William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan
Finding aid for
Finding aid created by
Neil Family Papers, 1774-1872
Shannon Wait, September 2010
Neil family papers
The Neil family papers consist of letters and documents primarily relating to the Neil family of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and their business as merchants of linen, tea, and other goods.
The material is in English
William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Web Site: www.clements.umich.edu
Access and Use
1955, 1999, 2012. M-977, M-4040, M-4943.
The collection is open for research.
Copyright status is unknown
Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.
Neil family Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan
The Neil family papers are arranged into three series: Documents and Correspondence, Judah Touro , and Maps.
William Neil was born around 1746 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and graduated from Glasgow College in Scotland. When he returned to Belfast, he became an important and large-scale manufacturer of linen. He and his wife, Margaret, had seven children: Thomas, Charles, Robert, Ann, Elizabeth, Sarah, and Margaret. Around 1790, William, Margaret, and several of the children emigrated to America and settled in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. There, William and Thomas operated a store specializing in linens and tea, located on Buck Street. William's son, Charles, who remained in Belfast, assisted in coordinating trans-Atlantic trading.
Around 1798, Ann Neil married merchant George Andrews of Dover, New Hampshire, cementing the business relationship between Andrews and her father. Thomas Neil (c. 1773-1850) married Sarah McNeil (c. 1772-1821), and they had one son, Thomas, who died at sea in 1820. William Neil died in 1825, aged 79, and after his death, Thomas carried on the trade.
Collection Scope and Content Note
The Neil family papers comprise 87 letters, 26 receipts, 17 financial records, 9 legal documents, 3 printed items, and 2 speeches, spanning 1774-1872. Early correspondence and records document trading and business activities, especially between William Neil and George Andrews. In particular, letters and bills of lading provide much detail on prices, quantities, and types of items purchased by the Neils and other local merchants (including Quaker merchant Abraham Barker). Several additional letters refer to health problems suffered by Margaret Neil, for which she was repeatedly bled (June 8, 1802).
A series of 1814 letters, written by Andrews to William Neil, concerns the War of 1812, including the merchants' preparations for attacks by the British and the effects of war on the market (August 6, 1814: "Business I believe is dull every where…. I am afraid to purchase Goods."). Also present are letters concerning a settlement for losses suffered by the Neils when the schooner John was captured by the British in 1815. A letter of March 28, 1831, recounts the circumstances of the capture and the case for restitution. Approximately five letters and documents dating to 1825, the year of William Neil's death, relate to his estate and the dispersal of his property.
Approximately 30 letters postdate 1830, most of which are the incoming correspondence of Thomas Neil. These primarily concern family news from various relatives, health issues, and details of business transactions. A letter to Maria Neil from her young granddaughter mentions "Emily has been working in the factory but is now going to school" (December 14, 1848). In an unusual and witty letter to Thomas Neil, a 20-year old named "Dorothy" requested his help in finding a husband and provided a humorous description of the man she wanted to find, including his height, the characteristics of his nose, and her preference that he oppose slavery (April 2, 1849).
The collection also includes 21 items relating to the ship Judah Touro and its journey from Boston to Portsmouth in January and February, 1861. These are receipts, records of payments, and several partial inventories.
The Maps series contains one map, entitled Plan of the town of Belfast from actual survey.
- Belfast City (Northern Ireland)
- Boston (Mass.)
- Emigration and immigration--Ireland.
- Judah Touro (Ship)
- Linen industry.
- Merchants--New Hampshire--Portsmouth.
- Portsmouth (N.H.)--Commerce.
- Prizes (Property captured at sea)
- Ships--Equipment and supplies.
- Tea trade.
- United States--History--War of 1812--Claims.
- Andrews, George.
- Neil, Charles.
- Neil, Sarah McNeil, ca. 1772-1821.
- Neil, Thomas, ca. 1773-1850.
- Neil, William, ca. 1746-1825.
- Financial documents.
- Legal documents.
- Letters (correspondence)
Additional Descriptive Data
One map is housed in the Map Division: Mason, P., John Thomson. Plan of the town of Belfast from actual survey . [Belfast: s.n.], 1816.