Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Happy 197th Birthday, Sally Nealy Miller (1814-1903)!

Wally's great-grandmother

Sally Miller survived the great Johnstown Flood as a 75 year old grandmother (and made the rescue wagon wait while she went back for her sunbonnet)!

Sally was born Sarah Nealy in Pennsylvania, and family legend says her father was an Irish soldier who served in the Revolutionary War. We're still working on learning more about her lineage. Her mother Mary was deranged for the last 17 years of her life, and Sally's son mentioned that Samuel's military discharge papers were accidentally torn to bits by his mother's mischievious older sister.

Sally married Philip Miller, a widowed innkeeper eight years her senior, when she was nearly 23 years old. Philip already had four children, and then he and Sally had seven more together, the oldest of whom is our ancestor Margaret Mendell.  
the Ligonier PA inn where the Millers lived
Philip died in 1862, so Sally remained a widow for over forty years.  She was a small quiet woman who liked to read and enjoyed the newspaper.  After her children were grown, she went to live with her youngest son Forward Sargent (Faud)'s family in Johnstown, Pennsylvania.

Sarah was 75 at the time of the great flood there on May 31, 1889. Johnstown was situated in a valley below the poorly maintained South Fork Dam, and was devastated as the dam broke on a rainy Friday and twenty million tons of debris and water crashed down in a wall of water 60 feet high. Thousands were killed. Sarah and her two grandsons Lloyd and Paul had to climb out of an upstairs window, wading through knee-deep water, to reach the rescue wagon. Then she remembered her sunbonnet, and made the wagon wait while she went back to get it. Faud and his wife Emma remained in the house, and punched a hole in the ceiling and roof with a bed slat. They climbed on the roof and stayed there all night until their home floated against an old stone church that had withstood the current. They climbed onto the church's roof and stayed there until rescued.  Sadly, all of Sally's family records were lost in this flood.
this chair survived the flood and was later recovered from the Miller home--
it was refinished in the 1940s and is currently
in the possession of Forward's grandson
Don Miller in Orlando, Florida
her obituary

I would give her a great waterproof poncho!


  1. I'd give her an inflatable lifeboat and a waterproof box for her records!