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December 2011

Letter:  Abner Neale to John Gray Blount, September 28, 1793.

The transcription is as follows:

New Bern  Sepr. 28th 1793

Dear Sir, 

Yours ? W. Blackledge  I received and am sorry that you could not make it convenient to purchase the Hydes, as they would have been an Object to us.  I can ashure you that the Butcher here thinks hard of my not paying him agreeable to Contract, but I could not.

I took the Letter out of the Post Office you alluded to and as to the part necessary for me to Answer wile as fully as I am able.  On my return from Wilmington Court I was informed of the conduct of Our Tanner, with respect to his frequently having a mollator Girl with him at the Plantation.  I did every thing in my power to see it my self but never could but herd it from so good Authority that I spoke to him about it and he ashured me that I should never heare of any such behavior for the future and I never have.  I have no reason to doubt the Mans Honesty as yet and have paid every attention in my power to detect him, Tho as you very justly observe he might if he was so disposed take advantages and that greatly, he has been very Sick this two Weeks but is getting better and has several times impressed himself much Obliged to me for the timely advice I gave him, as he calls it, and I am in ? we shall have no further ? to Complain, and all he is afraid of is that we shall not keep him supplied with Hydes, he appears to be very particular and attentive to his Business; and I believe would not have been led so much astray had it not been for his Acquaintance with Captain Mackie with whom he came passenger and at whose House he fell in with this Girl, living with one who Mackie keeps.  You may be ashured that I will take every necessary step in my power for the Interest of the Yarde? the Hydes you alluded to that ware sent I suppose was them of George Horns they have been a long time done, with our other Spanish Hydes and he can have the two thirds of them when ever sent for.

I shall be over on my Way to Edenton on Friday next; when I hope to find you and your family better than we have heard they ware.

                         I am Sir you Obt. Sert.

                                Abner Neale

Well, this letter contained a bomb.  The mere mention of any white man “shacking up” with a “mollater” girl might ring warning bells in the late 18th century… if you did not live in a distant maritime community that seldom gave such things a second glance, that is.  After all, as Cecelski infers, Outer Banks creole societies could in the “saltiest” of locales be a mix of white, black, and Indian heritage, which “adhered less fixedly to boundaries of race, class, and gender.” 

Deputy Surveyor Christopher Neale’s chainer on those Hatteras surveys, Abner Neale “Jr.” wrote his business associate John Gray Blount in 1793 about his misgivings over their newly-hired tanner.  The tanner’s name was never mentioned, but he lived somewhere near Shell Castle Island, perhaps on Hatteras Island where Blount and Wallace had recently purchased multiple lots, some near the future lighthouse.  Neale heard that the tanner had “frequently [had] a Mollator Girl with him at the Plantation” and demanded that he cease these flirtatious philanders lest he lose their business.  

Why was this letter not included in the published collection?  Well, that answer became starkly obvious when I looked at the publication date of 1959.  It was at least possible that Alice Barnwell Keith edited out letters from that collection to avoid racial issues.  Brown v. Board of Education had occurred only five years prior to this publication date and the Greensboro Sit-ins were two years away, with the Civil Rights Act five years down the road in 1964.  That could easily explain this “mistake.”

So, just how many more letters were “edited” from this publication, I wondered.  That, of course, cannot be determined in a single visit to the archives.  Blount received hundreds, possibly thousands of letters.  This was a summer project.  Summer of 2012, that is.  So, I concentrated on finding out more about this Abner Neale…

Abner Neale, according to the published Blount letters (Vol. II, page 339), edited by Alice Barnwell Keith, was John Gray Blount’s brother in law:

Note 69: Abner Neale was the son of Christopher Neale and the brother-in-law of John Gray Blount.  He had a plantation near New Bern and was associated with a man named Jones (Neale & Jones) in business in New Bern.  He held a number of minor political offices, but seemed to lack the energy and stability to accomplish as much as his abilities might have made possible.  He often appealed to John Gray Blount for advice or financial help.  After his death, his widow, "Milly," married Benjamin Coakley.  John Gray Blount in Tripartite Agreement, John Gray Blount Papers, February 9, 1800.

Well, I thought that I now knew about Abner Neale and his brother, Christopher, who had moved to Hatteras Island.  Only, Christopher Neale had apparently spent little time on Hatteras and, while he did obtain land there next to Stephen Brooks, he did not keep it very long.  But, the surveys that I saw called Abner Neale a “Jr.”  While this did not always indicate a father of the same name, it usually did.  I was willing to accept that Abner Neale of Craven County was Christopher’s son, but that isn’t what I found.  Keith had made another slight error, this one of little import, actually.  An older Abner Neale died in Craven County and thankfully left his will for all to read.  It clearly stated that Abner and Christopher were both the sons of this Abner Neale, deceased in 1772.  Furthermore, Abner was the eldest child and died in Craven County in 1814.  His wife was listed as “Elizabeth” in that will and it was not known if this is the “Milly” or Mildred that he mentioned in his correspondence with Blount.  Mildred Harvey was a daughter of Miles Harvey and the half-sister of Mary Harvey, John Gray Blount’s wife.  Elizabeth may have been a second wife. 

Christopher Neale left few records in Craven County, and like his older brother Abner was a merchant mariner as well.  North Carolina Colonial Records show that a “Christopher Neale” obtained 500 acres in Currituck County (where Hatteras was then) in 1741.  Still, the O’Neal family of Hatteras claims a Christopher O’Neal in its genealogy and the assumption has always been that this was the surveyor, Christopher Neale.  Well, that assumption also turned out to present another shock.  Man!  How many was I going to get today?  Well, I keep digging, so I can’t blame anyone else…

Of the many surveys that Christopher Neale conducted on Hatteras, one was for… you guessed it… “Christopher O’Neill.”  This was the 500 acres formerly alluded to in 1741 on “Chicotticomaco Banks” north of the main body of Hatteras Island (Buxton area).  Neale signed his survey as “ Christ. Neale Surveyr” and listed the chainers as “Christ. O’Neill” and “John O’Neill.” 

In 1720, we find this entry in the North Carolina General Assembly sessions, 1675-1789 notes from William Byrd’s Villainy Often Goes Unpunished, page 10:

March 1:  To Anthony Hatch in Little River [just east of Durant’s Neck in Perquiman’s County] you are hereby directed and required for the use of the Hatteras Indyans that they may not be unprovided to serve the publick if occasions requires to deliver unto Capt. John Oneale on the banks and of the indyans aforesaid 20 lbs power and 40 pounds shot with 100 flints if so much be instore if noe deliver as much of each kind as you have.  John Oneale signs his mark in receipt.

An interesting note here is that, in 1716, John O’Neal was granted what we now know as the 1759 Elks grant, or at least most of it.  Four years later, he is asked to make a delivery to them.  Was he still in possession of that land in 1720?  Quite possibly so… after all, Hatch asked him and “Capt. John Oneale on the banks and of the indyans aforesaid” kind of implies that he did.  A later deed shows that he sold this property to Samuel Stow who then sold it to merchant John Nelson Jr. of Pasquotank.  So, there were O’Neals on Hatteras by 1716. 

Then, were there two families?  Neales and O’Neals?  Also, did Christopher Neale (also noted as “Capt” in the Blackledge will) ever own any land on Hatteras?  Possibly, he did.  It is doubtful that he owned the 500 acres at “Chicomocomack.” The 200 acres of land next to Stephen Brooks near Trent Woods, opposite Buxton to the southwest may have belonged to “Christopher Neale” as his name was spelled in the 200-acre patent.  According to Richard Blackledge’s 1777 will, he and Christopher Neale of Craven County purchased land together at Lake Mattamuskeet, a common place for other Hatteras Islanders to own land. 

Still, O’Neals possessed land at the Indian Town.  “Capt. John O’Neale” was charged with delivering the necessary powder and shot to the Indians at Indian Town.  He had obtained 400 acres in that area or possibly on it in 1716 when settlement officially began.  Christopher “Neale” appears decades later and is the colony of North Carolina’s surveyor-general.  He may only have noted a business opportunity while conducting surveys for residents and took advantage of that opportunity.  He probably did not remain.  The O’Neals did. 

So, that concludes my adventure gone awry for today.  Stay tuned for the adventures of Valentine Wallace/Wallis, early settler on Hatteras Island. 

This newsletter concludes 2011 and what a year it has been for the Lost Colony Research Group.  We have a surprise for you that we'll be publishing in early 2012 - so stay tuned - you won't be disappointed.  Furthermore, we have a big year planned for 2012 and here's looking forward to wonderful new discoveries in the months that follow!


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