Butler County, Alabama

James Neal
(1793 - 1868)

War of 1812 soldier, Butler County pioneer and plantation overseer

Submitted by : Annie Crenshaw

James Neal was born in 1793 in Warren County, Georgia, the son of Samuel Neal and Martha McCormick of South Carolina. He settled in Alabama and lived for many years in Butler County and Lowndes County before moving to Crawford County, Arkansas, where he died in 1868.

James served in the War of 1812 and was with General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. Like many of Jackson’s soldiers, he liked the land that he saw in the Mississippi Territory and returned to settle there a few years later. In 1816 he married Eliza Beall, eldest daughter of Robert and Elizabeth Beall of Warren County. According to family records, she was born in 1802 and was 13 years old when they married.

Eliza and James moved to Alabama and settled in what is now Butler/Lowndes County. They had four daughters before Eliza died at age 20 in December 1822: Mary Eliza (1817), Amanda Elizabeth (1819), Emily (1820) and Melissa (1822). In 1824 James married a second wife, Eliza Davenport, in Georgia, and returned to Alabama to raise his family.

In 1833-1835 James bought land north of Cedar Creek in Butler County, adjacent to tracts owned by Sarah Womack, Matthew Patton, Asa Ernest and Thomas Waters. James’ new son-in-law Robert Christopher (who married Mary Eliza Neal in January 1833) purchased neighboring property in October 1833. A week after her husband patented the land, Mary Eliza Christopher had their first child – nine months and two days after their marriage. She was a mother at 16 and her father James was a grandfather at age 40.

In 1837 James Neal signed an employment contract as overseer of Judge Anderson Crenshaw’s plantation. His agreement with Judge Crenshaw was typical of the day, revealing details of plantation life as well as showing a family’s economic necessities such as milk cows and firewood. His original spelling is preserved.

"I have undertaken to oversee for Anderson Crenshaw for the term of one year commencing on the 28th Decr. 1837. – I have to make a good crop if practicable, and to take special care of the slaves, horses, mules, hogs, sheep and cattle, corn and fodder, and everything pertaining to the plantation, and to keep all in good order. I am to be careful, attentive and industrious and to give my constant service to the affairs and interest of the plantation, and generally be under the control and direction o f my employer. Said Crenshaw is to furnish me and my family with nothing but houses to live in, and his slaves are at no time to wait on me or my family except furnishing firewood in cold weather. I am to keep no stock of my own, except milk cows and a horse, and they are to be kept at my own expence. All time which I may loose by sickness otherwise is either to be made up or deducted from my wages at the option of said Crenshaw. For these services when faithfully performed I am to receive five hundred dollars. – James Neal, 28th Decr. 1837 Butler County."

By 1840 James Neal’s family had five more girls and two boys born 1825-1840. Their neighbors included William Green Womack, John and Booker Davenport, Mary Waters, George P. Herbert, Mitchell W. Glenn, John R. Ernest, Sarah Womack, Martin Peagler and Daniel Boggan (who married James’ daughter Melissa).

Of James Neal’s children by first wife Eliza Beall, daughter Mary Eliza Neal married Robert Christopher and moved to Arkansas where she died in 1876. They had thirteen children: Edward Robert, James Neal, George McIntosh, Cornelia Ewell, Emily Frances, Anne Eliza, Melissa Tom, Virginia Arkansas, Amanda Coleman, Mary Royston, Dick, Ella Florence and Edgar Love Christopher.

Amanda Elizabeth Neal married Thomas C. Smith, a Methodist minister and lawyer who at one time was editor of The Greenville Observer newspaper. In 1850 they lived at Manningham with Amanda’s sister Emily and her husband Jesse W. Coleman. After Thomas Smith’s death of yellow fever in Mobile in the 1850s, Amanda married Dr. James Anderson. Dr. Anderson died in 1860 in Louisiana and Amanda married Thomas Hunt in 1866. Amanda had no children by any of her husbands, outlived them all, and died in Georgia in 1889.

James and Eliza Neal’s daughter Melissa married Daniel G. Boggan and had three children before she died in 1847: Eliza A., Mary Neal, and Melissa who died young. Daniel Boggan and second wife Caroline (age 20) were in the 1850 Butler County census with his surviving children by Melissa: Eliza, age 9, and Mary, 6. Daniel died in 1859, and his daughter Eliza Boggan married Jesse Gafford in 1861. Her sister Mary Neal Boggan married William R. Smith in 1869 and died in 1914 in Belleville, Alabama. William Smith’s parents were William R. Smith Sr. and Sarah Dickerson, daughter of early Manningham settler Archelaus Dickerson.

Emily Neal, third daughter of James and Eliza Neal, married Jesse W. Coleman. Jesse was a grandson of Abraham Womack and cousin of numerous families on The Ridge. In 1850, Emily (age 28) and Jesse Coleman (34) were living in the midst of Butler County relatives, including Adam Livingston and wife Martha Womack, Noland Womack and wife Jane Livingston, and Philemon Berry Waters and wife Sarah Ann Womack. Jesse and Emily had six children, choosing classical names for their sons: Theophilus Neal, Cornelius Frank, Aurelius Daniel, Octavius Augustus, Amanda Elizabeth and Emily Neal Coleman.

Theophilus Neal Coleman (1843-1914) married Julia Kate Lewis (1850-1905), and their daughter Mary Neal "Mamie" Coleman married Noland Lewis Crenshaw in 1908. Noland was the son of Frederick William Crenshaw and Sallie Lewis and grandson of Judge Anderson Crenshaw. He lived most of his life in his grandfather’s home on The Ridge, and the home was inherited in turn by his son, David Anderson Crenshaw Sr.

James Neal never could have dreamed when he was overseer of Judge Crenshaw’s plantation in 1838 that his great-granddaughter would marry the plantation owner’s grandson seventy years later, and that his descendants would one day own the classic Greek Revival home that James saw being completed for the Judge in the summer of 1835. Nor could James Neal have dreamed that a granddaughter, Julia Lewis Coleman, would become the teacher and mentor of a United States president -- President Jimmy Carter. But that's another story. See the biography of "Mathias Jones" for further interesting reading.

by Annie Crenshaw (copyright reserved, 2002)

Primary Sources:

See also "Family History of Malissa N. Neal and Daniel G. Boggan, Sallie Dickerson and William R. Smith" by Annie Crenshaw and Judy Taylor, in Vol. 39, No. 1 of The Butler County Historical & Genealogical Society Quarterly.

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Page updated 30 Mar 2007.