Last week, I talked here about discovering more about Sheriff Stephen Neal when my husband and I went to the Alabama Constitution Hall Historic Park recently. I promised to share what I learned about him from information in The Black Book, so now I’m making good on that promise. He turns out to be a fascinating man, too!
The contents of the Book are a compilation of various bits and pieces of historical information from a variety of sources, including census records, histories of the county and city, newspaper articles, church and cemetery records, land deeds, court records, and more. The document doesn’t indicate who pulled this information together.
The highlights from my point of view are the following tidbits I gleaned from reading through this closely.
Neal was born in 1773, but the location is not given. He apparently migrated from Virginia, or possibly East Tennessee, in the early 1800s. One source says he arrived with his wife, Frances Gran, and four slaves, from Richmond, Virginia. However, the Madison County Marriage Book citation says Neal married Frances Gran on December 10, 1818, so that can’t be true.
Another source says he came with John Hunt from East Tennessee with two other men. (However, this article disputes that claim.) Together these men squatted on the land that became the town center of Huntsville. This source claims Neal as a son-in-law of Hunt. Another source cites Sarah as the name of Neal’s wife in the body of a deed but Frances in the heading. This made me wonder if John Hunt had a daughter named Sarah and came with him. But the genealogy profile I found doesn’t include a daughter by that name. So who was Sarah? Or was that an error in the deed?
Neal is known to have had two children. A son, George Washington Neal, who was born March 10, 1815 in Huntsville, and a daughter, Caroline Elizabeth Neal, who appears to have been born in 1818 or 1819. Given that Stephen and Frances married in December 1818, I’d imagine it was more likely in 1819. However, Neal’s son was born 3 years before they married, so perhaps by a different wife? Or was George Frances’ son from a different marriage who Stephen adopted when he married? The record is unclear. What is clear is that Stephen Neal raised George as his own son. A generous and loving thing to do.
When Neal was appointed as sheriff on December 19, 1808, he was also appointed as Justice of the Peace. I wonder how many marriages his performed if any? He was considered to be “an active intelligent officer” which reassures me that my portrayal of him in my story is accurate. It’s also noteworthy that he’s the “only sheriff to serve Madison County while it was part of the Mississippi Territory and the Alabama Territory” before statehood. It’s interesting to me that Neal was also appointed as Major of the First Battalion of the 7th Regiment of Volunteer Militia in 1809, and then Quartermaster for the Regiment in 1813. He seems to have been a trustworthy and reliable man.
Stephen Neal died at his home in Huntsville on May 18, 1839, at 66 years of age. Interestingly, the person who compiled this Book notes there was no record found of any mention in the local newspaper of his passing. However, don’t take that to mean the local community disrespected him.
Another of my sources, Early History of Huntsville Alabama 1804 to 1870 by Edward Chambers Betts (1909; revised 1916; p69), reveals that the local papers for the period of 1837-1844 are missing. He implied that it may be related to a debate about canal building versus railroad building in the state. But it’s all conjecture. He goes on to say, “It is a perplexing inquiry, just why these contemporaneous sources of information should be missing; for it is said the same hiatus exists in a measure throughout Alabama.” A mystery without an answer I’m aware of.
One other tidbit of interest. The original Neal home stood where the reconstructed one stands today. But the original house was moved a half block west in 1926 to allow for construction of a filling station before it was demolished. But thanks to the wonders of photographs, the reconstructed house and outbuilding are “as true to the originals as possible.” So if you go visit, you can step back in time to 1819 and experience life as our friend Stephen Neal had known it.
Such great information and insights into this man’s life and times. I’m sure some of what I’ve learned will weave its way into my Fury Falls Inn series. Not every little detail, of course! I hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know the sheriff as much as I have.
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Innkeeper’s daughter Cassie Fairhope longs for only one thing: to escape her mother’s tyranny. But in northern Alabama in 1821 marriage is her only escape. Even so, she has a plan: Seduce the young man acting as innkeeper while her father is away and marry him. He’s handsome and available. Even though he has no feelings for her, it is still a better option than enduring her mother.
But Flint Hamilton has his own plans and they don’t include marriage, even to the pretty temptress. Securing his reputation in the hostelry business and earning his father’s respect are far more important. He did not count on having to deal with horse thieves and rogues in addition to his guests.
When tragedy strikes, Cassie and Flint must do whatever it takes to rid the inn of its newly arrived specter—who has no intention of leaving…