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Below is a family biography included in the History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania published in 1889 by A. Warner & Co.   These biographies are valuable for genealogy research in discovering missing ancestors or filling in the details of a family tree. Family biographies often include far more information than can be found in a census record or obituary.  Details will vary with each biography but will often include the date and place of birth, parent names including mothers' maiden name, name of wife including maiden name, her parents' names, name of children (including spouses if married), former places of residence, occupation details, military service, church and social organization affiliations, and more.  There are often ancestry details included that cannot be found in any other type of genealogical record.

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JOHN NIXON O’NEIL. We seek to record in brief words the history of one who acted so well his part in the drama of life as to make that life a benediction to all who were fortunate enough to have personal knowledge of his nobility of character or felt the inspiring touch of his personality. Allegheny county is noted for marvelous activities, gigantic enterprises and boundless resources. Within its boundaries giants in the numerous industrial avocations struggle for the mastery; brains and skill crowd the arena of competition for the victor’s crown. A young man, ill equipped by the fortunes of the luckily born, seeking for a place to commence the race of active life, might well shrink from such a contest. Not so, however, the subject of these lines. Made of sterner material, with endowments and equipments not born of college or wealth, he accepted the challenge of these mighty forces, entered the arena of heroic toilers, and came out winner.

John Nixon O’Neil was born on Aug. 6, 1828, at Six-Mile Ferry, Allegheny county, Pa. His ancestry may be traced far back in the generations of the past. The traditional and historical records show that the O’Neil family not only sprang from the Emerald Isle, but that they descended from the illustrious family of that isle, their founder, the Earl of Tyrone, the brave Hugh O’Neil, ruling in Ireland in its palmiest days. The story of the active life of John N. O’Neil is well told in the “Pittsburgh Coal Exchange,” of which he was the honored president, in the following appreciative words:

At the age of twelve years, cast upon his own resources, he began his business career as a miner of coal, which occupation he followed until he reached his twentieth year, when he adopted the business of piloting floating vessels from Pittsburgh to Louisville, Ky. In 1858 he formed a partnership with his brother, W. W. O’Neil, for the purpose of mining and shipping coal, which firm purchased the Enterprise Coal-works, opposite Elizabeth, Pa., and operated the same until 1866, when the present firm of O’Neil & Co., consisting of the brothers J. N. and W. W. O’Neil, and S. P. and I. N. Large, was constituted.

The history of J. N. O’Neil is the history of the coal trade of the Monongahela valley. Filling the humble position of a miner in 1840, when the business was in its infancy, he grew with its growth and strengthened with its strength to the day when cut down by the inevitable hand of death. He stood a giant in a business which in some of its features has no parallel in the annals of commerce, the proud possessor of a name loved and honored from the Monongahela to the gulf. At the time of his death Mr. O’Neil was, and for some eighteen months prior thereto had been, the acting president of this exchange, and no man among its members was more worthy, by reason of his mental grasp and unselfish devotion to the general interests of the trade, to stand at the head of an association devoted to its advancement. He at all times came to the front, with his time, his means and talent, to prosecute any measure toward the furtherance of the general interests of the trade. Mr. O’Neil was twice married,. His first wife was Nancy McClure, to whom he was married Aug. 19,1852, by whom he had two children,, one of whom is now living. His second wife, who survives him, was Harriet R. Stevenson. They were married Oct. 25, 1860, and have born to them six children, five of whom are living. As a husband and father he was affectionate and tender, though not weakly indulgent; his home was a sanctuary where the cares and vexations of business were not permitted to cast their shadows. As to his personal characteristics, Mr. O’Neil was noted for his firmness, directness, courage and consistency; he never vacillated or temporized, but followed the place he had chosen to the end. He was firm and persistent in the maintenance of his rights, but, just and tolerant toward others. He never sought to attain an end or accomplish a purpose by indirect or crooked methods. He faced danger and difficulty without shrinking, and stood ready to do what he deemed his duty, and to be right at any risk of consequences to himself, adhering firmly to the post of duty, even though it was the post of danger. The friends he had tried, and the business methods he had proven, he clung to with singular tenacity. In looking at what he achieved, it may be said he has left a monument of his industry and genius of which his friends may well be proud. He went down to the mansions of the dead, not from the decreptitude of age, but was cut off in a moment, when his faculties were unimpaired and the triumphs of his life fresh upon him.

Of like high testimony, more enduring than pillars of marble, were the personal letters of numerous associates in commercial and social circles. Mr. O’Neil at the time of his death was superintendent of the Elizabeth M. E. Sabbath-school, president of the Elizabeth school board, and an active worker in temperance societies, all of which organizations passed resolutions expressive of their warm appreciation of services rendered, and their profound sense of loss sustained by his death. He died, as he had lived, a Christian gentleman, honored and respected by all, his death occurring April 29, 1884, caused by being thrown from a buggy while out driving with one of his daughters.

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This family biography is one of 2,156 biographies included in the History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania published in 1889 by A. Warner & Co.

View additional Allegheny County, Pennsylvania family biographies here: Allegheny County, Pennsylvania Biographies

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