John C. Rayburn

NEALE, WILLIAM (1807–1896). William Neale, soldier and mayor of Brownsville, was born on June 19, 1807, in Bexhill, Sussex, England. He left home at thirteen and signed up as a cabin boy on an English ship that had been sold secretly to Mexico. Refitted as a Mexican man-of-war, the ship and its English crew took part in the shelling and surrender of the castle of San Juan de Ullóa and Veracruz in 1821. Neale then took a discharge from the Mexican navy and worked for a British mining company in Mexico. He sailed back to England in 1826 and married Una Rutland on October 1, 1827. He and his wife came to the United States, settled first in Pottsfield, Pennsylvania, moved south in 1833, and arrived in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in 1834. Neale began a stage route from the landing at Bagdad, Tamaulipas, where ocean-going ships had to unload freight and passengers, to the riverport of Matamoros. During the Mexican War his stages or "hacks" were used by Gen. Pedro Ampudia to remove the Mexican wounded after the battle of Palo Alto. Neale and his family were part of the frantic congestion of civilians and fleeing Mexican soldiers trying to cross the Rio Grande after the defeat of Mexican troops at the battle of Resaca de la Palma. From a windmill on the Mexican side of the river he witnessed General Ampudia's bombardment of Fort Brown.

During his years on the Mexican border Neale served as an unofficial consul for Americans; he helped locate runaway slaves, and Mrs. Neale secured the release of Henry Lawrence Kinney from General Ampudia. In 1855, when steamboats began going directly to Matamoros, Neale discontinued his Bagdad stage line and established a mercantile business at a steamboat landing twenty-five miles upriver from Brownsville at Nealeville (also called Santa Maria). In 1859 Juan Nepomuceno Cortina and his men crossed at La Bolsa Bend of the Rio Grande and burned Neale's store, along with journals he had been keeping for years, and in Brownsville they killed Neale's son. In the Civil War Neale served as captain of a company of home guards at Fort Brown, was a second lieutenant in the Third Texas Infantry Regiment, an inspector for cotton going into Mexico, and the enrolling and passport officer for Gen. Hamilton Prioleau Bee. He witnessed naval actions of the federal blockade at the mouth of the Rio Grande and the burning of Fort Brown. When the federal troops occupied Brownsville in 1863, he returned to Matamoros to live. He finally settled in Brownsville in 1865, where he had been mayor (1858–59). He served as mayor again from 1866 to 1869. By the 1890s he was known as Brownsville's oldest inhabitant and recognized as an authority on the town's history. He died in Brownsville on April 6, 1896, and was buried there. His home was given to the Brownsville Art League in 1950 and was moved to a location south of the United States Customs House.

John Henry Brown, Indian Wars and Pioneers of Texas (Austin: Daniell, 1880; reprod., Easley, South Carolina: Southern Historical Press, 1978). W. H. Chatfield, The Twin Cities of the Border and the Country of the Lower Rio Grande (New Orleans: Brandao, 1893; rpt., Brownsville: Brownsville Historical Association, 1959). Harbert Davenport, "The Life and Background of William Alfred Neale," Southwestern Historical Quarterly 47 (July 1943). John C. and Virginia Kemp Rayburn, Century of Conflict (New York: Arno Press, 1976).

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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, John C. Rayburn, "NEALE, WILLIAM," accessed August 24, 2019,

Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

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