Saturday, November 26, 2011

Radford Andrew Neal
By Ken Neal
According to family lore, Radford Andrew Neal, my grandfather, was part Cherokee Indian. My own father, Fred R. Neal, always told me that grandpa’s mother, Melissa Ussery, was Indian but no one knew how much.

This has always puzzled me. Although Melissa died when Rad was very young, perhaps even when he was born, he should have been told by his father, John Henry Neal, how much of an Indian his mother was.
Dad often quoted grandpa as being proud of his Indian ancestry, often quoting Indians at the expense of whites, in sayings such as “White man make big fire and stand far away from it. Indian make little fire, and get close to it.”

Or, he would say, “I thought you had enough Indian in you to have good teeth.” Or, he once said that he choose to “go white,” implying that he could have followed Indian ways more closely.
Melissa’s heritage was brought home to me recently when it dawned on me that my Grandpa Radford obviously has Indian blood. The few pictures we have of him show that, particularly the one shown here. It was taken in the fall before he died in December 1937. He had just turned 57.
But Union Army records show that his father, John Henry Neal, was 5 feet, two Inches tall, weighed about 110 pounds, had blonde hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion. Of course this when John Henry was about 18, so he might have grown some, but he certainly wouldn’t have changed the color of his eyes or his complexion.
Since Radford was the product of John Henry and Melissa, Melissa must have been mostly Indian, because Radford looks to be Indian. However, genetics are unpredictable. Radford’s last son, Junior Earl, was the spitting image of his father who produced Junior with Mary Elizabeth Ervin, who claimed not a trace of Indian blood.
I have not been able to find any mention of Melissa beyond the 1880 U. S. census, which found her the wife of John Henry on Magazine Mountain, Arkansas, birthplace of Radford Andrew.
In checking Cherokee records, I do find many Indians with the last name Ussery. I once found an Indian named Ussery living in the general area who had two slaves girls listed as mullatoes. One would have been the same age as Melissa.

Given the wild and remote area that was Magazine Mountain in 1880, it is not hard to imagine that John Henry, having lost his first wife, Elizabeth, would have married an Indian or a mullato and in the tenor of the times, did not broadcast the heritage of his wife.

The 1880 census, taken when Melissa was carrying Radford Andrew, shows her to be 23. The family claim that she was half Indian probably is accurate.

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