A Poignant Will and Testament

I became interested in genealogy at “knitting” club in Mountain Home, Idaho, a long time ago. Before my husband Guy was sent to Vietnam–and before the internet. This group of women were military wives and local women who enjoyed doing handwork, although not necessarily knitting. One woman announced that she’d found a Civil War ancestor. I was intrigued. You can find out that stuff?

She sent me to the library for the book How to Find Your Ancestors. It says to write your grandparents and any older relatives, so letters (with self-addressed stamped envelopes) zipped Idaho and Iowa, where my grandparents lived.

I worked my way back to a distant Neal relative in Tennessee, who lived where many Neals first lived in America. He had worked on family history for years and introduced me to Benjamin Neal. Not only was I surprised to have ancestors from the south, but was shocked that some were slave-owners.


(Jefferson County, Tennessee, Will Book No. 2, 1811-1816)

In the name of God, Amen, I, Benjamin Neal, a citizen of the County of Jefferson and State of Tennessee, being weak in body but of sound mind and memory, do make and ordain and declare this instrument of writing to be my last will and testament, hereby revoking all others.

I will that my just debts (they being but few) be paid and satisfied. To my dearly beloved wife Elizabeth Neal, I give and bequeath the use, benefit, and profit of the plantation with the appurtenances, on which I now live, during her natural life, or so long as she remains my widow. I also give to my said wife my negroes Clark, Hattie, and Jack during her natural life or widowhood, also the whole of the household furniture and stock upon the farm in like manner.

I, Joy, was stunned that an ancestor willed Negroes as the “whole of the household furniture and stock upon the farm in like manner.” Lump in throat.


To my son Benjamin Neal, I give and bequeath, after the death of marriage of my wife, the plantation with the appurtenances on which I now live, to him and his heirs, forever, subject never-the-less to the payment of two hundred dollars, which I will to my two grand-daughters Leanna and Nancy Cox, daughters of Dudley Cox, deceased, which my said son Benjamin shall pay them on their attaining the age of 21 or at the age of 18 if married. The said sum to be a lien on the land so willed to my said son and I also will that my said son Benjamin henceforth have possession of use and occupy the place north of where I live to the lane and onward toward John Flippin’s, separate from and independent of the device to my wife. I give and bequeath my negro boy Clark to my son-in-law, Robert McFarland and his wife Mary forever. I will and desire that all of the personal estate not herein otherwise divided shall after the death or marriage of my said wife be sold at a credit of twelve months and the proceeds thereof be divided as follows: That is to say, to each of my four grand-daughters–Mary, Nancy, Leannah and Sallie Hickle–the sum of one hundred and fifty dollars each to be paid to them as they arrive at the age of 21 or 18 if married. Meanwhile to be loaned in good hands or security at common interest, so that the sum may be improved for their benefit.

The Benjamin named was his youngest son, much younger than his three older ones. I was touched by old Benjamin’s care for his granddaughters, but wondered how old Clark was. The word “forever” brought me up short.

I give to my daughter Leannah Sloan one hundred dollars. To my grand-daughters Betsy and Penelope Shelley, fifty dollars, each payable on their age of 21 or at the age of 18 if married, to be loaned and improved as provided for the daughters of my son-in-law Hickle. I give to my son-in-law George Hickle, one negro named Will, now in the possession of said George, to him during his natural life, the remainder to said four daughters. The residue of my said personal estate I give to the daughters of my son Jesse Neal, to be held and improved for them by my executors as above provided for my other grandchildren before named, payable to them at their coming of age or at age 18 if married.


At the marriage or decease of my said wife, I will my servant man Jack to my son-in-law John Flippen, husband of Nancy Neal Flippin, to him and his heirs. As touching my negro woman named Hannah, she having been to me a faithful servant, my will is and I hereby declare her henceforth free and emancipated, provided she remain with my wife to do the business of the dairy and washing for the family one day in each week during the life or widowhood of said wife and my faithful boy Isaac, I also will to be emancipated and free from and after my decease, it being understood that my sons Jeremiah and Benjamin and son-in-law Nathan Shelley, together with my friends William and Jacob Brazelton, will and unprocuring (upon procuring) security to the end that they may have the benefit of the laws relating to emancipation and in favor (of) said boy Isaac, I will that he remain upon the plantation with my wife, occupying such part as she may collect and allot to him, he paying reasonable rents therefor. I appoint my wife Elizabeth, Executrix, and Thomas Neal, Executor of this will.

Signed, sealed and published the 3rd, May, 1819, before us. Witnesses: William Brazelton, A. Peck, J.A. Peck, Benjamin Neal.

State of Tennessee, Jefferson County, June Session, 1823. Then was the last will and testament of Benjamin Neal, deceased, duly proven in open court by the oath of William Brazelton and A. Peck, two of the subscribing witnesses to the same recorded.  Joseph Hamilton, Clerk.

About a year before he died, Benjamin Neal, in is seventies, liberated Isaac outright: “Know ye that I Benjamin Neal of Jefferson County and State of Tennessee being of sound mind and disposing memory, divine consideration moving me thereto have and by these presents do liberate, emancipate and set free to all intents and purposes a certain colored man whom I have had from his birth of the name of Isaac and about thirty-two years of age and that from this time forward to the end of his life. . . .”

Divine consideration moving him. I understood these Neals to be Quakers. Quakers didn’t own slaves, did they?

August 26, 1823, Benjamin Neal deeded fifty acres on Mossy Creek at Holston River to Isaac Neal.

John Neal was born at Newmarket, Tennessee in 1833. His grandparents were buried at Old Mossy Creek Cemetery.

Benjamin Neal is buried in Old Mossy Creek Cemetery, a mile northwest of Jefferson City, Tennessee. I descend from his son Thomas, born in 1829 in Tennessee, died at Dexter, Iowa in 1888.

War Between the States

I was also shocked to learn that Thomas Neal had at least two sons, Jesse and John. One served in blue during the War Between the States. One in gray.

John, my ancestor, did serve with in the Confederate Army. Grandpa Kenneth Neal knew that his grandfather had been in the Civil War, but was stunned to learn that he’d with the rebels, with the 3rd Forrest’s Tennessee Cavalry. But his military records said he deserted.

Grandpa insisted that his grandmother Rhoda (who grew up in Indiana) received a pension after John died, as a Union veteran. I sent an application for records of John Neal, this time with “Union” on it. He had indeed joined the 9th Regiment of the Indiana Cavalry.

Rhoda (Marshall) Neal’s 1920 obituary said that she was “part of the most perplexing periods in the history of this country.”  A very poignant period.


Records: Register’s Office, Jefferson County, Dandridge, Tennessee: Will Book #2 page 416. Probate Book #7 page 356. Deed Book Q, pages 199 and 390.



  1. Hello Joy,
    We are obviously cousins. Kenneth was my uncle and my father’s brother. Who was your father? Thanks for bringing this will, and the story of Benjamin and his slaves to light. Very perplexing. I don’t think Benjamin was a Quaker. He probably left after the War of Independence.
    I am Diana Neal, daughter of William, older brother of Kenneth. Yes, both Kennethand you were right. John Neal served on both sides of the Civil War. He deserted from the Confederate side. Not sure why.
    All the best,

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.