s and 1880s the topsoil was thoroughly exhausted and/or washed off on the hills and, even in the small areas of bottomland, had suffered from years of overuse (too many plantings of cotton and little or no fertilization). Theophilus probably had to make do with renting and farming some of the least productive hill land.
Not long after the birth of their last child, Ernest Monroe Neely, in November 1879 Theophilus moved his family to Limestone County in northwestern Alabama and began farming there. U.R. Neely remembered being told a story about the family's problems at this time that may help explain the move. He said that "when he (Will Neely) was thirteen years old, their cotton crop was better than usual, and it produced seven bales of cotton so they were able to pay the accumulated bill at the store and have some money left over. Theophilus decided to surprise his wife Sarah by buying a dresser and a mirror and a wooden bedstead with springs and a mattress, which came to $50 more than the cotton had brought. The storekeeper gladly agreed to accept a personal note for the $50 which was to be paid the following year after harvest. Unfortunately, the next cotton crop was not good and Theophilus had to take care of the note another way. So he sold the hogs which were to be the family winter meat to pay the bill. My father (Will) related that they lived on cornbread, syrup, turnip greens, and chicken now and then." Although these events could have occurred in Limestone County it is probably more likely that Theophilus's over-optimistic estimate of the farm's prospects was made in Blount County at harvest time in 1878, the hogs would then have been sold a year later in the fall of 1879 (when Will was 13), the hungry winter would have been 1879-80, and the move to Limestone County would have taken place either at the beginning or the end of the hungry winter as Theophilus (increasingly desperate) looked for a way to recoup and feed his family. A reasonable hypothesis is that one of his brothers, John or Lafayette, who had been living in Limestone may have located some better land for Theophilus to rent in Limestone. The land was in the same township as the farm that his mother had owned in 1870 and could have been part of that farm, although the neighbors do not appear to have been the same in the 1870 and 1880 censuses.
The move to Limestone, however, did not turn out as Theophilus had hoped and the poor diet of that hard winter may have played a role by weakening his resistance. The 1880 Limestone census reports that he was suffering from "Bilous Fever" when the census was taken four or five days before his death. He was only 31 years old. Bilous or bilious fever was something of a catch-all medical term of the period that could refer to any number of poorly understood conditions or illnesses whose symptoms centered in the abdomen. Theophilus's death conceivably could have been the result of ailments ranging from an intestinal blockage (cancer or ulcer), to a burst appendix, to a disease such as cholera or typhoid (U.R Neely thought it was typhoid). The 1880 census noted several other individuals with bilous fever in the same enumeration district in which the Theophilus Neely family was living.
A contemporary letter has survived (from one of Sarah Hood's relatives in Blount Co. to another relative who had already moved to Texas) that describes Theophilus's death and the days leading up to it. It is dated 4 July 1880 and the portion relating to Theophilus and Sarah reads "We had some news from Limestone the other day. Serry wrote that Off was dead. He died the 15 of June. He was taken on (became sick) Sunday evening and died a tuesday night he had the billious fever. Serry was a sitting a minding the flies off him a Sunday evening and he told her that he wanted to kiss her and all of the children. He told her a Sunday night to come and give him her hand. He wanted her to go to jesus with him he wanted to be baptized, but the doctor rejected. He wanted to be buried over at aunt rachel 's by the beach tree at the baptised place." An interpretation of some of the less obvious wording in the letter is that Theophilus had retained his ancestral Presbyterian religious affiliation until he was on his deathbed and then wanted to be re-baptized in his wife's denomination (Baptist) in the belief that this would help insure that they would be together in heaven. The only reason that the doctor would have forbidden the baptism would seem to be that he was still trying to save Theophilus's life and feared the impact of a full immersion baptism ceremony on his patient. Off s burial wish was essentially a request to be taken back to Blount County so that he could be buried at the small church and burying ground near his mother-in-law, Rachel Scott Hood's house. The burying ground is now known as the Old Siloam Cemetery (sometimes referred to as the Old Nation Cemetery); the church building at the baptising place has been gone for many years. The speed of his final illness would have prevented his being moved before he died. There is no marked grave for Theophilus at Old Siloam Cemetery but, perhaps, he is buried there and his grave, like many others, has simply lost its headstone. It is also possible, however, that it was just too difficult and expensive to move his body back to Blount and he is buried in Limestone County.
Sarah and his family did return to Blount, certainly with even less assets than they had when they left for Limestone. Despite the assistance that Sarah undoubtedly received from her mother, Rachel, and from her other relatives, life must have been very hard. They probably lived with or near Rachel until Sarah's re-marriage five years later to Andrew Jackson "Jack" or "Ike" Nation. In the same year that she remarried, the older Theophilus Neely children began leaving home, Will to marry and raise his own family and Stephen to travel to Ellis County, Texas.
Sarah Hood's maternal ancestors and the Neelys' move to Texas. Genealogy has a natural, but probably unfortunate, tendency to focus on the male line of descent both because that governs the family name and because more information generally is available for the men. Women appear in fewer legal documents and their maiden names often are not given in older records, making it harder to track them. Wives and mothers, however, play such a key role in defining the character of a family that it is impossible to understand a family's history without really focusing on them. In the marriage of Theophilus and Sarah, two similar but importantly different family backgrounds came together and it is doubly important to understand Sarah Hood's background and contribution. We are also fortunate to have photographs of Sarah, of her mother (Rachel Scott) and of Rachel's mother (Sarah Ferguson) even though we have no photographs or portraits of our equivalent male ancestors in these generations. This family tree portrays several generations of Sarah's family. Most of these Neely in-laws lived in Blount County, and, particularly given Theophilus' early death, constituted most of the family and neighbors that Theophilus and Sarah's children were familiar with, and were influenced by, as they grew up.
In ethnic background and in their religion, Sarah's ancestors were similar but somewhat more varied than the Neelys had been up to that date. Whereas the Neelys were of unswerving Ulster Scot (probably nearly entirely Lowland Scot) descent and Presbyterian religion, Sarah's ancestors were a mix of Highland Scot, Lowland Scot, and English. Although some likely had been Presbyterians, others had never been Presbyterians and all had apparently been influenced more than the Neelys by the growing revivalist trend of that period with its closely related increase in Baptist and Methodist church membership. When Theophilus arrived in Blount County he would have found that most of his neighbors and his future wife were Baptists. Sarah undoubtedly raised their children in that tradition and the story of Theophilus' deathbed request for baptism in the Baptist denomination probably was simply the logical last step of a gradual process of conversion that had been going on throughout their marriage. In terms of character, although most photographs of the period were posed in ways that made the subjects seem stern and unsmiling, one thing that is immediately clear in the photos shown here is that all three of these ladies were strong, capable, determined, serious people, who were accustomed to hardships. In all of these attributes they were probably quite similar to the Neelys.
They were, however, very human. Sarah "Sally" Ferguson  was the daughter of a Scots family living along the Tennessee River north of Chattanooga in 1818 when a young North Carolinian named Thomas Scott, a veteran of the Creek Indian Wars and the War of 1812, who was probably working as a farm laborer in the area, came to her attention. When her father, Robert Ferguson, realized that the relationship was becoming serious, he forbade Sally to see him again. He was probably unimpressed by Thomas's prospects or perhaps it was ethnic/religious differences, small as they may now seem (Highland but Presbyterian Ferguson vs. Lowland and Baptist Scott). In any case, Robert was unwise enough to make the ultimate fatherly threat — Young lady, never darken my door again if you marry this man! Sally decided she wouldn't — darken his door that is — so she eloped and married Tom on October 6, 1818 in Roane County, Tennessee. They lived in Rhea and Giles Counties, Tennessee for short periods before traveling on and settling in Blount County, Alabama by 1830. Tom apparently was familiar with Blount from having passed through the area while in the military. They did well in Blount County. As a veteran, Thomas had rights to claim government land and later also made use of homestead laws to claim additional land. The 1850 census valued their property at $1000, and by 1860 the census indicated they were worth $4400 in real and personal property which were large amounts by the standards of the time and place. Tom farmed the land and Sally raised seven daughters and three sons. In 1869 they donated two acres of land near their house for the Old Siloam Baptist Church and Cemetery. The church building fell into disuse and was removed many years ago but the cemetery remains on private farm land. Sally and Tom as well as many of Sarah 's other relatives are buried there. Tom died in 1870 and Sally in 1888 at the age of 90. The photograph we have of her was taken in her old age.
One of Tom and Sally's daughters was Rachel Scott  who was born June 27, 1822 and who married (October 5, 1843) a young local blacksmith, William W. Hood. William (born in 1823 in South Carolina) had moved to Blount County as a young boy with his parents, Thomas Nipper Hood and Sara Beeson who died in 1864 and are buried in nearby Blue Springs Cemetery. Both families were, therefore, among the early settlers of Blount County. After their marriage William apparently added farming to his activities as a blacksmith. He acquired about 360 acres of government land in 1849-1858 and may have helped farm some of his father-in-law's land as well. They lived close to Tom and Sally (the letter regarding Off s death mentions that Rachel lived adjacent to the burying ground whose land was originally part of Tom and Sally's farm). In the 1860 census William appears as a successful farmer with $2500 in real and personal property. He and Rachel had three daughters and three sons. The community they lived in was largely populated by the families that their children, as well as Tom and Sally's children, married into. The names of some of these related families were Nation, Holly, Railey, Bynum, Culbreath, Keen, Choron, Graves, and Alldredge. Several of these families also moved to Texas and some kept up contacts with the Neelys for a long while.
The Civil War was an enormous drain on the community. Just as in Tennessee, Blount County was populated by small hill farmers who did not have much affinity for the plantation owners. For example, an 1855 county census shows that slaves made up less than 15% of Blount's population (none of our Scotts and Hoods owned slaves). A nearby northern Alabama hill county actually attempted to secede from the secession, but Blount ended up firmly supporting the Confederacy and contributed more than its share of food for the war effort and volunteers for the military. Union forces didn't penetrate this far south until near the end of the war. William Hood was a member of the 54th Alabama Infantry along with a number of other Blount County Hoods and Scotts. The unit suffered badly, particularly in the Battle of Atlanta. William was still alive in 1864 but in the 1866 county census Rachel listed one family member as having died of illness during the war and this almost certainly was William. Rachel continued to live in her house near Old Siloam Cemetery until 1884 when a contemporary letter from her daughter[sic] Sally (Scott) Railey to a Railey relative in Texas notes that "Rachel has been very poorly all this winter. She broke up housekeeping and went to stay" (with relatives). She must have recovered somewhat because she didn't die until 18 April 1894 in Ellis County, Texas after playing a final role in the Neelys continuing move westwards.
- Note: Sally Railey was most likely Rachel's sister, not her daughter.
Sarah Hood 's marriage to Theophilus Monroe Neely  and their life together through Offs death in 1880 has already been described, but details regarding her later life including her second marriage and her family's move to Texas still remain unclear. Sarah was hard pressed to support her family after Offs death. She undoubtedly depended a great deal on her mother, who herself was not in good health. In late March 1885 the wife of a long-time neighbor, Andrew Jackson "Jack" or "Ike" Nation died and, just a few months later, Jack proposed to Sarah and she accepted. Although there must have been good feeling between the two, there also was something approaching necessity on both sides — Sarah's difficulty in supporting her family has already been mentioned while Jack still had small children and needed a woman's assistance for their care. Perhaps the attitude that they both brought to this marriage on June 25, 1885 is expressed in the name they chose for the son who was born to them August 15, 1886 — Hope. They undoubtedly hoped for the best for their marriage as well as for their son, Hope Nation. Jack was a Confederate veteran and a fairly prominent citizen until his death May 18, 1922 in Blount County. In many ways he was undoubtedly a good man and well intentioned but, judging from fragmentary family stories, he drank too much and increasingly became abusive when he drank. (U.R. Neely also noted that Jack was not willing to assist Sarah's young Neely children.) At any rate, again based on fragmentary family stories, by about 1892 when Will Neely was moving his family to East Texas, matters were coming to a head between Jack and Sarah. It is understood that Will moved to Ellis County, Texas first, became concerned about his mother, and returned to help her leave Alabama. Whatever the details, sometime between 1892 and 1894 Sarah left Jack Nation and moved to Ellis County with those of her children who were not already off on their own, including Hope Nation; she also brought her mother, Rachel. These were not easy times in Ellis County. The houses they lived in didn't offer a lot of protection against heat and cold, and contagious diseases were a constant threat, particularly for the old and very young. One of Will and Ulah's small children, Marcellus, died in 1893. Rachel died April 18, 1894, and Sarah herself died May 15, 1896. All are probably buried in Maloney Cemetery, although no markers for Rachel and Sarah have survived.
The remainder of the Neely story in Texas, Arizona, and many other places is told in individual projects devoted to each of Theophilus and Sarah's adult children (generation 7: William Henry "Will", Stephen Farris, John Theophilus "J.T.", Madora "Dora or Duckie", and Ernest Monroe) and their descendants. Whatever the difficulties, it was and is a continuing story of strength, determination, positive outlook, and self-sufficiency.