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Cornelia Hancock Correspondence


Held at: Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College [Contact Us]500 College Avenue, Swarthmore, Pennsylvania 19081

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College. 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

Cornelia Hancock was born in Hancock's Bridge on Alloways Creek, South Jersey, on February 8, 1840. She was the daughter of Thomas Yorke and Rachel Nicholson Hancock. Her father was a fisherman, and her mother(1803-1882) was a birthright member of the Society of Friends. Rachel Hancock was disowned in 1826 from Greenwich Monthly Meeting when she married a non-member but was restored to membership and remained an active Friend. Cornelia Hancock's sister Ellen (1829-1907) married in 1854 Henry Teas Child (1816-1890), a prominent Philadelphia Quaker physician and social reformer. Their brother William (1832-1911) served in the Union Army in the 24th Regiment, New Jersey Infantry, and the 37th Regiment, New Jersey Volunteer, and married Beulah Fowser. With the assistance of her brother-in-law, Cornelia Hancock volunteered to serve as a nurse after the battle at Gettysburg. She was initially rejected by Dorothea Dix because she was only twenty-three, but she persisted in staying with the volunteers and arrived in Gettysburg on July 6, 1863. She served throughout the remainder of the War, working the winter of 1863-1864 in Washington, D.C., in the Contraband Hospital for formerly enslaved people.

When the War ended, Hancock was eager to continue to work with the formerly enslaved people and applied for teaching positions. In January 1866, she traveled south with Laura Towne who had started a school at St. Helena, Beauford County, South Carolina. With the help of Philadelphia Friends, Hancock established a school for African Americans in Mount Pleasant outside Charleston. With support from the Freedman's Bureau and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, the school succeeded as the Laing School for Negroes, named in honor of Henry M Laing.

In July 1876, Hancock resigned from heading the Laing School. Abby Munro and Henry M. Laing assumed the two funded positions. Hancock spent 1877 and part of 1878 in Florida and New Jersey, assisting in the management of the Sanford Hotel, returning to Mount Pleasant to help at the School before moving to Philadelphia.

A visit to England had led Cornelia Hancock to turn her attention north, to the plight of the poor in Philadelphia. She worked with her brother-in-law Henry T. Child to found the Society for Organizing Charity (later, the Family Society of Philadelphia). She also was a founder of the Children's Aid Society. Inspired by English social reformer Octavia Hill and the Octavia Hill Association founded in Philadelphia in 1896, she worked with Edith Wright in the experimental management of housing in Wrightsville, a dilapidated section of the Point Breeze neighborhood in South Philadelphia. Cornelia Hancock resigned in 1914 from social work and retired to Atlantic City where she lived with her nephew's widow, Isabel Pierce Child. She died on December 31, 1927.

Cornelia Hancock (1840-1927) was a Civil War nurse, Reconstruction-era teacher in South Carolina, and, later, Philadelphia social worker. The papers consist primarily of her letters written in the post-Civil War years, 1865-1879, when she was teaching the children of formerly enslaved people in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. The bulk of the letters are written to her mother, Rachel Hancock, and her sister, Ellen Child. The collection also contains letters received by Hancock, 1864-1875, most from her mother, sister, and niece Sarah, arranged alphabetically by author. There also are a small number of letters from veterans or their families and other family members and friends including Emily Howland and Laura M. Towne. The collection includes reference material used by the donor, Henrietta Stratton Jaquette, in preparation for her book South after Gettysburg built on Hancock's letters and commentary. The letters likely were collected by Hancock to write an autobiography and history of the Laing School, and many are incomplete.

Arranged in four series: Series 1 - Correspondence sent; Series 2 - Family correspondence; Series 3 - Correspondence received; Series 4 - Miscellaneous

Cornelia Hancock never married but she was close to her nieces and younger cousins. She lived her last years in Atlantic City with Isabel Child, her niece. From internal evidence, the correspondence with commentary by Hancock may have been collected by her in preparation for a proposed autobiography and history of the Laing School. Many of the letters are incomplete, probably because only the most pertinent parts were saved. After Hancock's death in 1927, Isabel Child gave the Civil War and South Carolina correspondence to Henrietta Stratton Jaquette, the granddaughter of a cousin. Jaquette came from a long line of Quaker Strattons of New Jersey and Ohio. According to the donor, the Strattons vacationed in Maine with Howland relations, and Cornelia Hancock was a frequent guest. Henrietta Stratton, a graduate of the University of Michigan, married William Jaquette in 1907, and they joined Swarthmore Monthly Meeting with their family in 1921. Most of Hancock's edited Civil War letters were published by the University of Pennsylvania Press (South After Gettysburg, 1937) and she donated the original letters to the University of Michigan William L. Clement Library in 1937. In 1956, a new addition of the letters edited by Jaquette with a forward by Bruce Catton included Part II, "School Teacher in the South," which included edited letters in the present collection. The majority of these letters were donated by Henrietta Stratton Jaquette to Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College in 1956.

Gift of Henrietta Stratton Jaquette, 1956 and 1963

The papers originally were cataloged as a Manuscript Collection, assigned call number MSS 028 with a brief description of the contents. In 1963, additional letters donated by Jaquette were added to the collection. In July 2017, the collection was reprocessed and described in detail.

Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College
Finding Aid Author
Susanna K. Morikawa
Finding Aid Date
July 2017
Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Collection Inventory

Physical Description

Many of the letters are incomplete, apparently because the compiler wanted to save the important content and not extraneous material.

Letter to her mother, Sept.13, 1865.
Scope and Contents

1 ALS to her mother. Relates that she has been teaching at A. E. Cook's school, filling in for Rebecca Shinn who had been ill and died the previous day. She finds it a good opportunity while waiting for Congress to meet and the freedmen's schools to begin.

Letters to family and friends, January, 1866.
Letters from Mount Pleasant, S.C., February 1866.
Scope and Contents

Hancock's letters describe the poverty and desolation in the area and animosity of the "secesh." In a letter to the Friends Association she remarks on talk to remove the blacks from their homes as a wrong idea.

Letters from Mount Pleasant, S.C., March-April, 1866.
Scope and Contents

Reflections on the terrible damage the President is creating and entrenchment of the wealthy whites and "secesh." The school flourishes, but surrounded by hatred.

Letters from Mount Pleasant, May-June, 1866.
Scope and Contents

Hancock expresses her belief in public education for all and wishes to see a good public school established in her hometown, Hancock's Bridge. A letter to her mother dated May 27 is appreciative of Lucretia Mott's kind words directed to her at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, but thinks that Mott is not realistic in her opinions though the goals be right. A welcome visit by Dr. Parrish. One of her responsibilities is giving ration papers to the needy. She loves the climate and atmosphere of Mount Pleasant and avoids Charleston. In July she returned north for a visit.

Letters from Mount Pleasant, Oct.-Dec., 1866.
Scope and Contents

In October Hancock returned to Mount Pleasant with the promise of a school building. While in NYC, she had a tour of Central Park with Olmstead. She writes about the fire which destroyed the steamer Theodore D. Wagner, bound from Boston to Charleston and notes that the passengers saved included African-American teachers. Expresses appreciation for generosity of Henry M. Laing of Philadelphia, treasurer of the Friends Association for Aid and Elevation of the Freedman/ Association of Friends to Promote the Education of the Colored People of the South, who was the main fundraiser for the School.

Letters from Mount Pleasant, Jan.-May, 1867.
Scope and Contents

Hancock's letters indicate the level of corruption in the administration of Federal reconstruction and states that she "would made a system of Public School education a condition of reconstruction if I had my way." Mentions Mr. Bowen, African-American lawyer. She visited with Martha Schofield in Charleston in February.

Letters to her brother and sister, Oct.-Dec., 1867.
Scope and Contents

Hancock returned from her school break in the north to Mount Pleasant where politics continue to unravel reconstruction.

Letters to family and Henry M. Laing, Jan.-June, 1868.
Scope and Contents

. Hancock visited Georgia where whites have rebuilt but are afraid of insurrections and others suffer from great poverty. Comments that education is doing more for blacks than Congress. Received a letter from Emily Howland with a donation to the school. Comments about C. C. Bowen who was elected to Congress and D. L. Corbin to Senate, Clayton Rogers sold bad seed to Freedmen. Witneses terrible poverty. She is unhappy that Johnson was not impeached, but not confident in Grant. Fragment of a letter (1868?) defends her life choices and writes "I am a Radical of the deepest dye."

Letters to family, Sept.-Dec., 1868.
Scope and Contents

Teachers were only paid during the school year, so Hancock returned north during summer vacation, July-September. In her letter to her sister dated Dec. 3, she writes that the school's name is officially the Laing School since it is a name that is familiar to the local black community by his generosity and the title had been used in a Bureau report. Cornelia buys a plantation on Cat Island with the purpose of helping blacks buy property.

Letters from Mount Pleasant, Jan-May, 1869.
Scope and Contents

Raising money for school building which was framed in May and expected to be finished in three weeks. Hancock supports sending teachers to the Indians and asked her mother to present that view for her to Yearly Meeting. Slocum Howland and Henry Laing were financially supporting her projects, the plantation and school.

Letters to family, June-Dec., 1869.
Scope and Contents

In a letter to her sister, she notes that Henry sent a description of the picnic at Swarthmore. She hopes that Mary Jacobs will come to the school next year and asks Ellen to talk with her about it at the meeting of Progressive Friends. Proposes that some children in need of work could be employed by friends and family in the north. In the same letter, summer 1869, she mentions that the Shaw Memorial School in Charleston visited with the teachers of the Laing School for a picnic. Her Nov. 10 letter comments that she is pleased with her photograph presumably taken during her October visit to New Jersey.

Letters to family, Jan.-May, 1870.
Scope and Contents

Hancock was living in the Lighthouse residence at Mount Pleasant, adjacent to the tower, and describes having a view for miles. The school was doing well, with 120 students and a new teacher. She stayed at the Colored Orphan Asylum in Charleston, enjoying the children and describing Lucretia Mott to the children as a fine role model. In late April 1870, there was a frost that destroyed the vegetable crops on Cat Island, and the following month Hancock visited Laura Towne's school at St. Helena. A report on the Yearly Meeting in May notes that there was much praise for Lucretia Mott. (Hancock notes to her father, a fisherman, that she can identify fish.)

Letters to family, June-Dec., 1870.
Scope and Contents

Hancock's June letter to her brother comments on the difficulty of finding reliable workers; northerners offer false promises and demoralize the locals. Her brother offered to come to help, but she writes that she doesn't have the money to send his passage because she has been sick and had to pay a teacher to replace her. She has been unable physically to supervise the work on Cat Island. Whites don't want to work there because policies towards blacks are too liberal, blacks don't want to live there. Discouraged.

Letters to family, Feb.-July, 1871.
Scope and Contents

Hancock continues with much praise for Abby [Munro] who has shouldered much of the responsibility for the school. Sallie got married. When Abby falls ill in March, Hancock keeps the school going with Anne Stanton coming to help some. She regrets that the school operates only eight months year, and the "rebels" have built a jail next to it and resent the money to support it. In July she wrote that she and Miss Cargill Stanton have rented a house and intend to take in boarders during the summer.

Letters from Mount Pleasant and Charleston, 1872.
Scope and Contents

In good health and teaching. In February, her worker Isaac was having trouble with his oysters being stolen. Smallpox was spreading in Charleston, and 80 students were vaccinated. Lizzie Heacock sent a letter saying her Indian School was going well. Hancock mentions that she was taking blue mass to alleviate stomach problems. When her return to Mount Pleasant was delayed in May, the children had feared the Ku Klux Klan had taken her. In December, their successful sewing school was robbed. Hiring a detective, they located the thief who was arrested.

Letters to family, 1873.
Scope and Contents

Hancock often visits Charleston and is happy with the arrangements with two teachers in her employ, Anna and Abby, while she devotes herself primarily to the business concerns. She continues to try to have blacks invest in property on Cat Island. Undated fragment notes that she "can resign anytime," and that Isaac's businesses are doing well.

Letters to family, 1874.
Scope and Contents

Hancock regards the failure of the Freedman's Bank as one of the saddest events of the year. During her break in the North, she and her family visited Swarthmore with Edward Magill. She writes of the loss of her devoted employee, Isaac, and his boat in an undated letter, probably early November. On Nov. 19, she is back in South Carolina where yellow fever is widespread. She states that she believes in compulsory education. By the end of the year, Hancock writes that she feels like contracting her business rather than expanding. In late December, Hancock buys another property with the intention of selling to blacks since white landowners will not. The father of one of her students tells of the injustice to blacks, how they had been asked to fight for the Union but still waited for justice. She agreed.

Letters to family, letter to Henry M. Laing, Jan.-Aug., 1875.
Scope and Contents

Jan. 1, Hancock describes the school's celebration of Emancipation Day. She prepared a student, Sally Barclay, to send her to Providence Boarding School. During an illness, she feels that the school runs well without her, and she has two young blacks studying and working with her. The state schools in South Carolina close May 31, and her young man teacher, James, must go north to support himself. In May she had major dental work done in Charleston which improved her general health.

Letters to family, Oct.-Dec., 1875.
Scope and Contents

Hancock visited Howlands Plantation, and Emily planned to visit in October after attending the Congress of Women in Syracuse, N.Y.

Letters to family, 1876.
Scope and Contents

Plans for attending the Centennial. In July, Hancock resigned from teaching at the school with Abby Munro and Henry M. Laing accepting the two funded positions. Hancock moves out of the Lighthouse. In September she is living in Philadelphia and comments on all the visitors to the Centennial. Mrs. Larned accompanied and gets along well with the other help. She is invited to spend the winter in Florida.

Letters from Sanford, Florida, Jan.-Apr,, 1877.
Scope and Contents

Living and working in the management of the Sanford House, FL, in Seminole County, which opened in 1875, manager J. B. Wistar. She is "only one of the cogs in the Sanford wheel" which she describes in detail in an early January letter, lots of music and dancing. The Sanfords stay at the hotel in early January, talk of politics is avoided, and Mrs. Sanford gives her gives her an elegant silk and lace necktie which she expects never to wear. In April the hotel closed for the season.

Letters to family, May-Dec., 1877.
Scope and Contents

In May 28 a letter to her mother discusses a project for her mother to write a biography on Cornelia's life from Hancock's Bridge to Gettysburg based on her letters which sister Ellen is collecting. In July, Hancock worked at the Sea Side Hotel in Toms River, with J. B. Wistar as manager. In November she left Philadelphia for the Sanford Hotel in Florida to open it for the season and reported that the school in Mount Pleasant was going well.

Letters from Sanford, Florida, Jan.-Apr., 1878.
Scope and Contents

The winter season in Florida. She enjoys working at the Sanford Hotel which she considers a very well run business

Letters from Mount Pleasant, June-Sept., 1878.
Scope and Contents

April 28 ALS from South Carolina where J.B. Wistar visited at the Lighthouse, and she visited Drayton Hall. Back at Mount Pleasant, she is again teaching, baking, housework. Reading Fox and Woolman since they are the only books available. She hopes to keep the school open since the State of South Carolina is ending funding. Wistar in Gainesville, FL, but Hancock is not interested in accepting another housekeeping position.

Letter to her mother, Dec. 8, 1879.
Scope and Contents

ALS to her mother from 416 Race Street, involved in the annual charity meeting and working

Fragments, circa 1867-1874.
Scope and Contents

Most from Cornelia

Child, Ellen to Cornelia Hancock, 1865-1866.
Scope and Contents

Letters from her sister Ellen and Ellen's son William

Child, Ellen Hancock to mother, Rachel Hancock, 1866-1869, 1876.
Scope and Contents

Family news. In 1869, Ellen wrote from Mount Pleasant. The single 1876 ALS is to William Child.

Hancock, Rachel N. to daughter Cornelia, 1866.
Scope and Contents

Family concerns and local news, comments on politics including the passage of the civil rights bill, and Quaker meetings. She notes that Lucretia Mott spoke long and well in New York.

Hancock, Rachel N. (died 1882) to daughter Ellen, 1875-1880.
Scope and Contents

Mostly family and health news. 1880, 5mo, 25, ALS describes attending circular meeting in which John Parrish was the visiting minister speaking to a full house. Beulah Allen and William live with her.

Miscellaneous family correspondence, 1864-1877.
Scope and Contents

Smith, Ingham and other relatives

Eaton, William F., 1866-01-17.
Scope and Contents

ALS in reply to her letter seeking a teaching position. The Rev. Eaton was a Friends Freedmens Bureau agent in Georgia.

Gage, Frances M., Washington, D.C., 1866-01-13.
Scope and Contents

Letter of introduction for Cornelia Hancock.

[Gillingham, Elizabeth], Omaha Agency, 1870-10-8.
Scope and Contents

AL, incomplete and dated by Hancock. Signed LHG from Omaha Agency

Howland, Emily, 1863/65?-1870.
Scope and Contents

4 AlsS. In a letter from Washington, DC., Howland wrote that she wanted to start a school and will keep Hancock in mind. 1865, 8 mo 22, good content: Agrees with Hancock that labor should be paid, is in Sherwood caring for her parents. She stopped in DC on her way to Fort Morton the following year and expresses her opinion of the political situation. ALS dated 1870 3 mo 7 reports the new school in Westmoreland, VA, and urges Hancock to do what she must regarding the plantation property in S.C.

Munro, Abby, 1874-1875.
Scope and Contents

2 ALsS. 1874 11 mo 2 describes the start of school and a break-in at the while it was empty. The 1875 letter is written to Rachel Hancock while Cornelia is at Mount Pleasant but feeling ill.

Towne, Laura M., 1866-04-15.
Scope and Contents

ALS from St. Helena, South Carolina, with advice.

Letters received from veterans and others , 1864-1865.
Scope and Contents

Letters written by soldiers and friends which were saved by Hancock, note indicates that she who proposed to write an article on the Laing School.

Philadelphia Friends concerning the commencement of the Mount Pleasant School, Jan.-May, 1866.
Scope and Contents

Most from Philadelphia Friends - Jacob Ellis, her brother-in-law Henry Childs, Anne Biddle, and others.

Miscellaneous letters received, 1868, 1875.
Scope and Contents

Topics include introducing music into the school and a wedding invitation from a former student

Letter signed Phebe to "Dear Brother" , 1861-05-12.
Scope and Contents

ALS written by young woman from South Jersey soon after the start of the War which describes the pro and anti war sentiment, abuse of black troops from Massachusetts, the flight of young men who removed to Virginia back to their earlier homes in New Jersey.

Extracts of letter published in Friends' Association of Philadelphia for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen, Annual Reports, 1866-1871.
Scope and Contents

Photostats of extracts of letters written by Cornelia Hancock from Mount Pleasant to Friends' Association of Philadelphia for the Aid and Elevation of the Freedmen for the annual reports. Digital versions aAvailable on line.

Isabel Child to Henrietta Stratton Jaquette, 1927-12-30.
Scope and Contents

Isabel Child was the daughter-in-law of Ellen Child, wife of William Child with whom Cornelia lived during her retirement in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The letter describes Cornelia Hancock's death and notes that she (Isabel) is reviewing Hancock's old letters, "Most of them are of no interest," but she will save the ones that she thinks would be of interest to Jaquette.

Henrietta Stratton Jaquette collected reference, 1928-1937, undated.
Scope and Contents

Material used by Jaquette in her 1937 collection of Hancock's letters published as South After Gettysburg. Includes undated typewritten autobiographical manuscript by Cornelia Hancock; book reviews; a publication Record of Wrightsville, an Experiment in the Care of Property, 1889.

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