Friday, July 13, 2012

Why The War of 1812 Is Personal For Me

It was two hundred years ago this year that my great-grandfather X 4, John Neeley, and 49 others volunteered in a rifle company of the New York State Militia which was organized southeast of his home in the Seneca County village of Ovid, in Urbana to fight in the War of 1812.

On our recent nine-day 2400-mile road trip, my first through that state outside of New York City, we briefly detoured west at one point  along the southern shore of Lake Ontario to my friend’s ancestral farm just north of the village of Red Creek (pronounced “Crick” just as we do in my native state of Idaho.)Cayuga Lake and Vineyards

But I had no idea until I was back home that at that very point we were less than 50 miles north of Ovid which sits along a high ridge sloping 4 to 5 miles to the east and west to the shores of two of the largest of the eleven Finger Lakes, Seneca and Cayuga in the valleys below.

It is impossible to travel through western, central or upstate New York without constant reminders of the War of 1812 and I want to devote a second trip solely to learning more about what is often called America’s “second war of Independence.”

After volunteering in his 30th year of age, John Neeley was marched back to his birthplace on the Niagara Frontier formed by the 35-mile river running across the strait between Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, where he fought at the Battle of Queenstown Heights under Lt. Col Hugh Dobbins, also from Seneca County, as part of the American 7th Brigade, 1st Division, 18th Regiment, Urbana Rifle Company (aka Captain Brundage’s.)

After extremely heavy fighting and casualties, John Neeley, a paternal ancestor on my grandmother Adah Neeley’s side, died a month later on a frigid mid-November day in 1812, reportedly as a prisoner of war in or near Fort Schlosser, possibly on a converted vessel called a schoolar, often suitable as privateers.

Ironically, John Neeley had been born in Niagara just as the American Revolutionary War victoriously ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.  His father Peter had immigrated from the parish of Tamlaght Finlagan, in the barony of Keenaght, near the shores of Lough Foyle in west County Londonderry, in the northern province of Ulster.

Shortly after John’s birth, the family relocated 139 miles east to the village of Ovid, New York on that ridge high above the Finger Lakes, possibly to claim a land grant there in the Central New York Military Tract had Peter fought in the Revolutionary War with the Continental Army.

John married Jane Kaiser and raised a family including Lewis Neeley who was just five when his father died in the war.  Lewis grew up along the slopes of Ovid, which are covered today with vineyards.

With his wife Elizabeth Miller, Lewis was among the first to join a new Christian denomination nicknamed Mormons when it was founded less than ten miles north of Ovid in the Seneca County village of Fayette during the intense decades of religious revival and fervor that followed the War of 1812.

After the American Revolution, there were fewer church members in this country than any other land, dropping to an all-time  low of 7% of the population by 1800.  Some today claim that America’s founding was divinely inspired, but clearly ordinary Americans at the time were not inspired to belong to or attend church.

Lewis and Elizabeth, along with his mother, eventually headed west, settling for a time in Ohio, Indiana and then Illinois, following the way path blazed by “Johnny Appleseed.”

Then after Elizabeth died in Florence, Nebraska, Lewis and his son Arminius caught a train of 104 wagons on a four month journey up and over the Continental Divide of the Rocky Mountains to help settle the west.

I was able to connect with the origins of five other ancestors on the trip and I’ll blog about them in the future.


Mythtown said...

As another 4th great-grandson of John Neeley (via his son Lewis and Sophia Parsons), researching for a newspaper column about him, I particularly appreciated your account.

Kevin Townsend said...

Reyn, my wife is a 5th great granddaughter of John Neeley. Thanks for your research. I will share this with her family. A few months ago we found Lewis Neeley's grave in the Salt Lake Cemetery and I took a photo of my wife at the gravesite. She is a descendant through the Neeley and Chadwick line. Thanks again. Kevin and Jane (Jensen) Townsend

NeeleyFamily said...
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NeeleyFamily said...
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NeeleyFamily said...

I directly descend from John Neeley through his son Lewis. Having just visited Ovid, I really appreciate the research and information you've provided. Can you share any sources on Peter's immigration? Also, on the specifics of John's military service in the War of 1812. Your account is the most complete I've found and I appreciate it so much.
Matthew Neeley

Unknown said...

I am a descendant of John Neeley through Lewis, William, and Enos Austin Neeley. I am very interested in the sources you used in your history above, especially that pertaining to Peter Neeley's emigration from Ireland and the family's movements around the Great Lakes region. Would you be willing to share those sources? I am working on substantiating some of the genealogical research done in and Many people have posted but there is little evidence to back it up. It sounds like maybe you have found some stuff that I haven't. I would love to hear from you.