Manuscripts Division
William L. Clements Library
University of Michigan

Finding aid for
Neil Family Papers, 1774-1872

Finding aid created by
Shannon Wait, September 2010

Summary Information
Title: Neil family papers
Creator: Neil family
Inclusive dates: 1774-1872
Extent: 143 items
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.
Language: The material is in English
Repository: William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan
909 S. University Ave.
The University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1190
Phone: 734-764-2347
Web Site:

Access and Use
Acquisition Information:

1955, 1999, 2012. M-977, M-4040, M-4943.

Access Restrictions:

The collection is open for research.


Copyright status is unknown

Processing Information:

Cataloging funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the "We the People" project.

Preferred Citation:

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.

Subject Terms

    • 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--Cargo.
    • 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.
    Genre Terms:
    • Financial documents.
    • Legal documents.
    • Letters (correspondence)
    Contents List
    Container / Location Title
    Correspondence and Documents [series]
    Box   1 Folder   1
     8 May 1774-25 June 1796
    Box   1 Folder   2
     6 October 1796-24 July 1799
    Box   1 Folder   3
     26 July 1799-13 March 1800
    Box   1 Folder   4
     5 July 1800-14 March 1801
    Box   1 Folder   5
     6 October 1801-10 April 1802
    Box   1 Folder   6
     10 April 1802-26 November 1802
    Box   1 Folder   7
     9 July 1804-March 1814
    Box   1 Folder   8
     April 1814 -28 July 1814
    Box   1 Folder   9
     5 August 1814-12 September 1818
    Box   1 Folder   10
     31 December 1821-24 March 1827
    Box   1 Folder   11
     14 May 1827-17 January 1829
    Box   1 Folder   12
     16 March 1829-28 March 1831
    Box   1 Folder   13
     28 March 1831-5 November 1832
    Box   1 Folder   14
     29 July 1841-21 March 1848
    Box   1 Folder   15
     23 October 1848-24 June 1849
    Box   1 Folder   16
     14 February 1851-1 March 1872
    Box   1 Folder   17
    Box   1 Folder   18
    Judah Touro [series]
    Box   1 Folder   19
     12 January-2 February 1861
    Box   1 Folder   20
     4 February-13 February 1861
    Box   1 Folder   21
    Additional Descriptive Data
    Alternate Locations

    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.