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From the book "Commodore Vanderbilt and His Family
by Dorothy Kelly MacDowell:

    Two of the seven children of Jacob and Mary Sprague van der Bilt are ancestors to the Commodore's children. Eleanor, their oldest child, married Nathaniel Johnson and had a son Nathaniel II who married Elizabeth Hand. Their daughter Sophia Johnson married Corneel.
Cornelius I, another child of Jacob and Mary Sprague van der Bilt, married Elizabeth Hand's cousin, Phebe Hand, and became the father of  Corneel. Thus Corneel's first wife, Sophia Johnson, and he were first cousins on the Hand side, and first cousins once removed on the
Vanderbilt side.
    Corneel's father, the first to spell the name van Derbilt, was born twelve years before the start of the Revolutionary War and was reared in the home of an uncle where he worked for his room and board. He was still a young man at the end of the War, a war which destroyed
the island’s legal records which meant his inheritance had vanished.  He had no land of his own and little to support himself. This Cornelius, who has been described as thriftless, dull and a laggard, nevertheless became a successful farmer and a sailor who owned his own land and operated his own boat. He became known as the founder of the Staten Island Ferry.
    Phebe Hand, his wife, was born in Rahway, New Jersey, was the daughter of a prosperous sea captain. Captain Samuel Hand, and a Miss Lum. Phebe was moderately well educated for the time and was of "good blood". When she and Cornelius first met, she was living as
a mother's helper in the home of a clergyman at Port Richmond, Staten Island. They were married on February 5, 1787.
    Phebe has been given much credit for her husband's, as well as her son's, success. Strong of character and body, she was energetic, reliant, efficient, pious, and greatly loved by her family, especially by her son, Corneel.

Hand and Vanderbilt A Sketch of Grandmother Vanderbilt's Early Life

Written by her granddaughter, Anna, H.V. Root - written some time between 1885 and 1893

            In my early life it was my great pleasure to coax my Grandmother Vanderbilt for stories of her childhood, I can recall the picture of the venerable lady in her old-fashioned rush bottomed chair, looking out at the broad bay which then lapped the shore in front of the cottage where I spent so many happy years.  I can see it all still as it was the, the sloping lawn with its trim flowerbeds and trees, and the walnut shading the wide piazza wreathed in woodbine and honeysuckle.
            In the long summer days, when the air seemed steeped in drowsy sweetness, while all was under its magic spell, we sat there, my grandmother with her knitting and her Bible and I on the step at her feet.  Then we went into the past, and she would tell me about her grandparents, "good men and true"; elders and wardens in their respective churches, and of her grandmother's (or great-grandmother's) lovers, one the choice of her parents, the other her own true love.  Between them she had a sorry time, for the one who was approved of by t he parents was doubtless the better match in a worldly point for even in that far off time there was an eye for the eligible, and the richer suitor had friends at court always urging his cause, until the maiden was nigh distraught between her love for the one and the importuning of the other.  In an evil hour she had said that she would take the first one who came.  The parents, taking advantage of this, sent for their favorite, and their daughter, tired of resisting, accepted her fate, thereby meriting the scorn of her descendents who would never have given in to any amount of bullying.
            It was of her grandfather Hand that the dear old lady loved to talk, for she had lived with him, and her eyes took on a tender half asleep look as if she saw the pleasant country home and was living in those happy days when the little child took her supper beside toe good old man whose caress stilled seemed to linger with her like a benediction.  This was her home near Rahway, and the place and beauty of those days of childhood like a vision of paradise stood out in memory, the brighter for the shadows which so soon followed.
            The good old man was taken and went to his rest, believing that his little grandchild was amply provided for, and that he had secured her future.  But ere long the Revolution changed everything.  Families were broken up and scattered, homes and fortunes lost.  My great-grandmother Hand put the money left her little daughter into Continental notes.  Depreciation soon commenced, in a short time the notes were worthless and by this want of judgment the child was left penniless.  She, however, was kindly cared for by her dear friend and pastor, Rev. Elmer to whom she gave the loving service of a daughter. The horrors of the retreat and of the army through Morristown were vividly stamped on her memory.  A Hessian soldier tried to slip and carry her away.
            After leaving New Jersey and living with a married sister on Staten Island, she met my grandfather.  He was a very handsome man, and I think  that with all of her strong good sense and sound judgment, she must have had some sentiment to fall in love at first sight, for she said to herself, “he will be my husband.  She spoke the truth and Cornelius Vanderbilt never could have done a wisher thing than when he placed his happiness in her keeping; he was naturally extravagant, but to her he owned whatever of success attended him.  Her shrewdness and caution made side suggestions, and her prudent thrift helped him to own a fine farm on the shores of the bay and a ferry to the city.  His experience was similar to hers, his parents dying when he was a child, those who had the guardianship of his property either lost it, or he was cheated out of his own.  On the road to Richmond I remember a beautiful old-fashioned cottage called “the Rose and Crown” which had belonged to the family.
            As I have said, my grandfather was considered very handsome, and I can just remember a very stern, dignified-looking person, of whom I stood in awe.  He had severe notions of propriety, especially at the table, where if any undue levity occurred, the unlucky trifler was sent away in disgrace.  Indeed I have heard my aunt say that they did not wait for that but that she and her friend, Miss Judith Aymar, from the city, finding a fit of nervous laughter imminent rose hastily and left the room by opposite doors, trying to control themselves.  Each would open the door, glance back at the other and retire in a new burst.  The caution and business ability came from the Hand and not the Vanderbilt side, for although my grandfather’s property was lost in the war, he had not the ability to regain it.  He was fond of his farm, loved horses and was a superb rider.  A sale of the stock occurred after his death, and the high-spirited gray he used to ride was in the inventory.  The day of the sale he was found dead in his stall; it seemed as if the poor fellow had some dim idea of the case and he died rather than being sold.
            This love of horses descended not only to the Commodore and Captain Jacob Vanderbilt, but also to the present generation.
            During the dark days of the Revolution, Grandma saw little of her family.  Her brother, a mere boy was at Bunker Hill, I have heard; I do not know it for a fact.  Captain Hand, of the Long Island Hands, was in the battle of Long Island, and the family was in the cause of liberty.  It was, therefore, a great grief to his daughter that Obadiah Hand continued loyal to the King, and it was supposed that he entered the British Army.  News of his death was brought to his wife, our great-great-grandmother by some one who declared that he had seen him buried, and after some years, she married a clergyman who died some four years later.  She then stayed with her children---by turns.
            At this time, my grandmother was living on Staten Island and had married, the country had adjusted itself to its new conditions and peaceful occupations took the place of arms.  Communication with distant localities however, were slow and seldom; it was, therefore, a matter of much surprise when a stranger made his appearance and inquired for my great-grandmother.  He was directed to Mrs. Vanderbilt.  He told her that he had come from Nova Scotia and had brought a message from her father, who was, he declared still alive and anxious to find his wife and daughters and begged them to come to him in care of the messenger, who would return at a certain period.  My grandmother replied with indignation that she would listen to nothing nor allow her mother to do so either.  So the stranger left, saying he would call on his return.
            It so happened that her mother soon after this came to pay her a visit but nothing was said to her about the stranger.  Upon leaving, as was the custom of those days mounted on a pillion for the jaunt, as she passed a neighboring house a woman came out and stopped her, asking if she had been told any news.  Finding she had not, and concluding it was her duty to do so, she related the whole story, whereupon the old lady returned to her daughter, and Grandma said she never forgot the look she gave her as she stood in the door and said, “Oh Phoebe, and you knew it and could let me go away without telling me a word.”  Expostulations were in vain, in spite of years and absence, and notwithstanding the later matrimonial episode, the first love was there and she declared she would go through fire and water to meet him, and go she did, when the messenger returned.  It was no light matter in those days when a long perilous journey was a terrible undertaking.  She was met on the shore by her first husband, and there she was married to him a second time before entering his home.  Let’s hope that such late constancy was rewarded.  I believe some of the descendants are living still, and have large possessions there.
            As an instance of the disruption of families in those days, Grandma used to tell of the time when, as a young girl, she was walking on Broadway and saw a young stranger whose face attracted her.  Turning to look again she found him glancing back, and presently he wheeled about and coming to her asked if her name was not Phoebe Hand.  It was her only brother---and that accidental meeting was the first since infancy.  Then he went south.
            Years afterward when she was sitting with her daughters (some of them married) in the family room of the Old Homestead, a traveler entered, and after some commonplace remark, asked if he could have lodging.  My aunts did not dream of his being allowed to stay, but seeing their mother’s strong look of interest and fearing that she might be persuaded, they signaled to her to refuse.  Paying no attention to them, she, to their surprise, gave him permission, then he told his name and it turned out to be her own brother from Alabama.  There must have been a vein of romance in this rotund relative, for he had purposely disguised himself in poor clothes to see if he would be recognized.  Blood will tell, however notwithstanding the change in appearance.  He had a prosperous plantation in Alabama where he had a large family, one of whom was Mrs. Robert L. Crawford, a granddaughter who was the mother of the late Commodore Vanderbilt’s second wife.  This visit of their uncle Hand was lengthened by his being thrown out of a wagon and a broken leg kept him here a long time.  He died in Mobile where there are still a number of his descendants.
            Mrs. Conkling and Mrs. Hasbrouck, Grandmother’s sisters, lived in Kingston, New York.  Only one sister was in Nova Scotia.  One of her sisters, a Mrs. Swaim, a handsome woman entertained George Washington when he was crossing the Island.  Another sister, who had been sent to Bethlehem, finally became a sister there.  The ruler must have been severe at that time and the head of the Moravian order had despotic ways.  Some one proposed marriage for her but, without being told the name of her suitor she was asked for her decision and declined, only to find out afterwards that it was for whom she did care.
            The last sister, Mrs. Johnson, was a favorite everywhere.  I fancy she had made an unfortunate marriage and was quite poor in her old age, but she was always bright, and my aunts used to say that even when she was very aged her visits were hailed with delight.  She would come for a week and stay six months.  Dear old Aunt Nellie.  My mother was named for her---Eleanor being in the family record for seven generations.  She lived by the water side while a British warship was in the bay and the sailor Duke, afterwards William IV, a lively middy onboard came often on shore to see her.  He said she looked like his mother and he used to call her Mammy.  She had a little boy to whom he took a fancy and begged his mother to let him take the child to England and adopt him.  It was a boyish notion and she could only gratify it by naming the child after her royal friend.  From what I have heard, he was very different from his mother,  It is a pity he did not go, for the Duke would have looked after his world’s prospects and he might as well have been a good for nothing Lord, as he was good for nothing else.  It is said that he was all Johnson though his mother was a Vanderbilt.
            Coming down to our own times, of the children of Cornelius and Phoebe Hand Vanderbilt, two died in infancy and the only one now living is Capt. Jacob, who sitting behind his spirited horses, is still a well known figure on Staten Island.  He has wonderful vitality and is as genial and jolly as ever, always cordial, generous and frank with a certain old-time courtesy.  May he long continue the head of the family.
            The Commodore is too well remembered to need more than mention.  His life will probably be written later by someone capable of describing him as his great genius deserves.
            From his mother, her derived his most salient points, self reliance, caution, keen perception, wonderful executive ability and determination.  His great personal beauty, commanding presence and high bearing were his father’s.  I have heard that there was a portrait of Grandfather painted by his friend Jarvis, the old-time artist but he must have kept it for himself.
    Mrs. Simonson (Aunt Polly) the eldest sister, was much beloved for her gracious manners and ready hospitality.  Aunt Charlotte DeForest Egbert, the next in age, was also noted for the same hospitality as well as for her strong character and thrift.  Eleanor, my mother, who died in youth, was called the beautiful Mrs. Van Duzer, and was long remembered for her piety and charitableness.  Her life was a benediction and she lives in my memory, a vision of all that was lovely and pure.  The essays and verses she wrote for me I have always prized.  Mrs. Barton, my dear Aunt Jane and Aunt Phoebe had the characteristic integrity, geniality and native nobility of their mother, the same fearless courage for the right, the same sympathy and courtesy due to rich and poor alike.  These two stood to me in my mother’s place, as I always lived with Grandma except during my school life in Bridgeport, at Miss Ward’s School.  You will remember the old cottage where I was married by the Rev. Dr. Moore, who also married my mother; and one of my precious memories is that of the dear old lady rising after the ceremony, and lifting her hand in blessing on my head.
            Being thus nearer to her than her other grandchildren, belonging more nearly to her, I had opportunity to hear these old-time tales, for which no one else seemed to care and which I have tried to perpetuate.  I can only regret that I did not do more to stimulate her recollection on other points, but I was then too young to think of dates or side issues, except as they appealed to my fancy on the romantic side, There is enough, however, to show the sterling traits (forgotten in these days of living for gain), the constancy, independence, and deep piety which made “her word as good as her hand” she has handed down from her ancestry and it is an inheritance no money can purchase and no title surpass.  May our children be worthy of the high bequest.
            I have written this little family history solely for my sons, as I wish them to know something of their mother’s people; its only merit is its perfect truth, as well as possible from my grandmother’s life.  What names there are, are, I believe correct.  I only wish there were more.  Her grandfathers (or tow of them were of course Hand and Lum) of this latter I know nothing.  The name of the Nova Scotia relatives is, or was, Nordstrom.

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