James Neal, revolutionary and settler of Parkersburg
James Neal, revolutionary and pioneer

Neal's Station Plaque

The above historical marker is in the city of Parkersburg, West Virginia.  Although there is much contradiction in the information which has come down to us concerning James Neal, two things seem clear:

James Neal is reported to have been born in 1738 in Christiana, Delaware. He married Hannah Hardin, daughter of Martin Hardin and Lydia Waters, circa 1764 in Stafford County, Virginia. He married Mary Phelps in 1786 in Green County, Pennsylvania. Mary Phelps was the sister of Hugh Phelps, the husband of James's daughter, Hannah, making Hugh James's son-in-law and brother-in-law at once. He died on 7 February 1822 in Wood County, Virginia (now West Virginia). He was buried in Tavenner Cemetery, Parkersburg, Wood County. The Tavenner Graveyard was on land belonging to his son(and brother)-in-law, Hugh Phelps. The body was later moved to Mount Olivet Cemetery, Parkersburg, by Daniel Rowell Neal, Jr.

John Belton O'Neall, in 1859, wrote in The Annals of Newberry:

"James and George belonged to the American army; the former was a Major in the Virginia line, the latter a common soldier. Both served the entire war, and at its close, ignorantly supposing that the O' in their names was some aristocratic distinction, instead of meaning, as it really does, the "son of," struck it off and wrote their names Neall. James settled at, or near, Wheeling, Virginia; George in Jessamine county, near Nicholassville, Kentucky: they both have been dead many years; each left families surviving them. I should be proud if their descendants would resume the O', which rightfully belongs to their name. "

We can forgive Judge O'Neall for thinking that "O" means "son of", when in fact it means "grandson of". Unfortunately, we don't even know who was James's grandfather. This is nothing compared to the other seeming contradictions in information available about James Neal.

Hardesty, in his Biographical Atlas of Wood County, West Virginia, in 1882, reports that James Neal "was of Irish descent; his original name was O'Neal, and for some reason, at the commencement of his service in the Continental army, he changed it to that of Neal." Hardisty also says that James was a resident of Green County, Pennsylvania. Green County is just across the border from Wheeling. He is also reported as having been born in 1737 in Ireland. According to one source, "Before 1769 Neal's early life may be traced to London [Loudon?] and Fairfax Counties, Virginia, and then possibly to Maryland."[This might be worth checking into.]. He moved with his mother, Anne Cox, after Hugh O'Neall's death to Winchester, Frederick County, Virginia. He was a farmer and a surveyor. He and Hannah Hardin were also reported as being married in 1767 in Augusta, Georgia, but perhaps this is a confusion with Augusta District, Virginia. He is also reported as having immigrated probably in 1769 to Cumberland (now Fayette) County, Pennsylvania. He lived between 1769 and 1785 in Springhill Township, Cumberland (now Fayette) County, according to Fayette County records. As of circa 1776 or earlier, he changed his name to James Neal; Fayette County records indicate he spelled his name Neal already in 1769.

He served for three years as a Captain in the 13th Virginia Regiment (later the 9th and 7th) of the Revolutionary Army under Generals Green and Muhlenberg. He took part in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown in 1776. He ended military service on 3 January 1779 when he resigned in order to "provide for the support of a young and helpless family living in an exposed situation on the frontier of Virginia."

In December 1783, James O'Neall surveyed, along with Samuel Hamway, two tracts of land for Alexander Parker in Illinois (now Wood) County, Virginia (now West Virginia). This was to be the site of the future city of Parkersburg. He received a land patent on 27 September 1785 in Harrison (now Wood) County, Virginia (now West Virginia), of 332 1/4 acres. He came from Greene County, Pennsylvania, and in either October 1785 or November 1785, he established a blockhouse and stockade known as Neal's Station on the site of the present city of Parkersburg. He and Mary Phelps settled permanently at Neals Station with their entire family in the early spring of 1787. He bought numerous tracts of land between 1788 and 1794 in Harrison and Monongalia Counties. He was also Justice of the Peace, Captain of the Frontier Rangers (during hostilites with the Indians), examiner of surveyors and an expert witness on land disputes. He was appointed to solemnize marriages on the lower side of the Kanawha on 9 February 1801.

In addition to the historical marker shown at the top of this page, a cemetery memorial also commemorates his family's having been the "first permanent settlers of Wood County".

Jame Neal memorial

James O'Neall left a will on 25 March 1814 in Wood County. He left all his property after debts to his daughter, Mary Neal Foley, except for the land on which he lived, which he left in custody of his son, James Hardin Neal, for the use and benefit of his slave, Frank, "who should be emancipated and restored to that freedom & liberty which the God of Nature gave him." He was granted a pension under the Revolutionary Claim Act of Congress of 18 March 1818 on 8 June 1820 Virginia. In order to obtain the pension, which was retroactive to 3 June 1818 (at the rate of $20 per month), two letters were written by his son, James Hardin Neal, after two court appearances by James Neal on 3 June 1818 and 4 September 1820; he was also obliged to submit a list of possessions in order to prove his need of the pension. The letters are poignant in their description of an old man living alone, declaring: "That by profession he is a farmer but is unable to pursue any business whatever to support himself. And that he has no other person living with him but one Domestic considerably advanced in age and unhealthy and who is barely able to attend to him in his old age."

James's gravestone, so simple in comparison to the above marker and memorial, is perhaps indicative of his reduced means at the time of his death.

James Neal's gravestone

On other pages, you may read about the descendants of James Neal, including an index and a bibliography of sources.

Many thanks to cousin Dick Dils for these pictures.