Prof. P. M. Williams (1816-1882) was Wendell Phillip MacNeal’s grandfather, and husband of Mary Harris of Connecticut. Pelleman attended Amherst and Dartmouth Colleges in the early 1840s and was one of the vice presidents of the 1849 Connecticut State Convention of Colored Men. He taught African-American children in Connecticut and New York before heading to New Orleans in about 1864 to teach in schools newly established through the American Missionary Association and the Freedman’s Bureau. When Straight University (now Dillard) was formed in , he was appointed principal of the Normal School. The school was burned to the ground by a mob in 1877. It was rebuilt, only to be burned again in 1891. In addition to being a well-known educator, Pelleman was a proficient vocalist and organist.
Mary H. Williams, Pelleman’s wife and Wendell’s grandmother, was the former Mary A. Harris. She was a student in Connecticut at the Prudence Crandall Academy, established in 1833 for “Young Ladies and Little Misses of Color” with the support of William Lloyd Garrison and other abolitionists. It was closed in 1834 due to harassment and several arson attempts. The building is now a museum and National Historic Landmark. The story of this first private academy for African-American women has been chronicled in several books, a play, and a movie. Mary subsequently became a teacher in Louisiana.
Arthur P. Williams, son of Pelleman and Mary, and uncle of the MacNeal brothers, was born in Norwich, Connecticut, March 1846. He came to New Orleans with his parents around 1864 and taught in schools there for nearly 50 years. For most of that time he was the principal of Fisk School, and his obituary noted that he was “probably one of the best known Negro educators in the South.” During his tenure, operettas and other musical programs were an important part of the Fisk curriculum. He was a performer and director of many concerts given during the Reconstruction Period, and he also taught piano, organ, and voice. The Fisk School was renamed for him in 1921.