Martha Skinner McNeal (known to her friends as Mattie) and Thomas Appleby grew up together in the town of Shade Gap, located in Huntingdon County, in the southern part of Pennsylvania. Thomas Appleby, born May 2, 1843, was one of five boys, with brothers Daniel Curtlet Montague (January 17, 1840 - February 3, 1905), John Scott (June 26, 1847 - January 25, 1912), James Y. McGinnis (May 26 1850 - June 25, 1907), and George Sharrer (June 17, 1853 - 1930). The family had long been in Pennsylvania, beginning with John Appleby, who settled near Shade Gap around 1782. Tom's father, John (born October 17, 1813) died from being kicked by a horse on July 14, 1856, but Tom's mother, Priscilla Montague (June 26 1815 - June 20, 1892), kept the farm going successfully. Tom's grandfather, Daniel Montague, who owned a mill in nearby Shade Valley, apparently helped in raising the children.
Tom worked in a store in Shade Gap before he volunteered to fight in the Union Army, joining Co. K, 202nd Regiment, from September 5, 1864 to August 3, 1865. His brother Daniel also joined the army (Co. I, 149th Regt., from August 19, 1862 to June 24, 1865). After returning home, Tom briefly was a "Professor" at Milliken's Bend Seminary, in Saxton, Bedford County. In 1866, he returned to store keeping and worked as a clerk for Grishinger and Rouse in Shade Gap.
Around October 1867, Tom lost his job with Grishinger and Rouse, and it was rumored that "his fingers were too long," (i.e. he was stealing), but that claim seemed to be unsubstantiated (Dutton McNeal to Mattie McNeal, [1867 October]). Tom decided to join his brother Dan and Captain Brice X. Blair (the captain of Dan's Civil War regiment) in Mount Union, Huntingdon County, and become a partner in the firm of Blair and Appleby. They dealt in dry goods and groceries. Dan, who was wilder and more adventuresome than his brother, decided to sell his share of the company to Tom and Capt. Blair in December of 1868, and eloped with his girlfriend and cousin, Margaret Alice (Allie) Montague on May 25, 1869. Dan and Allie settled in Quincy, Illinois, where he had a clothing store and a wholesale shoe business in Illinois, Missouri and Kansas. Back in Mount Union, Capt. Blair left the company and Tom became partners with Mr. Etnier in the fall of 1870. Tom also served as the Postmaster of Mount Union from 1869 to 1885.
Mattie McNeal, born April 23, 1842, was the third child of James McNeal and Mary Glenn McNeal. James McNeal (March 23, 1808 - February 20, 1884) was the son of Robert McNeal and Catherine Campbell. Mary Glenn (May 11, 1809 - January 29, 1890) was the daughter of Hugh Glenn and Mary Mustard. They had five children besides Mattie: Robert, (July 21, 1833? - June 28, 1897), Mary Mustard (alternatively called Dutton or Mollie, October 30, 1836 - November 25, 1917), and Catherine Campbell (who went by Kate, August 21, 1846 - April 13, 1902). One child, John Alexander Appleby (born June 30, 1839) died of scarlet fever on March 10, 1851, and their last child David (born 1853) apparently died in infancy.
Mattie's father ran a farm outside of Shade Gap and Mattie grew up quite close to her siblings, especially her sisters. All three girls were well-educated, and both Mattie and Kate taught at various schools. From September 1866 to March 1867, Mattie taught in Boonsboro, in Washington County, Maryland, returning home during the summer. After that her teaching jobs tended to be closer to home and for shorter periods. In October 1868 Mattie left Shade Gap to teach in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, but she did not enjoy the experience much and left early in March 1869. Once back home, she exclaimed, "I am happy as a lark, lately released from prison" (1869 March 31). She also completed the end of the term at school in Mountainview, teaching for less than a month.
Though Mattie and Tom had known each other growing up, they did not seriously begin courtship until 1866, after Mattie left for Maryland. At the time, Tom had several other prospects, including a girlfriend from school, Annie Kelly, who signed one letter "Your devoted lover" (November 28, 1865), and Mattie McKibbin (born June 29, 1841). In 1866, Mattie McNeal and Tom even discussed, half in jest, which of the two women Tom would marry. By late 1866, Tom began to intimate more clearly his courtship intentions with Mattie, telling her "Yes, you must be at the wedding, when it comes, but there must be but one Mattie Mc there" (December 13, 1866). Mattie replied, "O yes, of course there will be but 'one Mattie Mc there.' Mattie McK will change her name" (December 20, 1866).
On Christmas, 1867, Tom and Mattie McNeal made a promise to each other to marry, evidenced by Mattie's comment a year later, "this evening in the anniversary of our, what shall I term it - engagement?" (1868 December 25). Tom officially asked Mattie's father for his permission to marry Mattie in a letter dated October 11, 1869. In the latter part of 1869, Mattie became ill with some sort of inflammation and infection of the face and neck, delaying their wedding. Finally, on October 27, 1870, Tom and Mattie married.
Six years after their wedding, Mattie died on October 28, 1876. Kate, who had not yet married, commenced to take care of Mattie and Tom's children, a son, John Chalmers, and a daughter, Mary Katherine. On May 14, 1878, Tom and Kate married. They had children James Donald, Martha Priscilla, Robert Charles, Janet Lucille, and Nellie Ross. Kate died after an illness On April 13, 1902. Tom lived almost another 30 years, dying on July 12, 1930.