Held at: Library Company of Philadelphia [Contact Us]
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
The story of the Stevens-Cogdell-Sanders-Venning family, which eventually developed into a prominent middle class African American family in Philadelphia, began in the 1760s, when John Stevens emigrated from England and settled in Georgia. He began as a Georgia planter, owning a plantation until a slave rebellion ended his plantation career. After this setback, he settled in Charleston, South Carolina. There he established the Carolina Coffee House, which became an important establishment and meeting point in the community. He later received a postal appointment, which added to his success. He had a daughter, Mary Ann Elizabeth Stevens, and a son, John (Jack) Stevens. His son John (Jack) Stevens left Charleston, South Carolina and moved to Jamaica, against his father’s wishes. His daughter, Mary Ann Elizabeth Stevens, married George Cogdell.
Mary Ann Elizabeth Stevens and George Cogdell had three known sons, John Stephano Cogdell, Clements Stevens Cogdell, and Richard Walpole Cogdell. Their son, Richard Walpole Cogdell (1787-1866) married a woman named Cecilia, and they had three sons, James Gordon Cogdell, George Burgess Cogdell, and John Walpole Cogdell. Although he was married with a family, Richard Walpole Cogdell had a relationship with an enslaved woman, Sarah Martha Sanders (d. 1850). This relationship existed despite the feelings and emotions of his family, particularly his mother, about intimacies between the races. His mother, Mary Elizabeth Stevens wrote in her diary, “the laws of country are imperfect allowing such familiarity [physical intimacy between white men and black women] with impurity, every white man having such connection should be compelled by the laws of humanity to marry the person, black or mulatto, with whom such familiarities have existed, and to have no intercourse with genteel society or to appear in any public place of amusement on an equality with other citizens,” ( Library Company of Philadelphia Annual Report, p. 27). Mary Elizabeth Stevens passed before her son Richard Walpole Cogdell fathered children with Sarah Martha Sanders.
Richard Walpole Cogdell (1787-1866) would father no less than ten children with the enslaved woman Sarah Martha Sanders (Robert, Jacob, Julia E., Sarah Ann, Cordelia, John, Sophia Elizabeth, Miranda, Florence, and Martha J.). Though Richard Walpole Cogdell did not marry Sarah Martha Sanders (he was already married to Cecilia), he appeared to maintain an affectionate relationship with her and their children. He supported them financially and made provisions for them in his will. In the 1850s, Cogdell bought a house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and arranged for his children by Sanders to move there in order flee the slave state of South Carolina. Eventually, Richard Walpole Cogdell’s estate languished due to poor fiscal management. He died in Philadelphia in 1866.
Despite Richard Walpole Cogdell’s financial misfortunes, Richard Walpole Cogdell and Sarah Martha Sanders’ children and their children’s offspring went on to join Philadelphia’s middle class black citizenry. The children became tradesmen, businessmen, educators, and business professionals. The Sanders were “...dedicated to providing their children with opportunities for education, culture and economically secure professional status,” ( Library Company of Philadelphia Annual Report, p. 28). The Sanders family was involved in several prominent local African American institutions, including the St. Thomas P.E. Church, Church of the Crucifixion, Central Presbyterian Church, the Colored Institute of Youth, and the Citizens Republic Club.
Cogdell and Sanders’ daughter Julia married a carpenter named Edward Y. Venning who was in business with his father, Edward W. Venning. Together they had ten children, Miranda, Julia Elizabeth, Cordelia Nixon, Sophia, Oliver Casey, Robert, Sallie, George Edward, Martha and Louise. Their daughter Miranda Venning became a teacher and eventually the principal of the Joseph E. Hill School. She was educated at the prestigious Institute for Colored Youth, Robert Forten's private school, and the Vaux School. She was the first black graduate of Philadelphia’s Girls Normal School in 1882. Julia and Edward Venning’s son, George Edward, married Julia Capps and Julia and Edward’s daughter Sallie Sanders married William B. Holden.
Cogdell and Sanders’ daughter Cordelia married William H. Chew, a hairdresser and wigmaker. The Chew family, in 1880, sued to abolish racially segregated schools in Pennsylvania. Cordelia and William H. Chew had two sons, Richard Sanders (1871-1962) and Charles Sanders (1873-1954). Their son Richard Sanders Chew, benefited from the Chew family efforts and Richard Sanders Chew studied engineering at the University of Pennsylvania; however, at the supposed advice of a professor there, he moved to the West Coast and lived as a white man. He married a white woman and had a successful career. Their other son, Charles Sanders Chew married Georgine Saunders and had two children, Agnes (1896-1984) and Cordelia (1897-1983).
In 1921, Cordelia Chew married Dr. DeHaven Hinkson (1891-1975), with whom she had two daughters, Cordelia “Betty” (b. 1922) and Mary (1925-2014). During World War I, DeHaven Hinkson served in the United States Army Medical Reserve Corps and, during World War II, he became the first black officer to head an Army hospital when he was assigned to the station hospital at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama. In 1951, Mary Hinkson became one of two African American dancers to join the Martha Graham Dance Company, where she danced until her retirement in 1973. Hinkson also danced with other prominent choreographers including Donald McKayle, John Butler, and Glen Tetly.
“Afro-Americana: Family Values, in Black and White” in The Annual Report of the Library Company of Philadelphia for the Year 1991, pp. 26-31. Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia.
“How America Lives: Meet the Hinksons of Philadelphia, Pa.,” Ladies Home Journal, August 1942, 75-79.
Walker, M. Lorenzo. “DeHaven Hinkson, M.D., 1891-,” Journal of the National Medical Association 66, no. 4 (1974): 339-342.
The Stevens-Cogdell-Sanders-Venning family papers document the development of a white family and a prominent middle class African American family in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, beginning with the 1760s emigration of John Stevens from England to South Carolina. The papers consist of seven series: “Stevens family papers,” “Cogdell family papers,” “Sanders family papers,” “Venning family papers,” “Unattributed family papers,” “Scrapbook materials and related ephemera,” and "Hinkson family papers." The materials date from 1734 to 1976 and consist of scrapbooks, ephemera, newspaper clippings, Common Prayer books, invitations, holiday cards, correspondence, business papers, and a variety of personal papers. The materials document the Stevens-Cogdell-Sanders-Venning families’ professional, family, and personal lives.
The series “Stevens family papers” consists of two of John Stevens’ letter books that date from October 20, 1768 to January 11, 1772. The series is arranged in chronological order. The letter books contain over 160 handwritten letters and depict his business activities and daily life at his Carolina Coffee House. Many of the letters are written to his son Jack, chastising him for his irresponsible move to Jamaica, or to other correspondents in Jamaica, including associates of his son. These letter books are an interesting glimpse into the relationship of the father and son. There are also a variety of letters to associates and family in Charleston, London, and Savannah.
The series “Cogdell family papers” is comprised of materials from John Steven’s daughter, Mary Anne Elizabeth Stevens and her husband George Cogdell, and two of their three sons, John Stephens Cogdell and Richard Walpole Cogdell. Most of the materials relate to Richard Walpole Cogdell. This series contains receipt books, indentures for land in Georgetown and South Carolina, militia papers, correspondence and wills. The series is arranged in chronological order. Of interest is the diary of Mary Anne Elizabeth Stevens, which contains quotations, poems and writing regarding the mixing of the races. The commonplace books with Richard Walpole Cogdell’s materials consist of business correspondence and Cogdell’s papers compiled by a future family member into a scrapbook volume that contains sheet music and engineering exercises. Included in the volumes are Richard Walpole Cogdell’s directions to the executors of his estate and his children after his death as well as a letter from his son Charles Stevens regarding money. The will of Richard Walpole Cogdell reflects the sentiment that he felt towards Sarah Martha Sanders, and shows the provisions and inheritance that he left for his second family after his death. There are also a number of letters that portray his affection to his children in the Sanders family.
The “Sanders family papers” series is comprised of papers relating to the Sanders family, the Chew family and the Saunders family. People documented within the series are Sarah Martha Sanders, Sarah Anne Sanders, Mary E. Saunders, and Georgine Saunders Rex. The papers date from 1852 to 1892 and are arranged in chronological order. The series contains account information, business papers, pew receipts, correspondence, visiting cards and newspaper clippings. There are numerous papers relating to Richard Walpole Cogdell’s death and assets. The papers reflect the business transactions of the family and their existence in the African American middle class community. The papers also show the community involvement of the family through their pew receipts and numerous music recital clippings regarding Mary E. Saunders.
The series “Venning family papers” contains papers from the Venning family, the Holden family, and the Capp family. The series dates from 1830 to 1976. The papers include religious documents, birth certificates, documents relating to education, correspondence, obituaries, financial records, broadsides, invitations, programs, pamphlets and Valentine’s Day cards. The series is arranged in chronological order. Of interest is Edward Y. Venning’s “freedom papers,” from 1830, in which a white Charlestonian vouches for his character in a letter of recommendation. An account book by Edward Y. Venning provides information on his construction activities in Philadelphia. The papers of Edward W. Venning include a military draft paper relating to the substitute he afforded to fight in his place in the Civil War, John Diggs. The papers of Miranda Venning include newspaper clippings relating to her education and career, an autograph book, receipts, and school reports. Miranda Cogdell Venning’s newspaper clippings reflect the history of black education. Of note, are rare newspaper clippings from black newspapers, such as the Philadelphia Tribune, that are not known to have been preserved in any other collection. Numerous pamphlets, brochures, and invitations reflect the family’s activities in Philadelphia. For related materials on the Venning family, consult the series “Scrapbook Materials and Related Ephemera.”
The fifth series, “Unattributed family papers,” is comprised of papers that cannot be attributed to any particular family. The series dates from 1792 to circa 1915 and is arranged in chronological order. It consists of Common Prayer books, business cards and newspaper clippings.
The sixth series, “Scrapbook materials and related ephemera,” contains a variety of materials collected by family members that were previously placed in a scrapbook as well as complete scrapbooks. The series is arranged in chronological order and dates from 1851 to 1941, with the exception of three complete scrapbooks and photocopies of scrapbooks placed at the end of the series. Much of the ephemera and scrapbook materials were removed from pages of a scrapbook and the original order is not known. Most of the materials were most likely collected by the Venning family; however, the materials contain information on numerous other families. Most notable are Miranda Venning’s scrapbooks and the ephemera. The ephemera present in this series documents numerous events that the family was invited to, participated in or attended, reflecting the family’s prominence and involvement in the African American community of Philadelphia. There are numerous documents and ephemera relating to church events, organization events, musical events, and educational events. Miranda Venning’s scrapbooks also contain numerous materials related to Philadelphia music history, including articles and materials related to Marion Anderson, as well as numerous items related to the education system and the black community. The scrapbooks include various black newspapers clippings, including those of the Philadelphia Tribune.
The seventh series, “Hinkson family papers,” contains papers from and about the Chew family and the Hinkson family. The bulk is comprised of correspondence from Mary Hinkson to her parents while on tour in Europe with the Martha Graham Dance Company. Also notable is correspondence from Pearl Buck to Cordelia Chew Hinkson and a typescript of Buck’s 1942 article “The Dark Shadow,” which described the racial prejudice that the Hinksons faced in Philadelphia and was declined for publication by the Ladies Home Journal.
The Library Company also holds a “Steven-Cogdell and Sanders-Venning family portrait collection” in its prints and photograph department. The photographs are mostly Venning family portraits, but there are also portraits of the Cogdell family and the Capps family. There are group portraits of the Venning family participating in the Philadelphia music community, the Venning family participating in numerous organizations, Venning family vacation photographs, Venning family graduation photographs, and photographs of Mary Hinkson's travels in Europe while touring with the Martha Graham Dance Company in the 1950s. For more information on this collection contact the Library Company’s prints and photographs department.
This collection holds a variety of materials and information that would be useful for a multitude of scholarly purposes. The collection, although piecemeal, would serve as appropriate supplementary material to the study of the African American middle class community of Philadelphia and its organizations, activities, and struggles. The collection depicts the struggles of the African American middle class in education, especially the areas of the collection documenting Miranda Venning. The collection also provides information on African American music community in Philadelphia during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
Gift of Cordelia H. Brown, Lillie V. Dickerson, Mary Hinkson Jackson, and Georgine E. Willis in honor of Phil Lapsansky.
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.
Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.
This collection contains material that has been catalogued separately and is stored in the Print Department of the Library Company of Philadelphia. This material can be found by searching in the Library Company's online catalog, WolfPAC.
- Bolivar, William C.
- Chew, Cordelia Sanders
- Chew, Richard Sanders
- Chew, William H.
- Cogdell, Mary Elizabeth Stevens
- Cogdell, Richard Walpole, 1787-1866
- Hinkson, Cordelia Chew
- Hinkson, DeHaven
- Martha Graham Dance Company.
- Sanders, Robert
- Sanders, Sarah, d. 1850
- Venning, Edward Y.
- Venning, Julia Sanders
- Venning, Miranda Cogdell
- Library Company of Philadelphia
- Finding Aid Author
- Finding aid prepared by Megan Atkinson and Christiana Dobrzynski Grippe.
- The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use, on deposit at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107. For access, please contact the Historical Society at 215-732-6200 or visit http://www.hsp.org.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact the Library Company of Philadelphia with requests for copying and for authorization to publish, quote or reproduce the material.