(Note: The name Port McNeill will be used to refer to his life during slavery. The name John Culver will be used to refer to his life as a Union soldier and after Emancipation.)
John Culver also known as Port McNeill was born between 1825 and 1828 in Robeson County, North Carolina, near Fayetteville. His parents were Mike Culver and Flora McNeill. Flora and her children were the slaves of Malcolm “Saddler” McNeill of Robeson County. The Culver family consisted of Flora, Daniel, Port, Robert and daughters whose names were not revealed in the pension records. Malcolm died April 8, 1833 and the slaves were allotted to his wife and children. According to Malcolm’s 1833 will, Flora, with her increase, and son Dan was allotted to Malcolm’s son, John David McNeill. Flora’s son Port was allotted to Malcolm’s son, Hector McNeill. Robert was not named in Malcolm’s 1833 will as he was born after the death of Malcolm on October 15, 1833.
The will of Malcolm McNeill is not clear that Mike Culver was a slave of Malcolm McNeill. A Mike was listed on Malcolm's will and he was given to Malcolm's son Hector along with Port. Port's pension records revealed that Mike Culver died near the age of 100, long before the Civil War.
John David left North Carolina for Mississippi bringing his slaves, including Flora, Dan, Robert, and leaving Flora‘s daughters in Robeson County. John David left North Carolina between 1836 and 1838. By the time John McNeill arrived in MS, he had acquired Port who was 13 years old when they came to Warrenton, Warren County, MS, to live on Sallie McC????’s place. They stayed in Warren County for two and a half years before settling in Caseyville, Copiah County, MS. John McNeill married Nancy Gilchrist, daughter of Malcolm Gilchrist and Anna Galbraith, on November 21, 1839 in Jefferson County, MS. Ann Brown, a resident of Caseyville, testified that when she arrived in Caseyville in 1841, Port and the McNeills were already residents of the area. The 1850 Copiah County federal census is the first census John McNeill is seen on in Mississippi.
Port was described as 5 feet 7 inches tall with dark hair, eyes and complexion. He was described as having above intelligence for a field hand. During his enslavement, Port McNeill served as a farm laborer and as a buggy driver for Nancy McNeill. Port also had the responsibility of driving his Master’s teams to and from Natchez during harvest season.
Port married Hannah Watson/McMillan about 1857 at her owner’s plantation in Caseyville. They were married by her owner, Dougald McMillian, in accordance with slave custom. Hannah was born about 1840, daughter of Moses Watson and Nancy McMillan, in Copiah County. Port and Hannah had two children, Edward and Elizabeth. Near the start of the Civil War, Port deserted Hannah and "took up" with another of Dougald McMillan’s slaves named Jane. Port and Jane had two children who died in early adulthood.
Hannah began a relationship with George Coleman during the Civil War. Hannah and George did not legally consummate their relationship. The "marriage" lasted for over 30 years untill the death of George Coleman in 1894.
After John Culver went to serve in the Rebel camp, Jane "took up" with John Coleman and their relationship lasted until death.
John McNeill, Port’s owner, died August 30, 1854. John McNeill’s 1858 slave inventory listed Port as being valued at $1200. McNeill’s wife Nancy Gilchrist McNeill died May 1858, leaving his slaves, Nancy’s slaves and the rest of the estate entrusted to Nancy’s brother, John Gilchrist, until their four minor children reached their majority. Port, along with the other slaves, left the McNeill’s place and resided on John Gilchrist’s plantation after the death of Nancy McNeill.
The Civil War affected the Master’s house as well as the slave quarters. George Alexander McNeill, eldest son of John David and Nancy McNeill, joined the 1st Mississippi Light Artillery, Company A, also known as Ridley’s Company. George Alexander enlisted March 31, 1862. George, who was now the owner of Port, took Port to serve as mess cook and as his body servant. Daniel Buie, John McCormick, James McMillan, Robert Mullen, Memphis Nevills, and Nathaniel Watson were the other soldiers Port cooked for. In May of 1863, during the siege of Vicksburg, Port was sent home because there was not enough rations to go around. George McNeill was captured in Vicksburg by General U. S. Grant on July 4, 1863. After the surrender of Vicksburg, George was released and he returned home where he continued to see Port until August 1863.
Port and his brother Robert Culver fled the Gilchrist's planation for Natchez, MS, where they enlisted with Company K, 58th Regiment of the United States Colored Infantry, on September 15, 1863. Port enlisted under the name John Culver.
During the peak of watermelon season in July of 1865, Company K of the 58th Regiment was marching from Washington, Adams County, MS, to Brookhaven, Lawrence County, MS. The day was described as hot and dusty. On this march, John was taken with "a pain and misery" in his right eye. The pain was so bad he was put into an ambulance. Later, he had the same problem with the left eye. Upon their arrival in Brookhaven, John was taken to a temporary hospital located in a frame house where he was treated with pills and some type of wash for his eyes. Released from the hospital days later, John went back to guard duty at night when he discovered he could not see any distance by night. After informing the Sergeant of the Guard, John was taken off of guard duty and put to kitchen duties where he helped with cooking, bringing in wood, rationing, and cleaning of camp.
John was mustered out April 30, 1866 in Vicksburg, MS. The next day he and his brother Robert came down the Mississippi River on the "Grey Eagle" to Natchez. He was "knocked around from pillar to post" doing odd jobs wherever he could find work. He hired himself to John O’Ferrall when he "took up" with Susie Wright also know as Susie Lee who also worked for John O’Ferrall. John Culver’s slave wife Hannah visited Susie and Culver at the O’Ferrall’s home. Hannah asked John to renew their relationship but he refused and remained with Susie. His relationship with Susie Wright ended when she went to live in New Orleans.
John’s eyes were not improving. His eyes were in pain, sensitive to light, watery and itchy. John went to New Orleans to see the "big eye doctor" in February of 1868. Dr. Beard advised him that there was nothing he could do for him. John was "plum blind" by October 1868. John had been writing his brother Robert telling him about the condition of his eyes. In May 1869, Robert came to O’Ferrall’s place and took him back to George McNeill’s home in Caseyville where Robert was then living.
In 1872, John began applying for his pension from the United States government because of his blindness. Various problems with his application delayed him receiving his first pension payment until 1882. The military pension board needed verification of his identity and they also question whether he was having difficulty with his vision prior to his enlistment. John had what was called the "common sore eye" disease between 1854 and 1858.
Common sore eye disease is sometimes called "pink eye." It is a inflammation of the mucous membrane that cover the whites of the eyes. The lining of the eyelids looks pinker than usual and the eyes are itchy, painful and often filled with a sticky, stringy discharge. Sometimes the eyes may be "stuck" together when you wake up, and the eyes may be extremely sensitive to bright light. This condition last about two weeks.
Many affidavits and dispositions were filed in John’s case concentrating on whether he was blind prior to entering the Union army. Other issues of interest were his various "wives" and which was his legal widow, his identity since he was known by two different names, and the identity of his minor heir, John or Johnny Culver.
Reason Woolley, a neighbor of John Culver and the McNeill family, notified the military pension board that fraud was being committed in John’s case. Wooley wrote the board that John Culver had been blind since 1841. Special agents were sent to investigate Wooley’s claims.
The board approved John pension claim as valid. In 1882, John received over $7500. Fraud charges resurfaced and John was taken off the pension rolls for two years. Fraud charges were found invalid and he received over $2000. John also received $72 quarterly. John was generous to his former slave owners and friends which caused complaints from others in the community. Special agent John Benton suspected that John Culver had limited control of his money. Former slave owner George McNeill was appointed as John's guardian. McNeill reported that John wasted his money on spending binges to New Orleans. John purchased 160 acres of land with a home located on the property, a buggy and a mule. John's remaining money were kept by his former owner George McNeill which was stolen in a robbery of George McNeill‘s home.
John legally married Mississippi Banks also know as Mary Jeeder in Natchez, Adams County, MS, on February 5, 1887. Mississippi died about 1890 in Natchez and no children were born to this union. John married Susie Smith daughter of Jacob Smith in Copiah County, MS, on March 7, 1894. John and Susie had one child John Culver, Jr., who was born June 6, 1894.
John and Susie remained together until his death. John died June 25, 1903 and Susie died April 28, 1915 both in Caseyville, MS. He died of heart disease due to advanced age and she died of stomach cancer. They are both buried in the Mount Carmel Church Cemetery in Union Church, Jefferson County, MS.
Major Adolph - He served with John Culver in the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Troops.
Calla Ball - She is stepdaughter of Culver.
Dr. J. H. Beavers - He attended Culver during his last illness.
Eliza Blue - Citizen of Caseyville who wrote a letter to the pension board notifying them that Culver was weak eyed before his enlistment.
John Blue - Former slave who knew Culver since childhood.
Ann Brown - A friend of the McNeill family who knew since 1844.
Eli Brown - A friend of John Culver.
Mahala Brown - She knew John Culver since childhood.
Shelby Brown - He knew Susie Smith Culver since childhood. He was the guardian for John and Susie Culver's son, John, Jr.
Daniel Buie - He served in the same regiment and company with John Culver who served as a body servant to George McNeill.
Ellen Buie - Former slave of Daniel Buie who knew John Culver.
John M. Buie - He knew John Culver most of his life.
Jane Coleman - Slave wife of John Culver. Jane was a slave of Dugald McMillan.
Lucinda Coleman - Former slave of Daniel Buie who testified that she knew John Culver since the days of slavery.
Richard Coleman - Former slave of Daniel Buie who testified that he officiated at the burial of John Culver.
Daniel Culver - He is a brother of John Culver.
Hannah Culver - Slave wife of John Culver who testified about their relationship and the other wives of John Culver.
John Culver, Jr. - Son of John and Susie Smith Culver
Susie Smith Culver - She was a wife of John Culver after Emancipation.
Robert Culver - A brother of John Culver.
Neal Currie - Citizen of Caseyville who knew John Culver all of his life.
Washington Davenport - Served with John Culver in the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Troops who testified about Culver's vision problem in the service.
Mary E. Dodds - The widow of Dr.William P. Dodds who treated John Culver's eyes prior to Civil War.
John Gilchrist - Administrator of the McNeill's estate and slaves after the death of Nancy McNeill.
Martha A. Gilchrist - Wife of John Gilchrist.
Rufus Haney - Former slave who knew John Culver since childhood.
Edward Harris - He knew Culver when they both drove their Masters' teams to and from Natchez, MS. Harris testified about Culver's vision during that time.
Bob Hartley - Former slave who knew John Culver since childhood.
J. W. Hollaway - Former slave who knew John Culver since childhood.
Sam Kelly - He knew Hannah Culver.
George L. Lambright - A blacksmith in Natchez, MS, who knew John Culver after the Civil War.
Dr. J. J. McLean - Physician for the McNeill family.
James P. McMillan - Citizen of Caseyville who testified that he served in the same regiment and company of the Confederate Army with John Culver who served as body servant to George McNeill. James also testified about the condition of John's eyes during his service with the Confederate Army.
George McNeill - John Culver's last Master.
Maria McNeill - Wife of George McNeill
William O'Ferrall - John Culver worked for his father John O'Ferrall after the Civil War while living in Natchez, MS.
Pearlie Scott - Former slave in the Caseyville area who testified for Shelby Brown, guardian of John Culver's minor child. Pearlie testified that he had known the minor child's mother since childhood. Pearly married Catherine Matilda Markham. The couple's children were: Robert b. 1889, Frank b. 1892, Walter b. 1894, Philip b. 1896, Pearly, Jr., b. 1900, Estelle b. 1902, and Sallie b. 1904. Pearly died July 19, 1951 and Catherine died July 24, 1948, both in Lincoln County, MS.
Pleasant Scott - He served with Culver in the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Troops.
Nancy Senair - Friend of Hannah Culver
Harriet Smith - Sister-in-law of Susie Smith Culver - Harriet was married to Levi Smith, the second marriage for both. Levi was the son of Jacob Smith. The couple's children were Martin b. 1891, Lamar b. 1893 and Susie b. 1896. Levi died August 19, 1921 in Caseyville, MS.
Scrippio Thompson - He met Culver while driving his Master's carriage. He also served with Culver in the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Troops.
James Willaims - Stepson of John Culver
Thomas Williams - He served with Culver in the 58th Regiment, United States Colored Troops.
Reason Woolley - Citizen of Caseyville who testified that John Culver had been blind since 1841.
1870 Lincoln County Page 53
Culver, Robert, 32, NC (John's brother)
C., 22, ALA
Millie, 7, ALA
Robt, 1, MS
Flora, 80, NC (Flora is John's mother. Flora reported on the 1880 federal census that her parents were born in Africa.)
John, 38, NC
1880 Lincoln County, Page 120C
Hillard, Creecy, Head, 24, MS
Floanna, daughter, 5, MS
Eliza, daughter, 2, MS
Culvert, John, other, widower, 50, MS
1900 Lincoln County, V31-ED101-S10-L60
Culver, John, Head, March 1825, 75, NC
Susie, wife, 1850, 50, MS
William, Charles, stepson, 1880, 20, MS
William, Jimmie, stepson, 1883, 17, MS
William, Jake, stepson, 1884, 16, MS
Ball, Callie, stepdaughter, 1887, 13, MS
Ball, Lizzie, stepdaughter, 1891, 9, MS
Ball, Johnnie, stepson, 1894, 6, MS (This is John Culver's son.)
Smith, Beilha, granddaughter, 1884, 16, MS
Smith, Bluford, granddaughter, 1891, 9, MS
John Culver’s Federal Military Pension Records
Robert Culver’s Federal Military Pension Records
Anderson Mitchell's Federal Military Pension Records
Mississippi Marriage Index - Culver, Microfilm Number: 1728
Mississippi Marriage Index - McNeill, Microfilm Number: 937
Susie Smith Culver's Death Certificate - MS 1915 - 7018
John David and Nancy McNeill ’s Copiah County Probate Records, Microfilm Numbers: 8212 & 8227
George Alexander McNeill’s Confederate Military Service Records, Microfilm Number: 1461
Microfilms found at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
1833 Will of Malcolm McNeill - Robeson County, North Carolina
Robeson County, NCGenWeb
Cyrus McNeill's History of Two McNeill Families
Union Church Presbyterian Church Cemetery
1850 Copiah County Federal Census
1850 Copiah County Slave Schedule
1860 Copiah County Slave Schedule
1870 Lincoln County Federal Census
1880 Lincoln County Federal Census
1900 Lincoln County Federal Census
Mississippi Death Index - Culver
1912 - 1943
Remembering Their Names
Corporal Robert Culver - 58th Regiment, United States Colored Infantry
Private Anderson Mitchell - 58th Regiment, United States Colored Inantry
1865 Inventory Listing of Dougall McMillan's Slaves