Maybe my Aunt Martha is on to something. My father’s sister sent me copies of memoirs written by a relative of mine, Daniel J. Hancock. The memoirs composed in 1900 and 1908 indicate that some of my family has a history of being imprisoned and/or being threatened with imprisonment for not following “the law.” It appears I may have a genetic “flaw” which causes me to stand strong behind my beliefs and convictions.
Daniel J. Hancock’s memoirs recollect his family history from their move from Snow Hill, Maryland in 1818. Hancock, whose Aunt Elizabeth (Hancock) married Elijah Brewington, told of 17 family members and 3 “negroes” (Prior to leaving Snow Hill, father William Hancock “gave all negroes all their freedom,) (all that would accept it), before leaving Maryland, and those that came out refused to be separated from the family.”) travelling by land from Snow Hill to Brownsville, PA, “and then purchased a flat boat on which the wagons, horses, and all other property, were embarked and floated down the Monongela River, to the Ohio River, thence down the Ohio to Cincinnati, and after remaining a few days then decided to locate in Dearborn County, Indiana, and disembarked at Aurora and located at Wilmington.” Hancock’s first mention of a family member running into legal problems was that of his grandfather Daniel Hancock. “Grandfather Daniel Hancock was a Baptist preacher and the negro, James, was his body-servant, who often related to me his adventures with Grandfather on his preaching circuits, and ministering to his bodily wants when in prison for preaching in Virginia, contrary to the law which only permitted ministers of the established church (Episcopalian) to preach.” Grandfather Daniel Hancock did not enjoy the First Amendment right to freedom of religion because the Constitutional right had yet to be established in the United States. Over 200 years prior to being convicted of exercising my First Amendment right to free speech, my relatives were First Amendment trailblazers.
Daniel J. Hancock’s first formal education came in a school his father William helped build in 1826. The schoolhouse my relative helped build in Wilmington (outside of Aurora) was one of the first schools to be constructed in Dearborn County, Indiana. When farm duties prevented young Daniel from attending school, he began borrowing books from “Mr. Harris of Aurora,” who had a large library.
In 1833, at the age of fifteen, Daniel left the farm to “commence merchandising” for his father “and at 17 did most of the buying and was sent South to sell the produce taken down in flat boats, and for three years spent six months of each year South (as far as New Orleans) and one month East, buying goods, the other four months selling goods and collecting.” In 1839, Daniel was stricken with yellow fever and was “not capable of active outdoor life for more than a year.” In that time he began “reading Law and commenced the practice of law in 1841.
In 1846, Daniel left Dearborn County to settle in St. Louis. Daniel’s father did not agree to accompany him to St. Louis because William was not “content to dwell in a slave state, after having removed from one.” Daniel wrote, “Father seemed to have something like a forecast of the coming slavery troubles and was extremely desirous that I should keep out of the hands of what he called “iniquitous human bondage.” He noted, “After my arrival at St. Louis, and witnessing the sale of, and separation of families of negroes at auction at the East door of the Court House I was forcibly reminded of Father’s oft predictions that the “Lord had a day of reckoning in store for our nation.” Daniel’s views on race would subject him to threats of fines and imprisonment.
“The negroes had a Baptist Church on Almond Street.” “I was a teacher in this school for two years, and soon after I began teaching was waited upon a constable named Maxwell, who asked me if I was aware that I was violating the laws of Missouri and liable to fine and imprisonment, to whom I replied I could not think it possible any such law could exist in Christian America, and at his solicitation accompanied him to his office and then read the law in the Statutes of the State. I said to him, “Mr. Maxwell, I am obeying the laws of God in teaching the Gospel to the negroes and shall not desist, so if you think proper, prosecute me for it.” Daniel Hancock stood firm in his convictions and did not cower to threats of prosecution. He went on to write, “I was not, however molested.”
Daniel Hancock’s work with African-Americans would continue through the Civil War. “About 1848 another African Baptist Church was organized on Morgan near Ninth street, and I was given charge of the Sunday School and continued with the school for nearly twenty years, and have always regarded this work with the negroes as the most profitable part of my Church work in St. Louis.”
Daniel J. Hancock wasn’t only courageous in his stance on African-Americans, during the Asiatic Cholera outbreak in 1850 & 1851, he sent his family to Indiana while he “stayed throughout the entire time of the scourge, attending almost every night on the sick and was mercifully preserved from even a tendency of an attack, though [he] was frequently nursing those attacked, a number of whom died.” He also “did much transportation for the Government during the war, both of troops and army stores and lost three steamboats while doing such services.” Hancock’s efforts help secure St. Louis for the Union.
Over two centuries and several generations since Daniel Hancock was imprisoned for preaching the Baptist faith in Virginia during the latter part of the 1700’s another Daniel sits in prison for exercising his First Amendment right in speaking out against the family court system. Over 150 years after Daniel J. Hancock told law enforcement officials to prosecute him for teaching African-Americans, Daniel Brewington sits in prison because he encouraged Dearborn County officials to prosecute him if they felt his opinions were not protected by the First Amendment. I can’t help but ponder what might have happened if Daniel J. Hancock decided to stay in Dearborn County and continue to practice law. Maybe Dearborn County officials would have been able to comprehend the provisions of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the Untied States of America
I want to thank Aunt Martha for sending me the memoirs of Daniel J. Hancock. (Also a big thanks to Uncle Bob who has trekked many a church, library and cemetery, with his wife, in search of genealogy of my father’s family.) I would also like to advise Aunt Martha and Uncle Bob not to travel to Dearborn County because now they are probably wanted for questioning in their roll of conspiring to assist me with blogging material. Maybe it’s genetic or maybe, as Aunt Martha suggested, just a coincidence, but I hope Daniel J. Hancock’s memoirs and this blog help demonstrate the absurd and repressive nature of the modern Dearborn County government and the duty of individuals to stand strong against challenges to civil rights.