Nathan P. Neal was one of nine children born to Elizabeth Fox and Aaron Neal, a planter of moderate wealth living in Franklin County, NC. He received his preparatory education at Louisburg Male Academy, then enrolled in the University at the age of twenty-one. A member of the Philanthropic Society, Neal remained a student for only the 1857-58 academic year. During the Civil War Neal worked as a railroad engineer with the Confederate army. Eventually he moved to Waxahachie, TX, where he was part owner of "Strong and Neal, Surveyors and Land Agents." In February 1881 he married a woman named Sallie; the couple had at least one son.