MARY NEELY was born the fourth of a family of ten children, born to William and Margaret (Patterson) Neely, near the French Broad River, in the state of South Carolina, on the 20th day of August, 1761. Her parents were of Irish and Welsh extraction. At what date they came to America is not known, or whether they were born in South Carolina. Neither is it material to the subject of this sketch. Mary seemed to be a great favorite of her father's, but in that early day schools were scarce, and books were few, and nothing like system was attempted in what few schools there were in the rural districts; and owing to circumstances that followed, six weeks was all the schooling she ever had. Her early days were spent, as those of most of those hardy pioneers, in carding and spinning wool and flax, and assisting the men in their endeavor to make a living for the family. She was just past her eighteenth birthday when her father became restless, on account of the Indians being driven back, and concluded to emirate to the territory (then belonging to North Carolina), now state of Tennessee. Moving a family at that time and in that direction was a hazardous undertaking. So her father, with six other pioneers set about making preparations to move their household effects, he choosing a large popular tree in which the country abounded, and dug out for himself a canoe, the dimensions of which were fifty-six feet long, three feet wide and three feet deep, the largest of the fleet made from a single tree; but there were some of larger dimensions, but made from two trees. When it was completed he added four inches to the depth by nailing on strips, into which, after launching, he placed seven grindstones for ballast. After selling his landed possessions for thirty thousand dollars in Continental money, he loaded his household goods into this canoe, leaving the balance of the family to come by land, bringing with them ninety six head of cattle and some forty head of horses, to what is now Neely's Bend, in the Cumberland river, some ten or twelve miles east of the present site of Nashville, Tennessee, the Bend taking its name from him. Taking Mary with him, with the other part of the fleet he embarked on their perilous enterprise down that crooked stream to its junction with the Tennessee; then down the Tennessee to nearly opposite Nashville, near the Mussel Shoals, then across the country, stopping where the city of Nashville now stands, where they found an unfinished pole cabin, but they were afraid to remain on account of the many signs of Indians, but journeyed on in a short time, to the present site of the village of Goodlettsville, some two miles north of the junction of the Louisville and Nashville railroad, and its Henderson branch, and there built a fort, the remains of which were still visible in 1873, and I presume are to this day. Here some twenty families gathered for mutual protection, numbering between thirty and forty men able to bear arms. William Neely seems to have been the leader, as his counsels were sought in every enterprise. Neely put his stock, both horses and cattle, down in the bend of the river for the purpose of getting food, being protected to some extent from the marauding bands of Indians. One of the great needs to all civilized nations is salt, and to their great delight they discovered a small spring on the bank of the river from which they could supply that demand, although it is so strongly impregnated with sulphur that its use now for the manufacture of salt would not be thought of for a moment; but to those sturdy pioneers it was a God-send. The stock required no feed except what they could get from the cane brakes and pea vine; but not so with the people, although bear, deer and turkeys were abundant. The great danger was in hunting them, but a brave man, such as composed that little band of Spartans, will brave any danger to appease the hunger of his wife and little ones. In this manner did they live, some guarding while others felled the great giants of the forests. The following summer they had to live on meat and vegetables, as their stock of flour and meal was long ago exhausted. But from the maples that were abundant in the bend from which they could supply themselves with sugar dn molasses, with plenty of meat and vegetables, which grew luxuriantly, they managed to keep soul and body together until roasting ears grew; but when the corn became hard a new difficulty presented itself - they had some corn, but no mill to grind it; but as necessity is the mother of invention, they soon made a mortar in which they pounded it, taking the finest for bread, while they made hominy of the coarser. It was at this period the incident occurred which changed the whole course of young Mary's life. About thirty of the men were at the spring, about two and one-half miles from the fort, making salt and clearing off ground for cultivation the next year, thinking all were comparatively safe, as no sign of Indians had been noticed for quite awhile. On Friday evening Mary concluded to go with some of the men to the spring; having the chills at the time, she thought the water would be beneficial to her, taking some of the softest corn with her to grate for a hoe cake for her father's supper. About two hours before sunset her father told the men all to go to the fort, and he and Mary would stay there alone. Some of the men protested, saying it was dangerous to leave him and Mary thus exposed; but he being a man without fear thought there was no danger, and persisted in remaining. Seeing expostulations and persuasion was of no avail, the men went to the fort. No sooner were the men out of sight than three Indians that had been lurking in the cane, whose eagle eyes saw that his gun was some little distance from him, sprang upon him before he could reach his gun, and cleft his head open with their savage tomahawk, while Mary stood, thoughtless of her own safety, hallooing to him to run for his gun; but when the murderous tomahawk had done its work, she fainted, and when consciousness returned, two Indians had her one by each arm, dragging her more dead than alive, to their canoe, which was concealed in the cane. She could have secreted herself easily where she might have remained safe until the men returned from the fort hd she had presence of mind to have done so, but heroine as she was, to see that dear father struck down in the vigor of his manhood, was too much for her poor young heart to bear. Through her long life afterward, she would refer to that as the saddest day of her whole life. Poor child - who would doubt this, a girl nineteen years of age, full of hope in anticipation of a bright future, seeing her father's life blood flowing from his dear head; then, as if that was not enough to satisfy their savage brutality, to tear from that head the scalp, more savage than a hyena. Think of this, you that were born in the lap of luxury, surrounded by friends and all the blessing that civilization brings, what our grandfathers and grandmothers had to endure, those that first tried to make a permanent settlement in Kentucky and Tennessee, yea, we may add, from the Atlantic to beyond the great Father of Waters, even to the Pacific ocean. After the murdering of Mary's father, they made haste to get away. They crossed over the river to the north and traveled for three days sue north before they came to the balance of their band; and when they reached their savage comrades Mary fully expected they would murder and scalp her, but to her astonishment, they did not. Then she concluded she was spared for future torture, well knowing their savage nature. The Indians held a council, and finally gave her the choice of becoming the wife of a young buck, or a servant to the chief, and she chose the servant's place. Little did she think when she made the choice, that it would be respected, but the idea of becoming the wife of the brute who murdered her father was so repulsive to her noble nature that death would have been far preferable. For three weeks after he father was killed she could not shed a tear. She often said afterward that she felt that she would give the world if she could cry, but her poor heart was too full. All that long and weary march, when unperceived by the Indians, she would make marks on the trees to guide those who might pursue, or as a guide to her if she should make her escape, but, poor child, their vigilant eye was ever on her. Day after day, and night after night, did she watch, wait and hope for deliverance, but, alas! Hope would spring up to be dashed to the ground. Even the stars through the long watches of the night, seemed to mick her in her misery. One day, while brooding over her desolation, the tears began to fill her eyes, and when she could weep, what a relief to her poor heart, which she continued to do for many days. Finally, one of the savages said, "What makes you cry so?" She replied, "You killed my father." As if to pacify her grief he said, "If I had known it was your father, I would not have killed him," which seemed to her savage mockery. Day after day did she perform the work assigned her, but not willingly. They kept her hands bound as a precaution against her attempting to escape, binding her in the evening and taking off the thongs in the morning, when her services were wanted. A favorite pastime with them in the evening was to get out the scalps they had taken, to dry them in front of the fire. What must have been her feelings, to see those demons take her father's scalp and hold it up before her eyes, pretending to be drying it, and as though that was not enough, would trim off the corners and cast them at her feet, when she would collect together, make a hole in the ground with her hands, and bury them, which she did with her hands crossed and bound in front of her. Her captors did not cease their vigilant watch over her for a long time, but after they had reached the vicinity of the Mammoth cave, in Kentucky, they became less watchful, and allowed her to sleep unbound. One night, while encamped under a beech tree into which a grape vine had climbed, she watched her opportunity, when her enemies were asleep, climbed up and secreted herself among its branches, remaining there until morning, when search was made for her, but she nowhere could be found. She becoming aware that they would not leave the camp without making a more thorough search and would remain there longer than she could remain in the tree, answered their call and came down to their great delight, for they had found by this time that she was too valuable a servant to give up. When she was captured she had a few needles which she well knew how to use, and did what sewing was required.
By this time winter had come, and in a short time the smallpox made its appearance, when the whole band was stricken with that dreadful disease, except an old squaw. Mary was broken out all over her body, and swelled to such an extent that she had to stand on her hands and knees, which were the only spots that were not covered with sores. She was blind for four days, and to add to her misery she was without clothing of any kind except a cotton garment, and a blanket; and all the fire she had was a small stick, the end of which was set on fire, and by steadily pushing it against a large log kept herself from freezing, as there were none to wait on her, and if the Indians had not been similarly afflicted she would have gotten but little care. While she was thus afflicted, their scanty supply of meat gave out, and they were reduced to the painful necessity of drinking bears' oil, of which the Indians seemed to always carry a supply, but of which she could not partake, as her stomach rebelled. When the pox began sloughing off the old squaw made her an ointment of the leaves of the prickly pear, and bears' oil, and gave her to anoint her face and hands, which effectually prevented them from leaving scars. When the Indians recovered they soon procured meat enough to satisfy their immediate wants, and that is all the Indian seems to care for. It was now spring of the year, and they set off north, hunting and skulking in the brush for white men who, at times, had to depend on game for their supply of food. Sometimes the Indians would be entirely out of anything to eat and would resort to bears' oil, which poor Mary could not drink. On one occasion they were without food for ten days, and all the poor girl had to eat during that time was a piece of white oak bark that she pealed with her knife, which she had carried with her since her capture. On the tenth day, about ten o'clock, they killed a bear, but were afraid to remain long in that locality, so they cut out such parts as they desired, and Mary cut out about a pound of the fat along the loin, and devoured raw, which, of course, came near costing her her life; but the old squaw made herself useful in her case, gave her some tea made of herbs, and she soon was relived. There is one good trait in the character of the Indians - they will divide whatever they have to eat even with their prisoners. At a subsequent time they killed a quail and divided the entrails. On another occasion they killed a large blacksnake on which they feasted. That summer seemed to be hard on them. They were passing through the Indiana territory, and theirs was a small band, only fourteen, including their captive. Three or four of that number wer4e squaws, and they were in constant dread of the whites. They camped at the French Licks for some days, while there, and in sore distress for something to eat. An eruption occurred just after dark about a quarter of a mile northeast of their camp. A great flash of light seemed to burst from the ground, accompanied by a loud report, which shook the earth for quiet a distance, which greatly excited the Indians. The bucks all went to ascertain the cause. When they started they gave strict orders that no noise was to be made at the camp, but they had not gone a great while when a deer that had probably been frightened by the explosion, or the Indians, came running in the direction of the camp, and halted within a few feet of the camp. Notwithstanding the positive orders of the old chief, his old squaw pointed to Mary and to the gun, when she raised the gun and killed the deer in its tracks. The Indians supposing the whites had attacked them, came running back to ascertain the cause of the disturbance. They were told that it was Mary who had fired the gun and killed the deer. On the instant the old chief raised his tomahawk to brain her for daring to disobey him, when the old squaw caught his arm and pointed to the deer when his wrath immediately subsided and he appeared greatly delighted. The following day the Indians revisited the locality where the great light burst up from the ground, the night previous, and brought back many specimens which they supposed was lead ore, but when they failed to melt it with all the appliances they possessed, they pronounced it money. Specimens of silver have been found there occasionally ever since, and no doubt there is a deposit of silver ore in that vicinity, to what extent is now known.
The Indians now commenced their march to the north, keeping as close to the Wabash river as possible. The next winter found them in northern Indiana. Here they suffered much from the cold of the long winter that followed. Think of it, you that have warm houses, and comfortable clothing, of spending a winter in northern Indiana out of doors with no shelter but the starry heavens, no clothing but a thin cotton garment and a blanket. It was during that winter that an incident occurred that caused quite an unusual stir among the Indians. They had gotten so far away with their captive, that they were comparatively careless with her, supposed she never could get away from them, and they had ceased to keep such a close watch on her. So, one night she lay down after a hard day's work, rolled herself up in her blanket, and was soon oblivious to her surroundings. During the night it began to snow, and by daylight there had more than a foot in depth fallen. When the Indians got up no Mary was to be seen. They made search for her in all directions, without success. Finally, abandoning the hope of ever finding her, one of the Indians threw a pole back in the snow, which fell with considerable weight on her, as she lay there all unconscious of her surroundings. The sudden shock awoke her, and with a spring she was on her feet in an instant, to the amazement and delight of the Indians. When she awoke she was in a profuse perspiration. After the first exclamation of joy at her discovery, their brutal instincts returned, and they compelled her to cut and carry twenty poles to burn before they would allow her to come to the fire to warm.
Finally, warm weather returned, when the band went out on foraging expeditions, coming in bringing many scalps with them, and some horses. After a time the horses strayed away, and all hands, including Mary, were sent or went to hunt for them. Mary and the chief's son's wife went in company. Mary had a rising on the bottom of her foot, caused by a bruise which made her quite lame. Consequently, she could not walk as fast as her companion. The little squaw asked her why she did not walk faster, when she replied she could not on account of the sore on her foot, to which the squaw made reply, "Let me see it," and when she held her foot up for inspection the little savage hit it with a large club she as carrying, which rendered her foot so painful that she was compelled to go to camp, where Mary laid in her complaint to the old squaw, and when her husband came in she told of the treatment Mary had received, whom the chief called into his presence, and she corroborated the story of the old squaw, and exhibited her foot. This enraged the old chief and he called up the young squaw, and administered to her such a beating as Mary had never witnessed before; in fact, until she was sorry and pleaded for the young brute. Although her treatment by the Indians was brutal in the extreme, yet she was of such tender and sympathetic disposition that she rebelled at unnecessary punishment.
The next move the Indians made was toward the east. In their journeyings they came to a British trading post, presided over by a British officer, where the Indians halted and bought some trinkets of the officers, the officers taking in exchange human scalps, among which was Mary's own father's. She tried to get him to buy her of the Indians, to which he replied, saying he would buy no more live scalps, when all the indignation that her young heart was capable of mustering arose, and she commenced to taunt him with his nefarious business, which so aroused his ire that he threatened to cleave her head from her shoulders, which she dared him to do. In that house, strung on a wire, she saw infants' scalps, the hair on which was not more than an inch long. What think, kind reader, of a government that will resort to such nefarious measures, murdering women and children? It may be said that the government did not do that, but they did by their savage tools. Here was a man, a British subject, an officer of its army, and in its pay, stationed there for the purpose of inciting the Indians to murder; not only so, but to buy the scalps of infants and their mothers, that they had butchered. No wonder the British government will not allow these things published in their history of the war of the Revolution. It is a disgrace that will never be effaced from its history. No other civilized government on earth has ever resorted to such measures. No wonder the brave hearts of the Irish people rebel at their tyranny. The heart turns sick at the contemplation of such deeds of infamy, and turning from the dark deeds, we are about to enter a brighter chapter.
They were now nearing Detroit, Michigan, and camped just outside of the stockade, where the French showed Mary every kindness; in fact, it was their business to buy or steal prisoners from the Indians. In her case, the Frenchman who undertook to get her away took a plan which he was sure would succeed. That is, he tried the effects of fire water; so he brought them a quart of whisky, of which they all partook very freely, except the old chief, who remained sober to watch, as is the Indian custom. The Frenchman remained talking with the Indians until near sunset; then he informed the old chief that his wife would want the cup to put milk in to feed the baby, during the night, well knowing he would order Mary to return it to its owner. The chief turned to her and bade her take the cup home, when she pretended to refuse (as she was sick with the chills at the time,) she well knowing that he would repeat the order, which he did with the threat of splitting her head open with the tomahawk if she refused; when she arose, going to her treasure box (as she carried the keys,) unlocking it with the intention of getting a pair of silver shoe buckles that belonged to her, but was unable, in her excitement to get but one; and afraid of delay, left the keys in the lock, not wishing to take anything belonging to them. Imagine, if you can, the joy that was welling up in her heart, mingled with fear, that after two long years of most cruel imprisonment she was now about to be free; but that some move made, a word spoken, might dash all her hopes to the ground. She thought of home, of friends, although she knew she was separated from them by hundreds of miles; but she hoped to yet be spared to see them. The terrible uncertainty of her escape being successful, seconds seemed to her hours. She, when prudence dictated to her to tarry no longer, took the cup and hastened as fast as she could to her destination. The lady to whom she was sent was standing in her yard when she arrived, told her to throw the cup over th fence, and go with her brother, who was waiting to accompany her, which she did. The brother taking off his own coat and hat bade her put them on and he tied a handkerchief around his head, as was the custom of many of the French. When they arrived at the gate of the stockade, it was nearly dark and the gates closed. Her guide made the usual request to be admitted, when the guard answered, "Who comes there?" A friend to the king," was his response; but turning to her in a low whisper, said "A friend to our country at present." They were admitted and Mary was taken to her friend's mother's, who at first concealed her in the cellar. The next day the whole town was aroused, and a vigilant search made, which was unsuccessful. Going to the lady where she returned the cup to inquire she said the girl came to the gate and threw the cup in the yard, and went off as if she as mad. After making thorough search outside of the stockade, they inquired of the guards at the gate, who said no woman had passed through the gate on the evening before, but two men had, which completely put them off their scent. After a few days they ceased their search for the time being. Mary was kept in the cellar for a few days; then the old French lady moved her up stairs and gave her some sewing to do, and she remained there unmolested for about three weeks, until one day, unthoughtedly, she stood up in front of the window to shake the wrinkles out of a shirt she had just finished. Just opposite a tailor had a shop and saw her, and in a few days he got drunk and told the Indians, and they came and demanded to search for her, which could not be denied, as the post was in the hands of the British, and they had their garrison to enforce their orders, and why should they not let their friends (the Indians) search, if need be help them, capture women and children, well knowing in many cases the Indians would scalp their victims and burn them at the stake. Shame! Shame ! On a nation that would resort to such methods to gain a victory. But thanks to our great Creator they were not permitted to carry out their hellish designs in enslaving a people that had tasted of liberty although thrice baptized in blood. The great watchword to them was "Liberty or death."
So thorough was their search for Mary, the old Frenchman put her in his money vault, built in the wall of the house, where she stood on thousands of gold and silver, so afraid she dared not breathe, even. She was afraid the beating of her heart would attract their attention. So cautious was her friend in concealing her that he had whitewashed the door so it would appear as the wall of the house; but had to leave the keyhole open to furnish air. Oh, what think you, kind reader, just have been her feelings after braving all the dangers she had passed through, and when she had unexpectedly found friends, to be thus basely betrayed, each moment expecting to be discovered, when a move of the foot or a loud breath would betray her hiding place and surely cost her her life; when within touch of those savage brutes she could hear threats that they would burn her alive if they ever got hold of her again. But thanks to an overruling Providence, they were not permitted to find her, and she lived many years afterward, to relate these tales to her children, grandchildren and her great-great-grandchildren. Finally, the Indians gave up the search and she remained with her friends for some weeks. But such was the constant dread of the enemy that her friends were compelled to send her out to an island, about nine miles from the shore, which was the first time in over two years she could breathe easily. There she found about ninety who had been prisoners like herself, waiting a vessel to take them away. Finally, a vessel landed, and they were bidden to come aboard, which invitation did not need to be repeated. When all was ready, the set sail for the east; but mind you, they were yet in the hands of the British government, and prisoners of war. How does that sound - prisoners of war. But such was the fact. When they got out on Lake Erie they encountered a severe gale, which became so severe they were liable to go to the bottom every minute. The passengers and crew were ordered below, and every wav sweeping the deck. The hatches battened down, and everybody seasick, nearly. Mary tried it for awhile and she concluded she would rather take the chances of being washed overboard than be cooped up in that intolerable stench; so when the hatches were raised to admit air she ran up the stairway and refused to go down again. The captain seeing her pluck, caught her by the hand and with the other caught a ring around the mast, and in that way they were able to stay on deck until the storm had passed. Finally, they landed, when they obtained a rowboat to take them to Niagara Falls, which they were unacquainted with, and came near going over. Being rescued, they disembarked and walked down to Lake Ontario, where they embarked for Lake Champlain, and where they arrived in due course of time. Here a new difficulty to Mary arose, - the first intimation that she was a prisoner of the British government, and where she found an officer ready to take their paroles. She and two o9ther girls and an old man had set out alone to go south; the colonel (for that was his rank) ordered them to halt, but Mary urged them on, saying they were no soldiers, and would sign no parole; but the officer was persistent, telling them he would not permit them to go unless they signed it. Finally, after he had followed them a little way, Mary turned to him and said: "If you follows us to that bend in the road, I will cut a switch, and these two girls and I will give you such a switching as you never experienced in your life." He persisting in his efforts to get them to sign, and they refusing, Mary told him she could not be a soldier, but she could run bullets. "Now," said she, when almost to the turn in the road, "you dare go around that turn so as to be out of sight of your soldier, and we will whip you so you can not walk back," and she stepped to the side of the road and began to cut the switch, when he hesitated and finally stopped, when the general mounted a stump and hallooed for the girls who had backed out the colonel, when Mary remarked: "Cheer up, girls, the general is not against us"; and the colonel left them without further molestation, to pursue their journey. By this time winter had set in, but the feeling of being free and on their road home filled Mary with new hope. Who can imagine what her thoughts were, hundreds of miles away from her kindred, not knowing that one of them was alive, and they having no intelligence form her, not knowing whether she was dead or alive.
Afoot, without money, except a few dollars, and in a country where prisoners were continually passing and the people unable to do much for them, she struggled on until she reached Philadelphia, where she got in company with a family by the name of Riddle, that were going to Virginia, and she engaged to go with them; that is, they agreed to let her go if she would pay her own way, and help them drive the stock, to which she readily consented, and she made herself useful, as the sequel will prove; for when they got to the Susquehanna river, there was an old leaky skiff there, and she asked permission to ferry herself across, of the ferryman, to which he readily consented, not thinking she could manage a boat, but then he saw how soon she was on the other side of the river. The family all got across, and all their stock except an unruly cow, which they could not get into the boat. Mary told the ferryman if he would take her across she would bring the cow over. Seeing her exploit with the skiff, he consented to do so; when she landed she caught the cow by the nose with one hand and by the horn with the other. Young ladies, how many of you of the present day could or would do that? Not many, I fancy. The family with which she journeyed finally reached their destination in Virginia in midwinter. Here Mary stopped with a family by the name of Spears, where she was employed as a domestic. Now she was away from the fear of molestation of Indians, and for the first time in nearly three years she had enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in a bed. All this time she had a faithful brother who had not ceased his inquiry for her, although most of the family had given her up as dead. During her absence her mother had been killed by the Indians, also some of her brothers. This faithful brother mounted his horse, rode through Kentucky and into Virginia, looking and inquiring of emigrants, when he fell in company with a man who saw her hold the cow in the ferryboat while crossing the Susquehanna river, which he related and farther stated that she was left-handed, which clue, slight as it was, gave her brother hope, and he kept on his journey, inquiring of everyone that he hoped to gain any information from. Finally, he stopped on Sabbath to feed his horse. Just as the farmer had given the horse his feed, the brother inquired if he knew of anyone who had been a prisoner with the Indians. He said yet, there was a girl at the old man Spears', that had come there last winter, and after a further description of her, he mounted his horse without giving him time to eat, and put out to see if it was his long lost sister. When he arrived she had gone to church, and he sat and conversed with the old man, who satisfied him that it was none other than his sister. Finally the old man Spears saw his daughter, wife and Mary coming down the land, and he said to Neely: "There comes three women down the lane; is either of those your sister?" He looked a moment, and replied, "Yes, the one in the middle is." When the women came in, Mary passed by him, and threw her bonnet and shawl on the bed, when he raised his head to observe her. With an exclamation of delight she sprang into his arms, exclaiming; "My brother! My brother!" Oh! What a delightful reunion, dear reader. Can you imagine, then, the intelligence form home, mother dead, two brothers, also, butchered by the inhuman and relentless savages. Home broken up and the remnant of the family had to flee for their lives. But after three long years, midst dangers such as fall to the lot of very few, indeed, she was permitted to behold the face of a dear brother. Truly, it was happiness, mingled with sorrow. In a few days she and her brother set out on one horse for Carpenter's Station, in Lincoln county, Kentucky (now Casey) where they arrived in due time, and where she met an older sister, and the remnant of the family; but further progress toward their home in Tennessee was hazardous in the extreme. In fact, Indians were all around the fort; so that it was dangerous to venture out of sight of the fortification where they remained for a long time. After a time Mary's older sister married a man by the name of Spears, who was a son of the Spears she stopped with in Virginia. Two of the Carpenters were, also, sons-in-law of the old man Spears. The Spears and Carpenters lived there for many years before the Indians were driven back so that farming could be done with any degree of safety. After a few years some of Mary's brothers ventured back to Tennessee to find everything destroyed, stock driven off and utter desolation prevailing in their once prosperous neighborhood; but the Indians had also been driven back from their immediate vicinity, but in close enough proximity that, like a pack of sleuth hounds, they could pounce upon isolated and unsuspecting settlers, which became so annoying that a general and concerted raid was made on them, and they were driven back to western Tennessee, after which th settlers lived in comparative safety.
On the 24th day of February, 1785, Mary was united in marriage to George Spears, shortly after which she and her husband moved to Green county, Kentucky, and lived in the outside house of the settlement for four years. Many times did they have to flee to the fort (Grey's) and twice to Carpenter's, sixty miles away. Many an Indian was made to bite the dust by an unerring rifle in the hands of a Neely. As one of Mary's brothers told the writer, he had killed six of the rascals, but that had not compensated him for the friends they had killed. This brother (Samuel) was with his mother when she was killed, he only nineteen years of age; but he had the satisfaction of killing their chief, who, he supposed, killed his mother. On another occasion he killed five while they were crossing the Tennessee river. He would soot the one paddling the canoe, and by the time another would get the paddle and get the canoe straightened on its course, he would shoot that one, and so on until he killed five out of eight that started across. The old man, in relating the circumstance many years after, said if the river had been wide enough he would have gotten them all. This brother remained in Neely's Bend and lived to a good old age, surrounded by a large family of children. He and his companion now lie buried near the old homestead. His wife was a Watkins, a sister of the late Samuel Watkins, founder of the Watkins Institute, Nashville, Tennessee. Mrs. Spears, seeing the great need of a physician in the early settling of Kentucky, and having gained a considerable knowledge of the Indians how to treat the prevailing diseases of the country, now turned her attention to the study of medicine, more particularly the treatment of white swelling, or hip disease, and chronic sores, in which she was very successful. Such became her fame that her practice extended for many miles, hundreds of cases coming to her house, until at times it was converted into a veritable hospital. For fifty years she treated white swelling, with success in every case, never failing in a single instance, while the medical fraternity were pronouncing it incurable. Still, they called her a quack, little up-starts that had M.D. attached to their names, would sneer at the idea of a woman knowing about the sciences. But she cared about as much for their abuse as a good general would if an enemy was to fire toward his army out of a popgun. But as time went on such men as Dr. Dudley, of Kentucky, McDowell and Merriman of St. Louis, and many other eminent physicians acknowledged her ability particularly in the treatment of white swelling or hip disease, chronic sores, and, in fact, almost every disease that the human family was subject to, and sent her many cases, in the treatment of which she was very successful. She never despaired of effecting a cure in the worst cases that presented themselves and was successful in a remarkable degree; in fact, a failure in her case was a rare exception in which she took great delight, not in the fact that she could and did cure cases that were pronounced incurable, but from a consciousness that she was doing a duty that was incumbent upon her; neither did she exult in the fact that she was in possession of knowledge that others were not, as no one was more willing to impart knowledge than she, and off times would she say, during the latter part of her life, that she would be glad to communicate all the knowledge she had acquired if any one was willing to learn. But it seemed as if those near her acted as though they felt she would always be with them, as two or three generations had come and gone during her life, and yet she remained, and but few would be willing if they had the knowledge, to undergo the hardships that she did for the compensation that she received, which did not amount to a decent board bill. I have in mind a son of Mr. Mumford, who laid out the town which bore his name in Kentucky, who had the misfortune to be thrown from a cart on which was a hogshead of tobacco, and falling under the wheel had his leg broken, or, rather two and one-fourths inches of both bones crushed and broken through. Mr. Mumford being a man of means, sent and had four of the most noted surgeons of the state to visit his son, whose unanimous opinion was, the leg must be amputated; but the boy was fifteen years old, and let them know he had something to say. He said: "Send for Mrs. Spears; if she says cut if off, so be it; I will never consent unless she says so." So his father posted a boy after her, thirty-five miles, and she returned with him the same evening; and the most noted surgeon, who had come ninety miles, stayed to see, as he expressed it, what an old woman would do with a case like that. Well, he had the pleasure of seeing what she would do with it. This was in April, and she said to him: "You come back in October, and I will show you that leg sound and well." "Well, Madam," said he, "in four days led and boy will both be under the ground." "Never fear," was her laconic reply. And sure enough, in October following he drove ninety miles; to his utter astonishment found the boy sound and well, and further, said it was the greatest feat in surgery that had ever been performed, and reported it as such to the medical journals of that day. These facts I obtained from a younger brother in 1873, who is willing to make affidavit to every word. The brother lived to be sixty-five years old. Many other cases as remarkable could be recited and verified by indubitable evidence, but we deem it unnecessary, as, if all the good deeds of this remarkable woman were written, they would fill a large volume, for it seemed her whole business in life was to do good to others. If she had charged as other physicians did for their services, she could have been twice a millionaire, but her whole life seemed spent in doing good to others and without compensation. Never was it too cold, or the weather too stormy for her to go to the relief of suffering. Her husband had served a short time during the Revolutionary war, when he was only sixteen years old. When the Indians had been driven out of that part of Kentucky, and were giving the government a good deal of trouble in Indiana territory, General Harrison called on Governor Shelby for troops. Mr. Spears raised a company, and went as its lieutenant, and continued his service until their services were no longer needed, and from the close of the war of 1812-15 they were permitted to live in peace and by their own fireside. She continued to live in Green county, Kentucky, until August 10th, 1824, when they sold their possessions and moved to Sangamon county (now Menard), Illinois, which at that time was wild and sparsely settled, where the Indians still remained, but not in their immediate vicinity. But they came every fall to hunt, but were friendly. Blackhawk did stir a fuss in 1833 Mr. Lincoln raised a company in which Mrs. Spears' youngest and only living son was orderly sergeant, but their services were not needed, as General Scott, with sufficient troops of the regular army, had preceded them, and compelled Blackhawk to sue for peace, when he and his tribe were moved beyond the Mississippi river. Mrs. Spears, at this period, was getting well advanced in life, being seventy-two years old; but considering the hardships she underwent in early life, was still as vigorous as most ladies at forty. The country being new, physicians were scarce, so she continued to visit those who needed her assistance, and her patients came from Missouri, Iowa and from all over the state of Illinois, with white swellings and chronic sores of all descriptions, and none went away in a worse condition than they came. In fact, in my recollection she cured them in every instance, and it was not a few isolated cases she treated, but of the worst type, and just such cases as physicians had failed on. Although, as stated, she had no advantages of an early education, she was a good reader, and employed a great deal of her time in reading useful and instructive books, the Bible. Her husband died on the 16th day of April, 1838, after they had walked together for more than fifty years. One by one her daughter and her youngest son. In 1843, she, with a nephew and his wife and her little grandson, visited her only brother, who still lived in Neely's Bend, whom she had not seen for thirty years. Although eighty-two years of age, she would not consent to go in any other manner than in a farm wagon, which she had fitted up with a mess box and camp equipage, camping out each night, as she contended that a change of diet would be injurious to a person per age. When she arrived at the old homestead, which she had not seen for more than thirty years, she drove to the front gate and hallooed. Her brother coming to see what was wanted, asked if she could remain there over night. Without waiting to reply, her brother said: "Is it possible that is old Mary Spears," and the scene that followed cannot be described; to see those old people clasped in each other's arms, and crying for joy; but their hearts were too full to utter a word. She remained with him for a month, when they parted to meet no more on this earth, but with a hope in the near future, of meeting on the other shore, where they will meet to part no more, and where father and mother, brothers and sisters that had been so cruelly snatched away from them in this life by the cruel hand of the savage will be there to greet them, where no fear of the tomahawk or the scalping knife will ever be known, for God, the everlasting Father and His Son shall reign. But their parting was sad to contemplate; one had passed four score years, and the other nearing seventy-eight mile pose, and with the full knowledge that in a few short years they would meet agin; but still to know that must be the last time they should ever behold each other's face in this world - they held each other's hands in silence, then each turned, he to go to his home, and she to her home in Illinois, where she arrived in two weeks. People came by the score to greet her on her safe arrival, and for relief from their various ills. Although she long since had passed the allotted time for man to live; had arrived at that extreme age when the body and mind fail; although her physical strength was gradually wearing away, her mind seemed as clear as a person of thirty.
At the risk of being ridiculed, I must be permitted to relate an incident that I witnessed. In about the year 1836, while the great war president was a resident and postmaster at Salem, Illinois, he became very fond of Mrs. Spears' company, and seemed never to tire of hearing her relate her experience while prisoner with the Indians and would often walk over to her home on Saturday evening, and remain until Monday morning. The last visit he made her before removing to Springfield, when he went out of her door, she followed him into the yard. He turned about and said: "Grandma, I am going to Springfield; maybe I'll never see you again;" while he took her hand between his long, lean hands, said, "Good-bye - God bless you," and she returned his salutation by saying, "Good-bye, Abram, God bless you." when both stood for a moment while the tears trickled down their cheeks. Finally, as their hearts could bear no more, they both relaxed their grasp, he turned to go, walking off at a brisk pace, while she seemed transfixed to the spot for a moment. In a short time she turned to the writer, and said: "That is a very smart young man; I would not be surprised if he was president of the United States some day." Many years after this the writer was telling Mr. Lincoln, in the presence of his brother-in-law and a few others, of the remark on the occasion of his last visit. He sat for a moment in silent contemplation, then remarked: "She was a pretty good guesser, was she not?" (That was while he was a candidate); and he further said she was the most remarkable woman he had ever seen.
Mrs. Spears was very methodical in her habits. She abhorred the use of calomel and quinine, contending that both were not only useless, but injurious. Very little medicine would she prescribe or use, contending that nature was its best remedy. She was a member of the Baptist church for nearly seventy-five years. Her deportment was always that of a true Christian. While charitable to others, she was firm in the right, as she understood what was right. As long as she lived her whole desire seemed to be to do good to others. During the latter years of her life she would weave and sew just as though she was compelled to do so to gain a livelihood, which very much annoyed her son, he thinking the community would look upon it as neglect, and got a young minister whom she thought a great deal of, to talk to her and try and induce her to give up trying to do anything. As he afterward remarked, he soon found he was giving advice on a subject he knew but little about, as she replied to him: "My brother, I know I don't have to work, but I do it for my own good." Said she, "I have seen many old people who ceased to take exercise and as a consequence, they could not eat food which would strengthen the body, and the mind, as a consequence, would become inactive and weak; and I don't want to get into that condition, for if it is the will of God, when my mind fails I would like to go, as I have no desire to live after my mind has lost its power to contemplate the goodness and mercy of that God who has preserved and watched over me through the vicissitudes and varying changes of a long life."
A few years after she moved to Illinois, she had brought from Kentucky two of her old slaves, children, a boy and a girl. It would be more proper to say two of a family she had been the slave of, for she truly made a slave of herself for her colored people. The girl lived with her until near the close of her life, when she left her and went to Springfield. The boy remained with her during her life; in fact, remained in the family until his death.
Mrs. Spears lived until the 26th day of January, 1852, retaining her intellect to within one hour of her demise, fully realizing that her time had come. At her death she was ninety years, five months and twenty-six days old. It was the privilege of the writer to assist in nursing her in her last illness, and I have never seen any one that bore their affliction with more patience, or who seemed to have more judgment in directing her attendants how to attend her wants with the least trouble. She gave directions how she wanted to be buried, and exacted a promise of her granddaughter's husband (who was a carpenter) that he would make her coffin of walnut lumber (as she wanted something that would last), all of which was carried out to the letter, and she was buried in the family cemetery in the midst of the farm she had lived on so long, by the side of her husband, and surrounded by a daughter, grandchildren and many other friends, and many have joined her company since, in the great Beyond. She has left to us an example of what perseverance will do, even under the most trying disadvantages. Hers was truly a school of adversity, but prompted by the highest motives, she was able to attain to a position among the people of her extended acquaintance that any one might envy and strive to emulate.
When Mr. and Mrs. Spears came to Illinois in October, 1824, there was no church organization in Central Illinois. She and her husband, two daughters, a son-in-law and eight other pioneers organized the Clary's Grove Baptist church on December 25, 1824, at their residence (a log cabin), which is believed to be the first church organization in Central Illinois. Their meetings were held at their residence and her daughters', for a number of years until they built a very commodious brick dwelling which served their purpose much better; but after a time her companion having died and her youngest son and wife, with whom she made her home having united with the church, they concluded to build a hewed log house to serve as a schoolhouse and also a meeting house, which answered the purpose for a time, it being twenty by thirty feet in dimensions; but as time went by emigrants were continually arriving. Her son had built a sawmill, one of the very necessary things in a new country, and concluded that their place of meeting was too small to meet the requirements of the rapidly growing congregation. With the help of his son-in-law, who was a carpenter, and a small contribution from a few others, he built a very commodious house of worship, for that early day, thirty by forty feet, a substantial frame, in which the congregation worshiped until death ended her long and useful life. Although long since dead, yet her influence still lives, and how long it will continue Eternity alone can tell. History does not give us the example of many of the pioneer women of the west that is more interesting than this noble and remarkable woman, of her early privations, her great trials during her imprisonment with the Indians, her escape and struggle to get home and amongst friends. We of the present generation have but little conception of the trials our parents and grandparents endured, to bequeath to us our civil and religious liberties. To read it, it sounds like fiction, but to hear it as it fell from their lips, we must feel, although it is strange, yet how true!Grandparents of George Spears. William Neely, date of birth not known; killed by Indians October, 1780.