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  • Collections NoteNeill Family Letters, 1849–68
  • Translated by Samuel R. Phillips (bio)

Henry Neill (1808–93), the patriarch to whom most of these letters are addressed, was born to a farming family in Mason Co, Kentucky. As a boy he moved with his family across the Ohio River and grew up near Manchester, Adams Co., Ohio.

He was a big young guy, measuring 6 ft 2, and broad shouldered and strong, and at age 17 he had a misunderstanding with his dad and left home, going by flat boat to New Orleans with a man having bacon, corn and other raw products for sale, steamboats being in their infancy and not considered very safe, since they "blew up" at times.

On his return, he settled at Louisiana, Mo., not far above St. Louis. After playing around St. Louis, dancing with the French gals for a time, [he] learned to make leather under the old fashioned hand process. At age 24, in the year 1832, he rode from St. L. to Batesville1 with $800.00 in gold he had saved from his wages and settled on what is now the old homestead just beyond Desha and lived out his life there.2 [End Page 55]

After a few years Henry established a tannery that by 1860 had become the largest single industry in the county.3 In 1836 he and Dorcas Stark (1816–1902), of North Carolina lineage, were married. During the Civil War, one son, Job, was killed and another, Robert (the editor's great-grandfather), was wounded at the battle of Oak Hills (Wilson's Creek) in 1861.

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Left: Henry Neill, 1808–93, undated. (Editor's collection.) Right: According to family legend, the photograph of Henry Neill, 1808–93, and Dorcas Stark Neill, 1816–1902, was taken on their wedding day in 1836. However, photography was not invented by Daguerre and, independently, Fox Talbot until 1839. The remoteness of Arkansas from Paris and London would have delayed propagation for some years. Expert analysis of the costumes and hair styles places the photo in the early 1840s. (Editor's collection)

In 1846, Henry served in the Arkansas Legislature and the following year as registrar of the U.S. Land Office in Batesville. After the war he became county judge.4 Of the Neill siblings, only Henry and James5 made the pioneering move to the American Southwest, as Arkansas was known in the early nineteenth century. As the letters recount, John's son-in-law, James Brittingham, planned to move to Batesville, then in 1850 to California, but finally settled in Columbus, Ohio. Henry's other brother, John, and sister Delia [End Page 56] also stayed in Ohio, and these letters illustrate the divisional forces before, during, and after the Civil War.


Robert Neill      m.      Magdallena Black

      Henry Neill      m.      Dorcas Stark

            Robert Neill

            Job Stark Neill

            Henry L. Neill

            Margaret Delia Neill (Hulsey)

            Elizabeth Grey Neill (Dickson)

            Florence Neill (Rutherford)

      John Neill      m.      (1833)      Sarah Hook

                             m. (1841)      Lydia Wade

            Sarah R. Neill      m.      James N. Brittingham

                  Dorcas N. Brittingham

                  Samuel P. Brittingham

                  John A. Brittingham

                  Mary A. Brittingham

            Kate Neill

      Delia Neill      m.      _____ McHenry

            Magdallena N. McHenry

      James Neill (no descendants)


Aberdeen, Brown Co., Ohio

Alderbrook (modern-day Desha), Independence Co., Arkansas

Arrow Rock, Saline Co., Missouri

Batesville, Independence Co., Arkansas

Bentonville, Adams Co., Ohio

Cherry Fork, Adams Co., Ohio

Columbus, Franklin Co., Ohio

Locust Grove, Adams Co., Ohio

Manchester, Adams Co., Ohio

Sugar Branch, Switzerland Co., Indiana [End Page 57]

the letters

February 13, 1849      James N. Brittingham to Henry Neill

July 24, 1850      James N. Brittingham to Henry Neill

May 1, 1853      Sarah R. Brittingham to Dorcas Neill

June 26, 1853      James N. Brittingham to Henry Neill

March 19, 1855      Kate Neill to Henry Neill

March 5, 1864      Magdallena N. McHenry to Henry and Dorcas Neill

August 7, 1865      Dorcas N. Brittingham to Henry Neill

November 28, 1867      John Neill to Henry Neill

December 19, 1868      John Neill to Henry Neill


Manchester, O.

Feb. 13th, 1849

Dear Uncle,

I received your letter of the eighth of January yesterday. It afforded me a good...


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