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Nettie Donnie King Neely Riley

Death 24 Mar 1958
Burial Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia, USA
Plot Section L, Lot 355, Space 7
Memorial ID 5058454 · View Source
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Note: Her birth date on her tombstone is inaccurate. She was born in 1892 although she claimed she was born in 1900, dropping her age by 8 years. (The King family had a habit of moving from place to place and of changing their birth dates and birth places and sometimes their names, probably to conceal their relationship to their brother Earnest King who may have killed--probably between late 1915 and early 1917--a man near Lumberton, Robeson County, North Carolina, then changed his name--on his World War I draft registration in June 1917 or earlier--to Earnest Robert Cain, and gone into hiding in Kingstree, Williamsburg County, South Carolina. Of Nettie and her siblings, Edna dropped her age by 12 years, Laurie added 6 years to her age, Lawrence dropped his age by 11 years, Lonnie dropped his age by 5 years, Nettie dropped her age by 8 years, and Earnest added a year to his age. I would love to know more about the mystery of Nettie's brother Earnest.)

Born on Sunday, May 29, 1892 in Robeson County, North Carolina and raised along the South Carolina (Dillon County) and North Carolina (Robeson County) line, she was the daughter and one of eight surviving children of William Edward ("Eddie") King and Margurett (pronounced Marguerite) "Maggie" J. Edwards King. She was seventh in birth order. She had hazel green eyes and black hair like her son Joe and granddaughter Sharlotte. She loved cats. Nettie Donnie King Neely Riley was raised by her older siblings after the death of her mother. (The family had a habit of changing their birth dates and birth places and sometimes their names.) Nettie married Joseph Bowden Neely, Sr. sometime after 1910 probably in Wilmington, New Hanover County, North Carolina and moved to Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia. They had met around 1910 while working at the cotton mill in Dillon, Dillon County, South Carolina. In 1916 they lived in Savannah at 411 Berrien. While living at 524 West York Street in Savannah, they had twin sons in 1920 who died in infancy. Later two surviving sons, Joseph Bowden Neely, Jr. (born at 524 West York Street) and James Robert Neely, Sr. (born at 309 East 35th Street), were born. Sometime between 1916 and 1920, her husband went from being called "Bowden" to being called "Joe." Sometime between 1916 and 1917, the time period that her brother Earnest may have killed a man and gone into hiding, she went from being called "Donnie" to being called "Nettie." So Bowden and Donnie became Joe and Nettie. Could the names "Donnie" and "Nettie" both have been nicknames for "Donnetta?" In 1925 and 1926 the Neelys lived at 315 York Street in Savannah. By 1927 they lived at 309 East 35th Street in Savannah.

Widowed in 1928 at age 36, with two young children, at the beginning of the Depression, she went to work for the Chatham County Democratic Party under Johnny Bowen and supported her family working in a soup kitchen. Years later she married Harry Riley (buried at Laurel Grove Cemetery in Savannah). She and her first husband had three grandchildren, James Robert Neely, Jr., John Michael Neely, and Sharlotte Neely Donnelly; six great-grandchildren; and several great-great-grandchildren. After the death of her second husband Harry, she lived with her son Robbie's family until her death. Although poor throughout her life, about 1957 she bought a dining room table and chairs set for each of her sons--pink for Joe's family and bronze for Robbie's. When young girls collected "pop beads" in the 1950s, she often got some for her only granddaughter, Sharlotte. She also passed along her love of visiting cemeteries to Sharlotte.

Nettie died of a heart attack at her son Robbie's home on March 24, 1958 in Savannah at age 65, although she claimed she was born in 1900 and was only 57. When her son Joe returned home to tell her granddaughter Sharlotte that "Ga-ga" Riley was dead, he said, "Now I am an orphan." With his father dead when Joe was only five years old and no other relatives in Savannah other than his mother and baby brother, Joe's biggest fear as a child was that he would be orphaned. Nettie is buried next to her first husband in the Neely family plot in Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah. The birth date on her grave stone is inaccurate. Her ancestry was probably English, Scots-Irish, and, through the King surname, coastal Carolina Native American, probably Lumbee.

Thanks so much to her sons Joe and Robbie Neely and her granddaughter Sharlotte Neely Donnelly for much of this information. Any errors are mine alone. Please go to the "edit" link on this site with any corrections or additions.

Family Members


  • Created by: Sharlotte Neely Donnelly
  • Added: 
  • Find A Grave Memorial 5058454
  • Sharlotte Neely Donnelly
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Nettie Donnie King Neely Riley (29 May 1892–24 Mar 1958), Find A Grave Memorial no. 5058454, citing Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Chatham County, Georgia, USA ; Maintained by Sharlotte Neely Donnelly (contributor 19199118) .