John Stetson Neal, landowner, former steamboat captain
Neal was born in 1820 in Pittsburgh and spent much of his early life there learning the machinist trade and becoming a master engine builder. He also was fascinated by rivers and water and desired to make a career in the nautical world. He took his machining talents and applied it to ship building, where he would spend decades in the business.
In 1841, he became a part owner and engineer of the ship Arcade, followed by the Revenue. He then built the Andrew Fulton, which sunk near St. Louis. He then built the Hungarian, and with his brother, Captain Rueben Neal, bought the Queen City, both of which he captained between Cincinnati and New Orleans for several years. He then moved to Madison where he and his brotheropened a steam engine foundry in Madison, which at the time was the largest in the state. There they built the Grace Darling, which he took between New Orleans and Montgomery, Alabama. They also build the City of Madison, which was lost in Vicksburg in 1863 during the Civil War after an explosion of 400 barrels of gunpowder on board.
The company built some of the largest ships in the West including the David White, Edward Walsh, John C. Cline, Empress, and many others. During the war, he leased several ships, which were used for transporting soldiers. The brothers were at one time credited with introducing the steamboat whistle. At the end of his shipbuilding career, he moved to Indianapolis in 1875 to help build the state’s Insane Hospital. In 1877, he was hired as the assistant superintendent of construction of the project. He died in 1908 and is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.
All photos courtesy of Ryan Hamlett.
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