After the death of his parents in 2007, Jim Powell found a horde of letters in their attic, previously unknown to him (and possibly to them). He began to research his family history, especially the Neills, the family of his maternal grandmother. One outcome of this research was Jim’s decision to return to university and study the effect of the American Civil War on the British raw cotton trade – a topic which closely concerned the Neill family.
One series of letters, written to his maternal great-great-grandmother, Susan Abbott, by the novelist George Meredith, suggested that Susan was the illegitimate daughter of Thomas Love Peacock. Jim approached Professor Nicholas Joukovsky of Penn State University, the leading authority on Peacock and on the early life of Meredith (Peacock’s son-in-law). Together, they researched Susan Abbott’s background and confirmed that she was indeed Peacock’s daughter. Their findings were initially published in an article in the Times Literary Supplement, ‘A Peacock in the Attic’. Professor Joukovsky has since published a full scholarly appraisal of the letters in Studies in Philology, under the title Dearest Susie Pye: New Meredith Letters to Peacock’s Natural Daughter.
Jim’s research into aspects of the Neill family has resulted in a series of lengthy articles, summarised below and available to read. They have nothing directly to do with this site, but he hopes that, by putting the information in the public domain, new information might come to light. The articles are all work-in-progress. As new information emerges, they will be updated. Jim is also posting a pamphlet on the Powell family, published by the Brecknock Society in 1964.
The Neill family
- The family of Robert Neill & Letitia Ireland – Robert was a Belfast jeweller, anti-slavery campaigner and head of a large family that spread across the UK and the USA. His and Letitia’s children included Letitia, wife of US child adoption pioneer Charles Loring Brace, and Henry, the foremost American cotton crop expert. Article first posted: 27/02/13. Last updated: 14/03/22.
- William and Henry Neill trading as Neill Bros & Co. – The story of the foundation of the company on both sides of the Atlantic in the 1850s. How the American Civil War destroyed its business, while paradoxically making the reputation of the Neills as cotton commentators. Article first posted in this form: 14/03/22.
- Henry Neill & the American Civil War – the shenanigans of Henry’s two American fathers-in-law, Daniel C Lowber and Alexander Schultz, undercover agents on opposing sides; Henry’s surreptitious career as a blockade runner and his capture off Charleston. Article first posted: 11/10/13. Last updated: 14/03/22
- The life and families of Henry Montgomery Neill – either “the greatest cotton crop estimate expert in the world” or “a prophet who is an agent of evil”, depending on one’s point of view. Henry had a colourful private life and was grandfather to the artist Harmon Neill, and to who knows who else. Article first posted: 27/02/13. Last updated: 14/03/22.
- The early life of Susan Mary Abbott – the revelation that Susan was the illegitimate daughter of Thomas Love Peacock; her correspondence with George Meredith; her friendship with Mary Ellen Meredith; her whirlwind romance with William Neill. Article first posted: 17/10/11. Last updated: 14/03/22.
- The early life of Charlotte Augusta Edings – how the daughter of cotton planters from a remote sea island off the South Carolina coast came to be adopted by William and Susan Neill in London, aged 6. And was her father Joseph David Edings or Henry M Neill? Article first posted: 17/10/11. Last updated: 14/03/22.
The Powell family
The Powells of Devynock and Church Lawford by Sir Anthony Wagner – how a Welsh family of modest farming origins migrated to England and became a model of middle-class respectability. The family tree at the end (which carries the imprimatur of the Garter King of Arms, however biased) says that Jim can claim descent from Edward I and Owen Glendower. Which puts him in the company of most people in England and Wales.