Saturday, 19 February 2011

Rev James Hugh McNeilly (1838-1922)

Rev James Hugh McNeilly (1838-1922) was a Presbyterian minister in Nashville and the grandson of an Ulster emigrant.  During a ministry that spanned forty years, all of which he spent in Nashville, he ministered in four congregations and did much for the furtherance of the gospel.

His grandfather Hugh McNeilly was born in Belfast in 1765 and emigrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania.  He moved from there to Mecklenburg County in North Carolina and there in 1800 he married Margaret Martin.  They moved to Dickson County, Tennessee, and there they purchased a tract of land.  Hugh cleared the land, built a log cabin and and farmed the land until his death in 1836. 

Hugh and Margaret McNeilly had several children and Robert McNeilly was born on a farm near Bellview in Davidson County on 12 March 1807.  He became a lawyer but he was also a farmer and operated a grist mill and a saw mill.  McNeilly owned 450 acres of land and had ten slaves.  McNeilly served in the Tennessee General Assembly from 1837 to 1838 and he was a life-long friend of President James Knox Polk (1795-1849), who was also from Tennessee and also had Scotch-Irish ancestry.  His brother Thomas McNeilly also served in the Tennessee General Assembly as a senator for two terms from 1859 to 1863.

Robert McNeilly moved to Charlotte in Dickson County in 1842 and he was the circuit court clerk for Dickson County from 1842 to 1862.  He was a friend of Christopher Strong (1760-1850), an Ulster-Scot who emigrated from Ulster to America in 1771 and fought in the War of Independence.  In his will Christopher Strong freed his slaves on condition that they agree to go to Liberia and McNeilly accompanied them on the journey to Liberia. 

McNeilly was a devout Presbyterian and served for many years as a ruling elder in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church but eventually he changed to the Presbyterian Church, Old School, and he was superintendent of Union Sunday School in Charlotte.  He died at White Bluff on 11 January 1885.

On 17 August 1837 Robert McNeilly married Margaret Larkins (1811-1898), who also had Scotch-Irish ancestry, and they were the parents of James Hugh McNeilly (1838-1922), who was born on Jones Creek in Dickson County on 9 June 1838.  He was educated at Jackson College in Columbia, Tennessee, from which he graduated in 1856, and then at the Theological Seminary in Danville, Kentucky.  He was licensed as a Presbyterian preacher in 1860.

McNeilly served in the Confederate States Army from September 1861 to May 1865.  He was a chaplain to the 49th Tennessee Infantry Regiment and distinguished himself on the field of battle.  During the war his father Robert was imprisoned for a short time in Nashville for sending supplies to three sons who were serving in he Confederate States Army but eventually he was released by the military governor, Andrew Johnson, another Scotch-Irish politician, after taking a 'modified oath of allegiance'.

On 10 October 1865 James Hugh McNeilly married Mary Russell Weatherford (1848-1914) and they had six children.

After the war McNeilly returned to Nashville and in November 1867 he became pastor of Woodland Street Presbyterian Church, whiere he was pastor for ten years.  He was also pastor of Moore Memorial Presbyterian Church on Broadway for eleven years from 1879 to 1890.  After that he organised Glen Leven Presbyterian Church where he was pastor for twenty years.  At various times, when First Presbyterian Church was without a pastor, he also provided pastoral service to that congregation.

His entire ministry was spent in Nashville and then in 1911 he retired because of poor eyesight but he was appointed pastor emeritus of the four congregations which he had ministered.

Dr McNeilly served several terms as chaplain to the Tennessee United Confederate Volunteers and he wrote many articles for the Confederate Veteran.  He also took part in the dedication ceremony of the Battle of Nashville Monument and many other important events for the UCV. 

He wrote Religion and Slavery: A Vindication of the Southern Churches, which was published by the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1911.  This grew out of a paper he had presented to the Presbyterian Ministers Association of Nashville in 1905.  The following year he wrote The Failure of the Confederacy: Was It a Blessing?, which was published by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans in 1912,

Dr James H McNeilly died on 28 September 1922, at the age of eighty-four. 
  • James H McNeilly, Reminiscences of Rev J H McNeilly DD: typed copy in Tennessee State Library
  • James H McNeilly, Religion and Slavery: A Vindication of the Southern Churches: 1911
  • Robert Ewing Corlew, A History of Dickson County: Nashville, 1956


  1. Wanted to give you some more information on Rev. J.H. McNeilly, I actually own his home that he built in 1893. Rev. McNeilly lived here until his death in 1922, two of his children continued living in the home until 1924. The home is on the National Regester of Historic Places, It is within one block of Glen Leven Church that he started up In 1890. If you would like to include a photo of his home I will be glad to email it to you..

    Jeffrey McKay

  2. I forgot to include my email if you have any email address is