John Sneed: Centenarian and Revolutionary War Veteran.

John Sneed (1755-1855), painted 1855 by unknown artist.

On the third floor landing, just outside the door to the curator’s office, hangs a very unusual portrait: Mr. John Sneed.

Nearly all of the Filson visitors who reach the third floor, without fail, pause to marvel at this unusual image of the elderly man. Perhaps it’s his no-nonsense expression that captures the imagination? Sneed was 100 years old when he sat for this portrait. Who wouldn’t be cranky at having to sit still for long stretches at such an age! Perhaps it’s the starkness and honesty of his old age that compels the viewer? There are few comparisons for Sneed’s portrait in American 19th-century portraiture, as historical portraiture of elderly people is rare.

John Sneed was born in 1755 Albemarle, Co., Virginia where his father worked as Thomas Jefferson's first teacher. At the age of 14, Sneed was said to have been employed as Thomas Jefferson’s personal secretary. In February 1778 he enlisted in the army and fought in the Revolutionary War, serving until January 1782. During the Battle of Guilford, Sneed was taken prisoner and did not return to his regiment until after the Battle of Eutaw, some six months later. Sneed married Sarah Johnson; together they settled in Boyle County and had ten children. Family tradition asserts that Sneed was so frugal that he was known to walk from his home in Danville all the way to Lexington to collect his veteran's pension several times a year.  He did this even in his elderly years, as opposed to paying for a carriage or a courier service. At the age of 100, Sneed passed away in 1855, only a few months after this portrait was painted by an unknown artist.

Filson Historical

19 comments on “John Sneed: Centenarian and Revolutionary War Veteran.

  1. Shelley Miller

    My husband, Todd Miller, is descended from John Mills Sneed’s daughter Cynthia Sneed-Wilson. I am just thrilled over seeing this portrait. I had heard there was one but had no idea where it was located – so we are very grateful for your post!!
    Shelley Miller

  2. admin

    Thanks Shelley! Feel free to come by The Filson and take a closer look at Sneed’s portrait. His image is on permanent display in the Ferguson Mansion. Thanks for following The Filson blog!

  3. Larry Sneed

    I was told my ancestors came thru Virginia and settled in S. Kentucky (Casey County). I wonder if we are related in some way? Thank you the story was a good read. Larry Sneed

  4. admin

    Given the size of John Sneed’s family and that Boyle County and Casey County abut one another, there seems to be high probability that you are related. If you are in the Louisville area, you should stop by the Filson to conduct genealogical research and see the Sneed portrait. Our library has many resources that would be helpful to your inquiry such as books on the settlement and development Casey Co. as well as 19th-century county census data, birth, and marriage records.

  5. Bobby Howe

    John Mills Sneed was my four-times-great uncle. His father Benjamin Sneed (1721-1819) was my five-times-great-grandfather and was a tutor to Thomas Jefferson and other relatives.

    1. mike mccarthy

      i believe john sneed is my 5th great uncle. my 3rd great grandfather, BF Meek, i believe to be the son of one of john sneeds sisters. we have her as Patsey Sneed, who married Sylvanus Meek in albemarle VA
      in 1799. do you have any record of her, or if john had another sister who married a Meek?

      thank you
      mike mccarthy

  6. jackie Anderson

    My grandmother’s maiden name is Snead and this is a great find. So excited to see it. What an neat Family line.

  7. Francis McClure

    John Sneed is my 4th Great Grandfather through his daughter Martha who married Michael Hope. I have the Sneed family all the way back to the 12th century in England but I am at a dead end with Michael Hope.

  8. John Sneed

    I have researched and found family in the area of Albemarle county at the same time, but this gentleman is not in my direct line. In that area at that time I have…

    John Sr DOB 1692 New Kent VA
    John Jr DOB 1692 New Kent VA
    William DOB 1721 Hanover VA
    Robert DOB 1760 Amelia VA

    Can anybody connect me to this Gentleman?

  9. James Thompson

    I am John M. Sneed’s great-great-great-great grandson. According to the research librarian at the Thomas Jefferson Library located at Kenmore Farm by Monticello Mountain in Charlottesville, John’s grandfather, Benjamin Sneed, owned that property during Jefferson’s lifetime. []. I was a fellow at the Internantional Center for Jefferson Studies, which is located on that property, and in the fall of 2004 I spend two months as a resident fellow at the center. I know now what I did not know then – that I was living on my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather’s farm!

    1. Jennie Cole

      Awesome coincidence, James! We love our John Sneed portrait here at The Filson. Thanks for commenting!

  10. Matt Curran

    This is a great piece of ancestry right here! He is my great x 6or7 grandfather, which means I’ve just found some distant relatives on here!

    1. Jennie Cole

      We are so glad that you are able to make these connections on here.

  11. Suzanne Snead

    He looks like my grandfather who lived to be 96. The “frugal” part still lives on in our Sneads! My 3rd great grandfather was Robert, and he was born in Albemarle, VA in 1815 and died in Nelson Co. Haven’t been able to find who his father was, but his sons were Wm, Charles, Robert Alex.

  12. Tonya

    Do you have any genealogy on John Sneed’s family lines (toward the present)??

    1. Jennie Cole

      Hi Tonya,
      Thanks for your question! It is one we have received from several people after seeing this blog post. I am afraid that we could not find any information in our Sneed/Snead family file on his line, nor was their any information on his line in the Snead family history book that we had in our library. It looks like the bit of family lore that came in with the portrait was the only information passed along to the museum curator at the time of donation (1986). I am sorry that we do not have more information. I will certainly be in touch if we turn up anything further!
      Best wishes,

  13. John Timothy Sneed

    I am John Timothy Sneed, originally of Laurel, Maryland, now of Springfield, Missouri. My father, John L. Sneed (no middle name, just an initial) was from Saltville, Virginia. His family is all over the hills there. I have been told that many Sneeds come from the Tennessee, North Carolina, and Virginia area. I think, if memory serves that my father’s father was John Emory Sneed. I have no idea of this helps anyone, or connects me to anyone. Would be interesting though.

  14. Mark sneed

    My family is from west Virginia and Virginia


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