Total Pageviews

Friday, August 31, 2012

Reverend George McNiel, a Founding Father

Thanks to my reader and newly found cousin, Barbara, for more information about the McNeil family!
On August 27th, Barbara left a comment on my post, “Poet’s Progress,” which appeared in my blog on December 16, 2011.   Barbara provided me with additional information about the McNeils and shared my connection with her.  As I sat at my computer late that night composing a reply to her, I realized that a blog post would better serve my purpose.  I quickly dashed off a comment to her with the promise that I would address my thoughts to her in a future blog.  So…here it is.
Barbara and I have discovered that we share common grandparents, George McNiel and Mary Coats, our 5th great grandparents, which makes us 6th cousins.  Wow, what a long way back among ancestors!
At this point I must mention that there were several George McNiels/McNeils and will distinguish between them by referring to the George McNiel born in 1720 as McNiel.  I will address the various spellings later in this post.
According to my information, all of which needs additional research, George McNiel was born in 1720.  His 2nd great grandson, James Larkin Pearson, in his autobiography, Poet’s Progress, indicated that George McNiel was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and died on June 7, 1805, in Parsonville, Wilkes County, North Carolina.  In fact, I found an application for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution, filed by my great uncle, Robert McNeil.  His application stated that George McNiel was from Glasgow, Scotland.  Robert was documenting his application with the fact that George McNiel served with the Overmountain Men under Colonel Cleveland in the Revolutionary War battle at King’s Mountain. Actually, George McNiel did participate in that battle; he served as the chaplain with this regiment.
George McNiel was married to Mary Coats, who was born in 1722 in Watauga, North Carolina, and died in1782 in Wilkes County.  James Larkin Pearson stated in his book that George met and married “Miss” Coats in Grayson County, Virginia.  Apparently, since one or more of their children were born there, they lived in Grayson prior to settling in Wilkes, North Carolina.  One on-line researcher indicates that Mary’s name may have been Mary Sarah Coats.  The name Coats/Coates appears to be spelled with and without an “e.”
George McNiel was educated in Scotland as a Presbyterian minister.  One can only speculate as to why he decided to emigrate from Scotland to America.  Was it because he wanted to minister to the people in America, was it for land and a better life, was it from oppression endured in his native land, or did he emigrate with his family?  A letter written on May 28, 1898, by George McNiel’s grandson, G. W. McNeil, Sr., indicates that he (George McNiel) came with his two brothers, John and Thomas.
By the 1740s the emotionalism of Europe’s Great Awakening was translated into the middle colonies with young, “New Side” Presbyterian evangelists encouraging the demand for greater religious freedom.  The settlers were rebelling against the established, formal religions of the Church of England and the Congregationalists. With this “New Side” approach, an emphasis was placed on evangelism and personal conversion which included an emphasis on the hereafter.  This religious movement in America, known as the Great Revival, included not only Presbyterians but also Baptists and Methodists and was dominant in North Carolina.  By the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Baptist denomination was the largest religious group in North Carolina.  The Presbyterian Church did not get started in Wilkes County until 1837 with the first church in Wilkesboro.  Evidently, these conditions were prime factors in George McNiel’s decision to become a Baptist preacher.
No evidence can be found that he ever preached as a Presbyterian minister in America.  According to his grandson’s writings, George McNiel switched to the Baptist denomination since he felt that he could best reach the people as a Baptist.  He was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1776.   His name is found in the minutes and church histories of several different churches in Wilkes County, and he was a member of several of the area associations. He was instrumental in starting the Beaver Creek Church in 1779.   He worked with some of the famous Baptist ministers of the time, namely Shubal Stearns and John Cane. 
He was affiliated with the famous Sandy Creek Baptist Association which Shubal Stearns started with six local Baptist churches.  This organization was likely the same as the Sandy Creek Association, a precursor of the Regulator Movement that protested government oppression and abuse of funds.   After the battle between the Regulators and the English militia in 1771 in the outskirts of Hillsborough at Alamance Creek, Governor William Tyron assumed that the Baptists were Regulators and concentrated over 3,000 soldiers in their areas to harass and terrorize them.  In the letter of May 28, 1898, G. W. McNeil, Sr. states that “he [George McNiel] joined the Regulators and after the battle of Alamance and fled for safety into Virginia where he lived for a time in Grayson County.”
In Wilkes County, George McNiel established a ministry at the Deep Ford Meeting House in the Reddies River area.  Later in his life he became a “traveling” preacher crossing the mountains and valleys of the Lewis Fork country sides probably on a horse or on foot to preach at the various churches under his domain.  Pearson says, “I suspect that he was an old-time orator of great enthusiasm and power.”  According to my 1st cousin 1R, he was likely a “hell-fire and damnation” preacher.  This was the commonly used style of preaching among those presenting the Gospel in the “New Side” way during the Great Revival of the 1700 and 1800s.
 George and Mary Coats McNiel had eight children: John, William, James (born between 1771-1774, died in 1834 in Wilkes County), Joseph (born in 1769 in Virginia, died April 28, 1855 in Lewis Fork, Wilkes, North Carolina), Benjamin, Thomas,  Elizabeth (born in 1767 in Wilkes, died in 1847 in Watauga, North Carolina), and Mary. 
The spelling of the surname, McNeil, has apparently evolved through several variations (McNiel, Mcneill, McNeill, and McNeil).  A couple of stories circulate concerning the spellings.  James Larkin Pearson, who was the 2nd great grandson of George McNiel, stated in his autobiography that George McNiel spelled his name with the “i” before the “e.”  Later generations either kept that spelling or spelled it as McNeill or McNeil.  According to another McNeil cousin, Milton McNeil (my 2nd great grandfather and George McNiel’s 2nd great grandson), was the first to change the spelling of his name.   In a letter to me, my McNeil cousin stated that Milton McNeil “evidently wanted to distinguish himself from his poorer cousins" by changing the spelling of his name.  In Robert McNeil’s application for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution, he spelled his surname and that of George as McNeill.

According to Johnson J. Hayes, George McNiel was “the ancestor of all the McNeils in this area of the state, including Watauga, Ashe, and Alleghany counties.” He was, indeed, a significant figure with a renowned legacy.

Finally, I am providing a table illustrating the connection between Barbara and me.  I hope that others with be interested in the information that Barbara and I have collected for the table.  Thanks again, Barbara, not only for providing me will additional information, but also for challenging and motivating me to tackle another line of my West family.  And, it’s always rewarding to find another “cousin” in the process.

6th Cousins
5th Cousins
Charlotte’s father
Barbara’s mother
4th Cousins
William Charles West, Sr. (1892-1967)/Ada Beatrice McQueen (1895-1965)
Nora Bessie McNeil (1900-1992)/Wiley Thomas Snyder (1892-1988)
3rd Cousins
America Ann McNeil (1863-1949)/Thomas Harvey West (1858-1949)
George Thomas McNeil (1870-1959)/Clara Eva Hettie Ellen Jarvis (1873-1959)
2nd Cousins
Milton “Milt” McNeil (1846-1929)/Martha Adeline Barlow (1845-1929)
John G. “Blind John” McNeil (1832-1899)/Rachel Eller
1st Cousins
Larkin “Lark” McNiel (1813-1877)/Elender “Nellie” Ferguson (1802-1875)
George McNeil (1802-1878)/Susan Vannoy (1803-1883)
Joseph McNiel (1769-1855)/ Mannah Wilson (d bef 1824)
James McNeil (1763-1834)/Mary “Polly” Shepherd (1773-1869)
George McNiel (1720-1805)/Mary Coats (1722-1782)
George McNiel (1720-1805)/Mary Coats (1722-1782)

*Most Recent Common Ancestors
·         Hayes, Johnson J. The Land of Wilkes. Wilkesboro, NC: Wilkes Heritage Museum, Inc., 1962, 2010.
·         Maple Springs Memorial Booklet. “The McNiel Family,”  Internet:
·         Mobley, Joe A., ed. The Way We Lived in North Carolina. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2003.
·         Pearson, James Larkin. Poet’s Progress, Autobiography of James Larkin Pearson, 1879-1981. Willkesboro, NC: Wilkes Community College, 1965, 2005.
·         Ready, Milton. The Tar Heel State, a History of North Carolina. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 2005.


  1. Charlotte,

    I noticed that Mary Sarah Coats McNiel was quite old when her children were born, approximately 1760 to 1782. If she was born about 1722 (as all the trees agree), then she was about 38 when her first known child was born, and 60 when her youngest was born. Have you ever looked into this? George was also rather old.

    --Barbara McGeachy

  2. Hello Barbara,

    It is good to hear from you again. I’m happy to share information and documentation that I have regarding George McNeil and Mary Coats.

    Apparently, George McNeil did not come to this country from Scotland until 1750 when he was about 30 years old. He did not marry until 1758 when he was about 38 years old. His wife, Mary, was about 36 years old at the time of their marriage. Their first child was evidently born within that same year, 1758. I do not have any documentation for the Mary’s dates other than the information appearing on his Find-A-Grave Memorial. Since her last child was born in 1782, the same year she died, she may have died in childbirth. I agree that it is difficult to believe that she conceived at the age of 59 or 60!

    Find-A-Grave provides a photograph of the tombstone from which one may easily read the inscription. In addition, a transcription is provided.

    It is very difficult to determine if all of the dates one finds are completely accurate. Few primary sources are available from the mid-1700s.

    Thanks for your inquiry and interest in accurate information. I wish I had more for you. I am providing my sources below.

    The DAR Patriot Index-Centennial Edition, 1990: birth about 1720 Scotland, death June 7, 1805, North Carolina

    Heritage of Wilkes County, 1982: arrived from Scotland about 1750, married Mary Coats of Virginia, had 9 children [James Larkin Pearson, his great grandson, indicates in his autobiography that George and Mary had 8 children.]

    Undated letter from his son, Joseph McNeil, published in a memorial booklet in 1905 on the 100th anniversary of the death of George McNiel: Joseph stated that his father was born on or about 1720 and died Jun 7, 1805.

    Find-a-Grave Memorial: birth 1720, Glasgow, Scotland; death Jun 7, 1805, Parsonville, Wilkes, County, North, Carolina; immigrated to North Carolina in 1750; spouse: Mary Sarah Coates McNiel (1722-1782); calculated birth dates of their 8 children: 1758, 1760, 1767, 1771, 1772, 1775, 1776, 1782.

    Married: Mary Sarah Coats in Grayson, Virginia, on Jun 10, 1758. I don’t have documentation for this date which I may have found in DAR applications.

  3. Barbara,

    I conducted a little more research today and found Mary Sarah Coats McNiel's burial location in Find-A-Grave. No photograph of the tombstone was provided. Information on this site listed her birth as 1722 in Watauga County, NC; death 1782 in Parsonville, Wilkes County, NC; spouse George McNiel (1720-1805). George and Mary Coats McNiel are buried in the McNiel-Faw-Riggs Cemetery in Wilkes County, NC.

    In addition, I am trying to locate a record of their marriage. They were married in Grayson County, VA, in 1758. However, Grayson was not established until 1793. Therefore, after tracing the formations of the various counties and making some phone calls to circuit court clerks, I believe that, if any record exists, it will be in Orange County or Spotsylvania County, VA.

    Much more work ahead - perhaps, in warmer weather!

  4. Love your information! I am a McNeil a descendant of George's son Benjamin. It is fascinating to learn about my ancestors!

  5. Steven,

    Thanks for your kind comment. Yes, it is fascinating and exciting to learn about one's ancestors. By researching and recording information about them, we are keeping them alive in our memory.

    I don't have any information about Benjamin McNeil other than he married a lady with the last name of Lips. I would love to know more about him and how you descend from him.

    Thank you for reading my blog. I hope to hear from you again.

  6. My half sister was Peggy Jean McNeal - George McNiel was her 5th GGfather. probably a few cousins of hers in here somewhere.

    1. Hello Anonymous,
      I may end up with two replies to you. I don't know what happened to the first one. Thanks for your comment and interest in my blog. I would love to know more about Peggy's direct line from George McNeil so that I can make a connection with her. Again, thanks!

  7. George and Mary are my 6th Great Grandparents. I enjoyed this blog...thank you.

    1. Christine, Thank you so much for reading my blog and for your comment. George and Mary were my 5th gr grandparents, also. You and I must be about 6th cousins.

    2. Charlotte, I'm having a difficult time figuring out who George's father is...Do you have any information regarding this? Thanks!

    3. I think there is a Hurst family in there somewhere

    4. Hello Anonymous,
      I just read your comment. I don't always receive notification of new comments and just found yours. I do not have a Hurst in my database but would be most interested in finding out the connection. Please let me know if you have information regarding a Hurst family. Thanks for reading and for your comment.

  8. Hello Christine,

    I'm happy to share what I have on George McNeill's ancestry. However, my information on them is undocumented. I am including my undocumented information below.

    Neill Og McNeill (1650-1700)/unkn Maclean;
    Hector Mcneill/Elizabeth McTavish;
    Neill McNeill (1695, Argyll, Scotland - 1749 Cumberland, NC)/Grizella Campbell (9 Mar 1701 Marchmont, Berwickshire, Scotland-1760 Cumberland, NC);
    Lauchlin McNeill (1720 Scotland-1777 Cumberland, NC)/Margaret Johnston (b 1704 Scotland);
    Archibald McNeill (abt 1720 Argyll, Scotland- 26 Jun 1801 Cumberland, NC)/Janet Smith (1720 Scotland-1791 Cumberland, NC);
    Daniel McNeill (1746 Argyll, Scotland-23 Mar 1829 Moore, NC)/Sarah McKay;
    John L. McNeill/Margaret Anderson;
    Thomas McNeill/Margaret Weir;
    Thomas McNeill/Mary Hannah Parsons;
    and lastly, George McNiel.

    I would greatly appreciate any help or corrections on this information.

  9. Hi Charlotte, Thanks for the effort you have put into this work!
    I'm have recently started looking into my ancestry, and have traced my line back to George McNeill as well.
    I believe the line goes,
    George McNeill
    James McNeill
    Elijah McNeill
    Leander McNeill
    Feilds McNeill
    William Doughton McNeill
    William Cline McNeill Sr
    William Cline McNeill Jr(Myself)
    Most of My line after James lived in Ashe County NC

  10. Hi Charlotte, Thanks for your very interesting and informative Blog
    my McNeill Ancestry goes form myself William C. McNeill jr. to
    William C McNeill Sr.
    William Doughton Mcneill
    Feilds H McNeill
    Leander Johnson McNeill
    Elijah McNeill
    James McNeill
    George McNeill

    they were all form Wilkes and Ashe County NC

  11. William, Thanks for your kind comments and information about your line from George McNeil. I notice that your family retained the spelling with ll at the end. The spelling of the name has changed so much through the years. My great grandmother spelled it as McNeil. Since she was my last McNeill ancestor, that's what I use. You and I are 6th cousins. I had your line to Elijah in my genealogy and was able to complete it to you with your information. Thanks so much. If you would like to communicate with me through email, please post a comment with your email address which I won't post publically in the blog.

  12. William, Thanks for providing your email. I will not post your comment and will promptly email you.

  13. Hello, I am looking for proof that Alfred Thomas McNeil was the son of John and Rachel Eller McNeil. Can anyone help me?

  14. Thanks for reading my blog and for your query about Alfred Thomas McNeil. I do have some unsourced data in my files regarding him. I have Alfred McNiel listed as a child of John McNiel and Rachel Eller. John and Rachel Eller were married on Aug 19, 1820, in Wilkes Co, NC. I have their children as follows: William "Big Bill" H. McNiel,b1821; Alfred McNiel, b1823; Susanna McNiel, b1825; Peter McNiel, b1827; George Franklin McNiel, b1830; Mary "Polly," b1832; Nancy Caroline McNiel, b1835; Fannie Emaline McNiel, b1838; Jesse Harrison McNeil, b1841; and Laura Ann McNiel, b1845. Their last name was spelled McNiel with later generations using the spelling of McNeil. I have John McNiel's parents as James McNiel and Mary "Polly" Shepherd; his grandparents as George McNiel and Mary Coats, who were my 5th great grandparents. According to my records, Alfred was born on 19 Jan 1823 and died on 23 Mar 1891. He married Frances Matilda Vannoiy on 6 Nov 1844. This spelling of Vannoiy is what I have. The more common and recent spelling of the name is Vannoy. Since Alfred was born too early to have appeared with a name in a census before he married, he won't be found in one with his parents. Find-a-Grave lists the children of John and Rachel as Jesse Harrison, Nancy Caroline, Frances Emaline, George Franklin, and Mary Eller. However, many times not all of the children are listed in Find-a-Grave. I hope this will be of some help and wish that I had more documented information. If you wish to correspond with me via email, please enter another post with your email. I moderate all posts and will not post anything with one's name or email without permission. I will not post your message but will email you. Thanks, again.

  15. I had another thought for you. Have you tried looking for a will or deeds that John McNiel may have had? These documents often name heirs and/or identify children by names and relationships.


Thank you for your interest in my blog and for your comment. I have the option of allowing your comments to become public. I will not publish comments with home addresses, phone numbers, or email addresses unless the responder gives permission. I receive notification when someone adds a comment. However, I cannot reply directly to these comments. In order to see my reply, you will need to check the post again.

You may click on photos to enlarge them.