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The O'Nealls and slavery


The O'Nealls in South Carolina were slave owners.  William O'Neall's son, Abijah, and his brothers all owned slaves at one time, as did their cousins, the Kellys.  But they were not all happy about it and did something about it.

Abijah O'Neall was one of the instigators of the migration of Quakers from Bush Creek, South Carolina, to Ohio, a land free of slavery.  This story is told in more detail in The Life and Times of Abijah O'Neall.   However, in 1794, five years before moving to Ohio, he, Samuel Kelly, John Kelly, and Robert Kelly "believing that Liberty is the Natural Right of all Mankind", manumitted the slaves they had inherited at the decease of John Kelly, Sr, so that they should be "from the bonds of slavery forever set free."  You can consult a photocopy of the original document.  In 1799, Abijah moved to Ohio, having chosen to leaving the land of slavery behind him.

His brother, Thomas, was disowned by the Society of Friends for military activities and owning slaves on 30 September 1809 in Bush River. He moved in 1819 to Greene County, Ohio, presumably having already disposed of his slaves; he later moved, in 1830, to Tippecanoe County and then to Warren County, Indiana.

Abijah's brother, Henry Frost O'Neall, sold all his slaves before moving with his wife, Mary Miles O'Neall, to Daviess County, Indiana, in 1832.

Abijah's own son, also named Abijah, moved to Indiana in 1833.  Like his father, he was opposed to slavery and became an active Abolitionist. During the Civil War, he and others "...held meetings at Yountsville and Alamo and rallied the citizens to the cause of the Union..." (Sugar Creek Saga) Such actions often aroused the wrath of his neighbors.  He and his wife, Eleanor Hall O'Neall, participated in a number of dangerous activities during the Civil War. The following article is a quotation from Mrs O'Neall's obituary, entitled "Remarkable Woman Gone."

"It was during the civil war that the fine character of Mrs. O'Neal [sic] manifested itself most strongly. The neighborhood in which she and her husband lived was fairly swarming with "copperheads" and Knights of the Golden Circle, and their lives and property were constantly threatened. Their adult sons were in the army, and the outspoken unionism of Mr. O'Neal caused him to be cursed and hated by the rebel sympathizers for miles around. Open resistance was made to the drafts at Jackville and other points near Mr. O'Neal's home, and as the excitement grew it became necessary to have a guard constantly at his home. Several recruiting officers disappeared mysteriously in the neighborhood, and Mr. O'Neal finally set to work to break up the several lodges of the Knights of the Golden Circle in that community. He was the personal friend of Governor Morton and at his request the Governor sent several detectives to Yountsville, who worked under the direction of Mr. O'Neal.

"Plot to Burn and Destroy

"One of these men secreted himself at night in the loft of an old schoolhouse where the Knights met, and remained there until the following night, when the regular meeting was held. At this meeting it was voted to burn the barns and houses of every "war widow" in the township, and a night was fixed for the work. The spy in the loft obtained the names of all present, information as to who was to do the work, and the place where arms were concealed.

"The next day Mr. O'Neal, accompanied by his wife, waited on the head officer of the lodge, a wealthy and prominent citizen of Yountsville, and reviewed to him the proceedings of the meeting of the evening prior. He then demanded that the burning order be canceled, and that the arms which were concealed be delivered within a week to the provost marshal, Mr. Ramey, at Crawfordsville. The man was simply terrorized by the damning evidence, and really did all that Mr. O'Neal demanded, although his own life was openly threatened by ignorant members of the treasonable organization of which he had been the head. Not a barn was burned in the O'Neal neighbohood, and the lodge of the knights was broken up. Mrs. O'Neal was the constant companion of her husband in his perilous rides about the country and stood ready each night to fire a gun in case the house was attacked. The O'Neal residence, a handsome brick house, over sixty yeards old, still stands on a beautifully shaded hill overlooking Yountsville."

The article goes on to point out that Abijah O'Neal was the basis for the character Abner Neal in Caroline Krout's novel, Knights in Fustian.



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