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Robert Neville: Personal Autobiography: Ancestors

Part 1: Ancestors

As a good Confucian the beginning of my life should be recognized to be my ancestors. I was born May 1, 1939, at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, to Rose (Rosa) Naomi Cummings Neville and Richard Perry Neville.

Rose (Rosa) Naomi Cummings Neville and Richard Perry Neville
Fig. 1: Richard Perry Neville and Rose Naomi Cummings Neville, probably on their wedding day, 1937
They were married in this way: having planned to wed, on October 9, 1937, they filled Richard’s car with gas and drove out into Missouri from St. Louis exactly half a tank’s worth of miles, which took them to DeSoto. They stopped at the parsonage of the local Methodist Church and asked the pastor, Raymond Sturgis, to marry them. He did so and they returned home. As the small world arranges things, Reverend Sturgis became the pastor of my home church when I was growing up and was the principal influence on my decision to become a minister.

My father, Richard Perry Neville (born January 25, 1909, in Eldon, Missouri and died June 4, 1973, in Sunnyvale, California)

Richard Perry Neville - formal portrait
Fig. 2: Richard Perry Neville 1909 - 1973; age 47; A formal portrait taken when I left for college in 1956.
was the son of James M. Neville, (August 27,1877-1967)
James M. Neville, 1877 - 1967
Fig. 3: James M. Neville, 1877 - 1967.
and Georgia Lee Fowler (September 17,1878-1928 or 1929).
Georgia Lee Fowler
Fig. 4: Georgia Lee Fowler; 1875 - 1925.
James M. Neville was born in Missouri and died in Eldon, Mo., where he lived most of his life. He was the son of Joseph Dodson Neville (born August 8, 1822- ) and Susan Renfro, who died in Kentucky. Joseph Dodson Neville was the son of William Neville, who was born in 1766, and a woman named Holsclaw who was born in Faugier Co., VA. William Neville was the son of James Neville Sr., who was born in Tide Water counties, VA in 1742 and died in Kentucky, and a woman named Blackburn who was born in Farquior Co. VA (perhaps the same as Faugier Co.). James Neville Sr. was the son of Joseph Neville Sr., who was born in 1693 on the Isle of Wright Co, VA, and settled in Prince William Co. VA where he died in 1766; James Neville Sr.’s mother was Ann Bohannan. Joseph Neville Sr. was the son of John Neville Jr. who was born in Northampton Co., Virginia in1661and died in 1730, and Elizabeth Bohanan. John Neville Jr. was the son of James Neville who was born in 1640 in The Clefts, Colvert Co. Maryland, and was killed by Indians in Isle of Wright Co., VA, in 1680. James Neville was the son of John Neville, who was born March 12, 1612 in King Stanley, Gloucestershire, England and immigrated to America in 1633, dying in 1664 in Charles Co., Maryland, and Bridget Throsley who was born in England and died in 1643-44. This was the generation when the Nevilles became Americans, though of course they were still English colonists. John Neville was the son of Edward Neville, who was born in 1551 in Somerset, England and died December 1, 1622 in London, and Rachel Leonard, who was born in 1553 and died in 1616. Edward Neville was the son of another Edward Neville, the Seventh Earl of Bergavenny of Aberavenny, who was born in 1518 in Somerset, England and died February 10, 1589 in Middlesex, England, and Catherine Brome, who was born in 1522 in Halton, Oxfordshire, England and died June 16, 1613. The Neville’s can be traced much farther back in English history but this list gets the line back to the ninth year of the reign of Henry VIII that began in 1509. The Neville men surely wore tights, ruffles, and swords. They tended to be long-lived, especially for their era, save when they tangled with Indians.

Georgia Lee Fowler
Fig. 5: Georgia Lee Fowler; 1878 - 1928.
My father’s mother, Georgia Lee Fowler, was born September 17, 1878 in Missouri. Her name commemorated the important Confederate State of Georgia and Robert E. Lee, the commanding Confederate general. She named a daughter, my father’s younger sister, the same.
Georgia Lee Neville (Wade)
Fig 6: Georgia Lee Neville (Wade)
That daughter, Georgia Lee Neville Wade, also named a daughter Georgia Lee, my first cousin, Georgia Lee Wade.
Georgia Lee Wade
Fig. 7: Georgia Lee Wade
Georgia Lee Fowler was the daughter of Perry P. Fowler, who was born in Missouri, March 20, 1945, and Mary Cogburn, who was born in Missouri on February 16, 1856. Mary Cogburn’s parents were Jackson Cogburn of Tennessee and Mary J. Noyse of Wisconsin. Perry P. Fowler’s parents were James M. Fowler, born May 18, 1819, and Mary A. Doyle, born May 11, 1823 in Indiana. Mary A. Doyle’s parents were Jacob G. Doyle, born in August, 1788, in Virginia, and Hanna Wood, born May 16, 1794, in New Jersey. Hanna Wood’s parents were Henry Wood, born in England, and Hanna Eldridge, born in England but living in New York State during the Revolutionary War. Jacob G. Doyle’s parents were John Doyle, born in Holland, and Sarah Graflin, also born in Holland.

Georgia Lee Neville (Wade)
Fig. 8: Rose Naomi Cummings Neville 1909 - 2003, age 47. A formal portrait taken when I left for college in 1956.
My mother, Rosa Naomi Cummings was born in Woody, Illinois, April 14, 1909 and died in Hartford, Connecticut, April 5, 2003; she hated the name Rosa and always used Rose. She was the daughter of Charles S. Cummings, who was born March 4, 1879, and died of tuberculosis February 15, 1915, and Lucy Borlin, who was born August 19, 1880, and died March 18, 1955. Figure 9 shows their wedding photo, taken in 1902. After Charles Cummings’ death, Lucy married Charles R. Angle, August 18, 1926, who helped her raise six children who had been born between 1903 and 1914. Charles Angle was born January 15, 1873 and died April 15, 1937. Lucy Borlin (Cummings, Angle) was the daughter of Jacob H. Borlin, who was born in Carrolton, Illinois, and Ethel Ambrose, who was born in Spankey, Illinois.
Charles Cummings with Lucy Borlin, 1902
Fig. 9: Charles S. Cummings with Lucy Borlin, wedding photo, 1902.
Ethel Ambrose’s father was J. D. Ambrose. Jacob H. Borlin’s father was John W. Borlin, born also in Carrolton, Illinois, and John W. Borlin’s father was Henry Borlin.

I never knew my father’s mother or my mother’s father or step-father, all of whom died before I was born. But I did know my father’s father and my mother’s mother.

James M., Richard P. and Harvey Neville
Fig. 10: James M. Neville (bottom), Richard P.Neville (standing), Harvey Neville (sitting on his mother, Georgia Lee Fowler Neville); 1911
My paternal grandfather, James M. Neville, came from a staunch abolitionist family in Missouri, according to family lore, and so it was a bit ironic that he married into the Confederate-sympathizing Fowler family. Figure 10 shows my father standing on my grandfather’s tender parts, while my father’s older brother, Harvey, sits on his mother’s lap, all in apparent amity; my father’s oldest brother, Eugene, died in infancy and his younger sister, Georgia Lee, had not been born when this photo was taken. Grandpa Neville settled in Eldon, Mo., where he owned the shoe department in the local “department” store (in those days, “department stores” were one-building precursors to malls). He had one of the largest houses in town (I remember it, though it is now torn down) and invested in some farm property. His wife died of breast cancer in the late 1920s when my father was in college. Then when the Depression hit he lost the store and the house because he refused on principle to foreclose on his debtors. He moved by himself to a small two-room house (shack) on his farm property where he raised cattle for milk and cheese and sublet acreage for sorghum crops. In 1942, when the Second World War required every worker who could work to build the war machines, my grandfather moved to Los Angeles to become a welder for the Kaiser company making ships. My first memory of him was in 1944 when he returned to St. Louis where I was then a boy of five. My father and I were trying to fly a kite in the field across from our house when we saw him walking up the hill toward us. My father pushed the kite string at me, ran to him, and shook his hand with great emotion, wishing for all the world that hugging was allowed between men. My grandfather gave me the cuddles he would have liked to have given his son.

James M. Neville and grandson Robert
Fig. 11: James M. Neville and grandson Robert on the farm; 1953.
He returned to his farm near Eldon and since we did not have a car we didn’t visit often; when we did it was on a one-car train that went west along the southern side of the Missouri River, changing in Jefferson City to an even smaller train that went south to Eldon. But during my 12th, 13th, and 14th summers, I spent several weeks alone with Grandpa, sleeping on an army cot in his tiny house. He himself had a bed, of course, and a small bookcase that had a first edition of Darwin’s famous book. He slept with a 38 revolver under his pillow and a cudgel under his bed, prepared for thieves in the night (what there was to steal I have no idea, save for the gun). There was no running water or electricity. The toilet was a horizontal board with a hole in it over some straw in the barn. The cistern was the refrigerator, though he did have an ice-box that had to be refilled with a block three times a week. Each Saturday morning he filled a tall blue metal kettle with white dots with a pound of coffee and put it on the woodstove to cook, refilling with water every day until the next Saturday when the grounds were dumped and replaced; it took me a while to learn to like coffee, but my wife and I made boiled coffee for many years after we were married. He taught me to care for cattle and chickens, to shoot a rifle, and to drive his old truck. Actually, he didn’t teach me to drive: he and I chased his bull into the pasture in the truck, he caught the bull by the nose-ring, and dragged him back, telling me to follow in the truck. I was 12, and knew the clutch had something to do with driving; I could only put the truck into reverse, but did in that way drive back(ward) to the house. By the time I was 13, I could drive forward, and by 14 drove all over the county. Grandpa was a man of extraordinary principle. He taught his children, and me, always to be honest and to judge people by their real character, not by any prejudice of race or other irrelevant marker. Principle is ambiguous sometimes, however. He once was told that the most efficient driving speed is 45 mph and so he drove at that speed always. On the superhighway it was maddening and in town it was terrifying: turning every corner on two wheels never came to seem ordinary.

He farmed until he was about 78 and then retired to a rented room in a railway hotel in Eldon. He had no money to speak of, but then had few needs. When he was 90 he fell and broke his hip, and soon after died. I am so pleased he lived long enough to meet my wife, Beth, and to see that I had grown to be a man. Figure 12, a photo of him, my father, and me in 1963, shortly after my marriage, fills me with pride for my paternal heritage.

Richard Perry Neville, James M. Neville, Robert Cummings Neville
Fig. 12: Richard Perry Neville, left; James M. Neville; Robert Cummings Neville, 1963; Photo: Beth Neville.

My mother’s mother, whom I knew as Grandma Angle, lived with my Aunt Alta, an older sister of my mother, in Hillview, Illinois. Hillview was a rural town of only a couple of hundred people, then as now, and is about ten miles from Carrolton. Most of the residents worked on nearby farms. Grandma Angle’s first husband, Charles had a big farm with many hired hands and Grandma worked hard to cook for them all.

Charles S. Neville; Age 19
Fig. 13: Charles S. Neville; Age 19; 1879 - 1915
When he died after a brief illness of tuberculosis in his mid-thirties, Grandma lost the farm and moved to Carrolton where she set up shop as a seamstress, supporting six children. Her first child, Howard, was a ne’er-do-well, or so the family lore goes, and left home as soon as he could. Grandma sent the second child, Sybil, to Normal School to become a teacher and the third, Alta went there as well; my mother, Rose, went to work after high school to support Alta. The fifth child, George, became a farmer and is the father of my cousin Gloria. The sixth, Hope also became a teacher and was my favorite aunt when I was an adult.

Lucy Borlin Cummings/Angle with her 14 month grandson, Bobby.
Fig. 14: Lucy Borlin Cummings/Angle with her 14 month grandson, Bobby.
I knew Grandma Angle both at Aunt Alta’s when we went to visit and at our house where she came to help out my mother from time to time.Figure 14 shows her with me when I was 14 months. Like my mother, she was a knitter as well as a seamstress and made many hand crocheted afghans. She showed me how to crochet the squares and I delighted in learning to make my fingers work that way. She praised my creations even when they were too tight, small, and lopsided. Her funeral in 1955 was the first such liturgy I had ever attended and I kept my feelings in check by memorizing the names of the hundred or so relatives and old friends who attended.

Both Grandpa Neville and Grandma Angle had personal bibles that have come into my possession. Each had inscribed their genealogy as they knew it, which is where this account of my ancestors began.

James Marion Neville, about age 88.
Fig. 15: Grandpa James Marion Neville, about age 88.
Lucy Borlin Cummings Angle
Grandma Lucy Borlin Cummings Angle, about age 72. A black & white photo "colored" by grandson Robert, as was common in the 1950s.
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