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Who's Hugh?
Who's Hugh?
The history of a family tradition

If you're rather the sort who is bored by lists of dry dates, you can jump to the conclusions.

Chronology of documents pertinant to the identity of  Hugh O'Neall (c. 1700 to c. 1750):

1850: Winchester, Frederick County, Virginia,  Will Book No. I , contains two different inventories and  one or two estate administration documents a for Hugh O'Neall (wife Anne).  Suggests Hugh died in 1750, whereas some more recent authors claim he died in 1754.  The question of this date is currently under study.  (It is for this reason that these documents were not mentioned on the preceding page, "The Traditional History of Hugh O'Neall".)

1854, 13 May:  Letter from John Belton O'Neall (Newberry, South Carolina) to George T. O'Neall.   The letter's author was the great-grandson of the subject.   Says he was "of the House of Lord O'Neale of Shane's Castle."  The complete text is here and the relevant paragraph is in Note 1.

1858: John Belton O'Neall, The Annals of Newberry (1st, one-volume edition).  Doesn't mention Shane's Castle.  The text is in Note 2.

1858:  Sir Bernard Burke (Ulster King of Arms), A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland.  Says Bryan McPhelim O'Neill of the Clannaboy O'Neills had a son named Hugh, without any details.  (For more information concerning the different O'Neill clans, or septs, in Ireland, consult "The Royal O'Neill Family", especially Part 2, at

1859:  John Belton O'Neall, Biographical Sketches of the Bench and Bar of South Carolina:  Speaking of himself, the author says: "His ancestry on both sides were Irish, his paternal great-grandfather belonging to the ancient house of O'Neill of Shane's Castle, Antrim, Ireland."

1878:  John O'Hart, Irish Pedigrees, or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation (Second Series).  Says Brian McPhelim O'Neill of the Clannaboy O'Neills had a son named Hugh, without any details.

1882:  The History of Warren County, Ohio:   The standard John Belton O'Neall tradition is recounted (with some contradictory variations, due to the work's being a compilation of pieces by different writers) in the biographical sketches of John Kelly O'Neall (1820-), p. 766, and of Abijah Porter and George T. O'Neall, p. 875.

Say around 1900:  George Leland Summer, Sr., Newberry County, South Carolina: Historical and Genealogical Annals.  Recounts the standard tradition and adds "born about 1700."   No sources cited..

Maybe about 1970:  Wesley O'Neall Dicks, Hugh O'Neall, His Ancestors and American Descencants.  Says Hugh was 3rd son of Brian O'Neill, son of Phelim Dubh. Repeats John Belton O'Neall's story, adding that Ann Cox was "also of Irish parentage, her father having been a Captain in King William's Army at the Battle of the Boyne."

About 1984:  Elizabeth Andrews Duncan and Karyn Ek Schultz, A Glance back over our Shoulders (Pride in our Past - Faith in our Future) from 1720-1984. Mostly a recapitulation of John Belton O'Neall's version of the tradition, with a few added details such as: "Our Protestant lineage can be traced to Brian John O'Neill, who had three sons, Henry, John and Hugh who were born and lived in Ireland." In fact, the oldest son, "French" John, said (Genealogical Office of Ireland, MS 16006) that his father was buried at the Church of Skerry, a Catholic churchyard. French John built a mausoleum on the Shane's Castle estate for himself and his family, presumably to avoid the onus of being seen as Catholic at a time when the English planters were looking for Catholic-Irish land to seize. D&S also add the detail that Annie Cox's "...father was Captain James George Cox, an officer in the Battle of the Boyne Victor in 1690."  No source is given for this remark, which again affirms the Protestant nature of our ancestors.


So that's the story of a family tradition.  However, there is compelling evidence (compiled and commented by Al and Sue O'Neill at that Bryan McPhelim O'Neill died in 1669.  If Hugh was born around 1700, as seems likely, given the dates of his children, then he could not have been Bryan's son.

In this case, the question is, "Then who was the father of Hugh?"  Over the last two years, a number of possible candidates have been put forth on the O'Neall list (See for subscription information.), including one Tyrone O'Neill.  (The O'Neills of Shane's Castle were Clannaboy O'Neills.)  Some others might be deduced from the Hearth Money Rolls made up in Ireland in 1663 and 1669.

For the moment, some folks accept the John Belton O'Neall tradition, some folks add to that the assertions about his father's being Bryan McPhelim, some deny the whole tradition and some others see it as a mystery.  We are in the last category, tho we still retain John Belton O'Neall's version as a working hypothesis,  keeping in mind that he never mentioned the name of Hugh's father. (Frankly, I even confess to some skepticism concerning the identity of Hugh's children.)

The only contemporary documents we know of which possibly concern Hugh are the wills and administrations from Winchester County, Virginia.  In at least two cases, people (one of them deceased) have claimed to have seen Hugh and Ann's wedding certificate somewhere in the area, but extensive searches by several cousins for these documents have so far proved fruitless.

If anyone can add anything to confirm any of these sources or add more, please let us know by  mail, maybe with the subject "Who's Hugh?"

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1.Excerpt from letter to George T. O'Neall from John Belton O'Neall: "My great grandfather Hugh O'Neall was, as I have always understood, a midshipman in the British Navy when he jumped overboard and swam ashore in Delaware. He was a youngest son of the House of Lord O'Neale of Shane's Castle, Ireland. The tradition I am told, in the family in Ireland, is that such a person was lost at sea. To escape detection he varied the final e into an L."  [Back to text.]

2. Excerpt from The Annals of Newberry: "William O'Neall's father's name was Hugh; he was, I think, a midshipman in, or at any rate he belonged to, the English navy, and not liking his berth, while at anchor in the Delaware he jumped overboard, swam ashore, and landed near Wilmington, as well as I remember, at the little Swedish town of Christiana; this took place about 1730; here he lived many years, and married Annie Cox. On landing, to escape detection, he altered the spelling of his name, either from O'Neill or O'Neale to O'Neall; the latter is the tradition."  [Back to text.]

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