William Charles West, Sr. (1892-1967)/Ada Beatrice McQueen (1895-1965)
Nora Bessie McNeil (1900-1992)/Wiley Thomas Snyder (1892-1988)
America Ann McNeil (1863-1949)/Thomas Harvey West (1858-1949)
George Thomas McNeil (1870-1959)/Clara Eva Hettie Ellen Jarvis (1873-1959)
Milton “Milt” McNeil (1846-1929)/Martha Adeline Barlow (1845-1929)
John G. “Blind John” McNeil (1832-1899)/Rachel Eller
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)
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.
*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.