Thursday, October 25, 2007

Col. Thomas Neel (1739-1779)

Thomas Neel was the second of ten children. His father was originally from the Cape Fear coastal area of North Carolina, but had moved to Mecklenberg County as one of its earliest settlers. This family would come to sacrifice more than most for their countrymen and the Patriot cause. From Carolina historian Louise Pettus:

    In 1764 he [Thomas Neel] was one of a committee of four to select a site for Bethel Church and became one of its first elders. He was elected to the North Carolina General Assembly to represent Tryon County. In the Assembly he was active in rallying backcountry representatives to gather petitions for building roads and ferrys. He was appointed as a member of the board of trustees of Queen's College in Charlotte. He served as a justice of the peace and as a judge of Tryon County from 1769 to 1772.
    In 1772 Neel served on the Boundary Commission that drew the North Carolina-South Carolina boundary line west of the Catawba River. Meantime, he was acquiring land in South Carolina. As soon as the boundary was settled he applied for a South Carolina land grant for 779 acres that had originally been patented in North Carolina. This land was near the Catawba River south of present-day Highway 49 near Buster Boyd Bridge.
    Neel's first military experience was in North Carolina Governor Tryon's expedition against the regulators of Alamance County in 1771. Holding the rank of Captain, Neel commanded the Tryon County troops. By 1775 he was a Colonel in command of the militia of both the New Acquisition and Tryon County [therefore serving both North and South Carolina].
    When South Carolina declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776, Neel was elected to the First South Carolina Provincial Congress. He spent little time with the Provincial Congress. Instead, he led the militia in what is called either the Cherokee Campaign or the Snow Campaign. The Cherokee Indians were scalping white settlers who were settling on traditional Cherokee hunting grounds. One of those scalped was the wife of Thomas Neel, Jean Spratt. Jean Spratt Neel had long coal-black hair. It is believed that the Cherokees intended to claim her scalp as that of a Catawba Indian, their traditional enemy. Thomas Neel was already in the field at the time of his wife's scalping. Struggling through waist-deep snow, Neel and his men surprised the Cherokee and destroyed many of their towns and villages.
    In 1777 and 1778 Neel headed a regiment in the Florida and Georgia Campaigns that operated out of Phillip's Fort in Georgia. His last expedition was the defense of Charleston. Neel was shot through the head and killed in the battle of Stono.
    Thomas Neel and Jean Spratt had three sons and four daughters. Daughter Sarah married David Johnston, a Revolutionary soldier with Capt. Jacob Barnett's horse troop. And daughter Mary married Lt. Col. James Hawthorne. Hawthorne fought in several major battles and an unknown number of skirmishes, and was twice wounded during the Revolutionary War. He served under Col. Thomas Neel in the Snow Campaign in 1775, and was Lt. Col. to Col. Neel in that fateful battle at Stono.
All three of Thomas and Jean's sons fought in the Revolution, and like their father, gave their lives for it. Son Andrew rose to the rank of Colonel and was detached by Sumter at Clems Branch as commander of the troops of York and Chester. He afterwards fell in the 1780 battle of Rocky Mount. Andrew's twin Lt. Col. Thomas Neel was killed in 1781. At age 16, youngest son Lt. John Neel was serving in Col. Joseph Hayes' Fifth Regiment when they fell victim to the (literal) butchery of Maj. William Cunningham's Loyalist militia in an ambush at Hayes' Station in 1778. He lies buried next to his father in Bethel Presbyterian Cemetery in York County, South Carolina.