Friday, April 20, 2012

Francis O'Neil, Short Biography

Francis O'Neil, Ireland, Scotland, Wisconsin, Iowa

Francis was born in 1812 in Armagh County in northern Ireland. He is reported to be the son of James O'Neil (b.1785, d.1817) and Nancy (?). Not much is known about his parents but when Francis was about five years old, his father died, and he and his mother moved to Scotland. As a young man, he worked as a potter while living in Scotland. At some point, he may have gone back to Ireland. In 1834 he married Rosa Hoy (b.1812, d.1854). Once again, records are unclear but he seems to have married her in Ireland and census records indicate that she was from Ireland. After their marriage, they may have lived in both England and Scotland in the 1840's (some of their children were born in Scotland).

Francis O'Neil and Elizabeth Nevin, date unknown.

Francis is reported to have sailed to America in 1848 on the ship New Zealand, which departed from Ireland and arrived at the Port of New York. He is listed as a single passenger so it would seem that Rosa and children followed, perhaps about a year later. Francis would have arrived in south central Wisconsin at about the time of statehood. Nearby, Fort Winnebago was still standing, though operations at the fort had ceased a few years earlier.

Francis, Rosa and six children show up in the 1850 U.S. Census living in the Town of Springvale in Columbia County. Springvale is located just west of Portage, Wisconsin and Francis was farming. They would have two more children before Rosa died in 1854. By 1856 Francis would be married to Elizabeth Nevin (b.1826, d.1905). Elizabeth was from Renfrewshire, Scotland. Her parents were William Nevin and Mary Raeside. A passenger by her name arrived in New York in 1849 though it is unclear if it was this Elizabeth Nevin. Her connection to Francis and how she came to end up in Wisconsin is not known, however it seems that she had a previous marriage. Sources indicate that she was married to Cooper Pixley and that they had three children between 1851 and 1855. His father, also Cooper, was a revolutionary war veteran and is buried at the Old Fort Winnebago cemetery.

The children of Elizabeth Nevin and Cooper Pixley were: Elizabeth (b.1851, d.1943), Margaret (b.1853, d.1855) and James (b.1855, d.1856). The children of Francis and Rosa were: James (b.1835, d.1903), Catherine (b.1837, d.1910), William (b.1841), Frank (b.1843, d.1917), Hannah (b.1845, d.1852), William (b.1848), Agnes (b.1851) and Edward (b.1853, d.1941). The children of Francis and Elizabeth were: Grace (b.1857, d.1891), Hannah (b.1858, d.1935), Mary (b.1960, d.1881), Margaret (b.1862, d.1939), Loren (b. 1864, d.1936), Sarah (b.1866, d. 1922) and Flora (b. 1868, d.1869).

West-central Wisconsin Territory in 1847. The county named Portage (center) would be
changed to Columbia and would be home to the O'Neil Family in the 1850's and 1860's.
When Francis arrived in 1848, most of the area north of the Wisconsin River had yet to
be divided into counties and surveyed townships and was still the domain of Indian Tribes.

By the time of the 1860 census, the Francis O'Neil family had moved to the Town of Caledonia on the west bank of the Wisconsin River but still in Columbia County. The 1860 snapshot shows a family from three marriages; besides Francis and Elizabeth, there was: James, Frank, William, Agnes and Edward (from Francis and Rosa), Grace and Hannah (from Francis and Elizabeth) and Elizabeth Pixley.

Sometime before 1870, some of the O'Neil family packed-up and headed west. They settled in far western Iowa in the town of Maple in Monona County. They initially farmed but eventually settled in the Village of Mapleton. Platted in 1877, when the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad reached Monona County, Mapleton had a population of fewer than 200. Of the many business establishments, there were four hotels. Francis built the Mapleton House Hotel in 1878 and operated it for a number of years. He was also noted to have acquired 40 acres in that same year. This seems to have been land obtained under the Homestead Act of 1862 and so Francis may have been farming the land in the years prior to 1877. After the death of Francis in 1890, Elizabeth lived with her son Loren and his family. He was listed as "Hotel Keeper" in the 1900 census.

Francis O'Neil Land Acquisition

Hannah, the second born daughter of Francis and Elizabeth would marry Thomas Jefferson Hollister in 1883. The Hollister family had also come west from Wisconsin and settled in Monona County. Jeff (as he was called) was still single and in his 20's when he came to western Iowa. After their marriage, they would live next to or with the O'Neil's on Main Street in Mapleton. Later they would settle in nearby Ute where Jeff worked as a blacksmith. Their daughter, Stella Hollister, would marry Reuben Holcomb and live out her life in Monroe, Wisconsin.

Additional Information:
Read about another Iowa related family, the Hollisters here.
Read about Reuben Holcomb here.

Research Notes: Information for this report comes from a number of sources: United States Census, Iowa and Wisconsin State Census, public family trees found at AncestryDotCom, historical publications (Monona County History, etc.), other vital records and other on-line sources.

This is one of a series of short biographies of individual ancestors. These are undertaken, from time-to-time, when enough information becomes available about an individual.


  1. My records show Francis O'Neil's mother's maiden name was Haden.

    1. Peggy,

      Thanks for the info and for reading my blog. We need to share information.