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Elder James Neal

Do you ever come across information that seems to contradict other information you have found? That’s the case when I compare the biography of Elder James Neal of Preble County, Ohio with the John Crawford Sellers biography?

According to the NEAL biography, Mary Sellers was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania in 1776. On contrast, the John Crawford Sellers biography indicates the Sellers family was in Virginia prior to their living in Kentucky.

following the trails of Daniel Boone and other Indiana warriors from Virginia into Kentucky, 

While further proof is needed, it is possible that both statements are true.

  • The Sellers family may have been in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania before migrating south thru Virginia to take the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.
  • Since the area of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania was also considered Augusta County, Virginia in 1776, it is possible that the SELLERS family never lived in Virginia.

It is also possible that one of the statements is incorrect. Until I have further information, I plan to use the hints from both biographies.

was born in Franklin county, Kentucky, May 7, 1808. His paternal great-grandfather emigrated from England, and his maternal ancestors came from Ireland. His grandfather, John Neal, settled in Kentucky at a very early day. His father, Benjamin Neal, one of seven children, was born in Kentucky in 1777. He grew up as farmer boy, and when quite young, was married in Kentucky, to Mary Sellers, the daughter of Nathan and Sarah Sellers. She was born in Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania, May 3, 1776. The young couple lived first in Bourbon, and then in Franklin county, Kentucky, and raised seven of their nine children. Sarah married William Duggins, and both are dead. Nathan is in Fountain county, Indiana. James was the next child. Jane, wife of Levi Fleming, is dead. Benjamin and John are in Eaton, as is also Mary A., the wife of George Wagoner.
When James was in his fourth year, in the fall of 1811, his parents, in company with his mother’s parents, emigrated to Preble county, where old Mr. Sellers entered land two and a half miles south of Eaton. Forty acres of this land were occupied by the Neal family. At the time of their emigration the journey was made by wagon, and was long and tedious. During two months after their arrival they lived in an open faced pole shanty. They moved into their round log cabin ere the puncheon floor had been laid. The chimney was of the “cat and clay” style, and the back wall and jams of the huge fire-place were of clay.
Mr. Sellers built an Indian proof block house, with bullet proof walls pierced by port holes at convenient distances apart. The predatory warfare of the Indians frequently caused the settlers to transfer their families to the block-house.
Mr. Neal well remembers how, one night, during an Indian alarm, he and his playmates were hastily concealed in the clay pit whence the material for the chimney had been taken. Happily the alarm was false, and the scared little prisoners were soon liberated.
Mr. Neal’s father was exempted from the War of 1812, on account of ill health.
Mr. Neal was early inured to pioneer hardships. Schools were few and far between. He attended for a time a school on Rocky fork, having to blaze his path through the woods in order to find the way home.
His father, after clearing and improving much of his land and living on it for ten or twelve years, sold it, and bought a lot, and built a house in New Lexington.
Mr. Neal removed with his father and worked on breaking bark in Nisbit’s tannery. After the death of his father in 1822, the family removed to a farm just northeast of Eaton. James’ oldest brother leaving home to learn a trade, left him with the management of the farm. Soon after this they moved into a hewed log house on Barron street, in Eaton. For two years Mr. Neal supported the family by day’s labor. Then his mother married Thomas Fleming, who took the family first to Darke county, and finally settled about three and a half miles south of Eaton. At this time Mr. Neal learned the blacksmith trade on the farm of George Leas, on the Camden pike. He finished his apprenticeship with Daniel Mack, of Somerville. While in Somerville, June 7, 1827, he married Ruth, the daughter of Courtland and Susan Lambert, native Kentuckians, who settled near Friendship church, near which Mr. Lambert had a little grist-mill. Their daughter was born in Kentucky, September 1, 1808.
Soon after Mr. Neal’s marriage he started in the blacksmith business on the south line of Dixon township, cooking in an old log schoolhouse, and living in the adjoining house erected for the use of the school-master. After two years removing to Vermillion county, Illinois, near Danville, the county seat, he remained there two years and twenty days, working at his trade and farming. Compelled by sickness and misfortune to return to Ohio, he found a home on Paint creek, on the southeast corner of Silas Dooley’s farm, where he built first a log shop and afterwards one of brick. While living here an incident occurred which illustrates the pluck and indomitable perseverance which has always characterized the actions of Mr. Neal. Having had ten cords of wood cut for conversion into charcoal, he dug a pit in the frozen ground from which to obtain the earth to throw over the wood before setting it on fire. So hard was the frozen ground that it had to be quarried in great chunks. After the wood had been fired, Mr. Neal remained for five days and nights without rest or sleep. At one time the fire penetrated the earth covering, and Mr. Neal in his anxiety to repair the breach, fell into the fire, which almost swallowed him up ere he could escape.
During all the time that he was attending to this work the weather

was intensely cold, and Silas Dooley was accustomed to come over every morning to see if his friend had survived the bitterness of the night.
After remaining on Paint creek for five years he removed to a farm of one hundred acres in Jackson township, on the Indiana line. After remaining there seventeen years he removed to Eaton, in the property on Cherry street, opposite Fulton’s blacksmith shop. In 1854 he removed to his present farm of one hundred and thirty acres, three miles east of Eaton, on the Dayton pike. When he first moved to this place only about thirty acres were cleared, and there were no improvements. At first he lived in a deserted frame school-house, which had been removed to the farm. The present house and barn were erected in 1855, the building of which was personally superintended by himself. This farm is now considered to be one of the best improved in the neighborhood.
Mr. and Mrs. Neal have nine children, seven of whom lived to years of maturity, six of whom survive. Benjamin died in infancy. Mary Ann, who was born in Illinois, where she now lives, is the wife of Jacob Johnson. Sarah is the wife of Aaron Brandon, of Illinois. Susannah died in Eaton in 1853, aged twenty-one years. John lives in Eaton. ( Johannah, the namesake of old Mrs. Dooley, died in infancy. Nathan W. and Elizabeth J., the wife of John Kitson, lives in Illinois. William C. anti family live on the home place.
Mr. Neal’s domestic life was saddened by the almost life-long derangement of his wife, whom he faithfully cared for until death released her, April 6, 1879.
Were the above the life history of Mr. Neal it would be creditable in itself, but a second and more important chapter remains.
In the year 1832, while living in Illinois, he was converted to Christianity, and joined the Christian church. Immediately after his conversion, feeling constrained to speak in public, he became an exhorter, much against his natural inclinations. After removing to Ohio he continued public speaking, and in 1834 attended conference as a licentiate. While attending conference at Bethel chapel, Warren county, he consented to become a regular minister, “and in 1835 was installed, and ordained pastor of the Paint church, by Elders David Purviance and Nathan Worley. During his twelve years pastorate at Paint he received but fifty-eight dollars cash for salary. For one year, being too poor to own a horse, he walked to and from his appointment, a distance of twelve miles, through all kinds of weather. He reorganized the Bank Spring church, and was pastor for eighteen years. Organizing the churches at West Florence and Union Chapel, he served the former seven years and a half in all, and the latter seventeen years. He preached one year in Eaton, and after 1854 was pastor of the Bethlehem church for twenty years. He preached in all five years at Phillipsburgh, Montgomery county. Not long ago he reorganized the New Westville church.
Above are noted the mile-stones in a faithful minister’s life. During the forty-five years of Elder Neal’s ministry he has received not less than one thousand members into the church, baptized eight hundred, preached eight hundred funeral sermons, and married seven hundred couples. His salary has averaged less than twenty-five dollars per annum. Pioneer preachers worked literally on the apostolic plan.
Next to the Purviances Elder Neal was the pioneer representative of his church in Preble county. To-day he alone is a living monument of the early ministry. Taking into consideration the vicissitudes of his life, his success is wonderful. Being well read in the Scriptures he never lacked the material, and only needed the art of discourse. In a series of twenty-four lessons in Greenleaf’s grammer he obtained mastery over the English language, and many a night he studied by the light of a bark torch, doing all this after beginning to preach.
Mr. Neal always speaks extemporaneously. In years gone by no man had a better voice for singing than he. Todav, though approaching four score years, he is as able to preach now as ever, and expects to die in the harness.

History of Preble County, Ohio: with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches (N.p.: H. Z. Williams & Bro., Publishers, 1881), page 279; digital images, Archive.org, http://www.archive.org viewed online 7 November 2022.

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