ancestral chart father index home

vital records sources
go to Ann Pownall's page

Robert was born in Sheffield into a long line of metalworkers. I haven't found a baptism record for him, but other clues have made it clear he was the son of Simon and Mary (Smith) Hancock. John Hancock of New York City calls him his half-brother in his will, and John's death record says his parents were Simon and Ann. After some research, I found that others mentioned in the will were heirs of siblings who also have baptisms in Sheffield, as children of Simon and Ann and of his second wife Mary. Only Robert's is missing, unless it was skipped in the transcriptions available online. I haven't found an apprentice record for him. His obituary says he was "brought up to the cutlery trade," but his father was a blacksmith. In a town like Sheffield, the various kinds of metalworking manufactures and trades were described specifically, even differentiating between "whitesmith" and blacksmith."
     Robert was living in Manchester by 1820, when he married Ann Pownal in Manchester Cathedral. The 1840-41 Manchester directory lists Robert as a cutler living at 42 Rusholme Road in Chorlton-upon-Medlock, a suburb of Manchester. The census for 1841 also says he was a cutler. Robert and Ann's first child, Martha, was a dressmaker and she is followed on the list by Mary and Margaret, both bonnet makers. They packed up later that year and sailed away on the ship "Italy" from Liverpool about 18 October 1841. They arrived in New York on 14 January 1842.
     Margaret (Dunnet) Sinclair told a story of trouble on the passage to New York involving a lack of food and Robert being called a "Jonah." His wife Ann is said to have scraped a hole in a cooking pot, presumably to get every last bit out of it. This story probably lost some accuracy in the telling of Laura (Vyse) Dunnet, who I think was probably the source of the various family stories that have been passed down and embellished. That there were problems on the voyage is certain. A New York Evening Post notice says the trip took 88 days, which was unusually long, and that was because the ship "experienced severe westerly gales; lost foretopmast, main yard, sprung bowsprit, lost sails, &c." William Ashton's sister wrote to him (1844) and referring to one of his letters (written 3 days after his arrival in New York), commented on "what a very rough voyage you had and we was very sorry to hear of you being tossed about so much upon the sea..." William's brother wrote his response in July of 1842 and says that he was "sorry to hear that you had so long a voyage." In another letter that year, William intended to speak more of the trip and his efforts to find work - the latter was done but not the former, leaving us to wonder what might have happened if and when the food ran out. It's also interesting to note that one of the causes of Robert's death was "ulcera scorbutia," or scurvy, which he had for "many years."
     Robert's obituary places their first residence in "the cottage on the cliff," on Grand Street between Wythe and Berry Streets in Williamsburgh (later spelled Williamsburg), which Robert rented.

The "cottage on the cliff" may appear on an 1827 map of Williamsburg (inset). It's a guess exactly where the irregularity of the terrain was, the so-called "cliff," since it was done away with early on, but it's the only building on the block right block. Comparing this to an 1887 map, the little wooden house set back from the street could be the cottage. It undoubtedly was a house built before everything around it. A description of the property says that there was an orchard and other farm land that stretched from the cottage to the river. The 1887 map shows the complete transformation of this area and how diverse Williamsburg was when the Vyse family (Robert's in-laws) lived and worked on this street.

Robert is recorded as having applied for the right to purchase property as an alien resident on 30 June 1846 and bought a house and lot the following August. At the time this was at 294 South 4th Street. The first Williamsburgh directory was published in 1847 and lists his there, his business "cutlery." In 1850 he bought property in Canarsie and had what apparently was a second home built on 92nd Street. Margaret Sinclair says it burned in the early 1900s when one of his grandsons left a chick incubator unattended. Insurance maps show that, whatever the reason, the house came down between 1907 and 1916.

top: 1873; bottom: 1907

I haven't found much else about Robert. Another family story says that Robert was a wine and liquor merchant in England. When he "found religion," he destroyed his stock and took what the family had at their disposal and came to America. Robert surely was always a cutler. It's unlikely he "found religion" before they left England, although there is a switch from the Church of England, where he was married and where his first child was baptized, to becoming a Methodist. Their following three children were baptized in local Methodist chapels in Chorlton on Medlock.

Grosvenor Street Independent Methodist Chapel

Oldham Street Methodist Chapel

He was involved in the temperance movement in Williamsburgh, which may be what the story is getting at. His obituary mentions it:

HANCOCK - At 9:30 P. M. Yesterday, at the house of his son in law, Mr. Edward G. Vyse, 50 Grand street, died after a protracted illness, Mr. Robert Hancock, one of our oldest and most respected citizens, at the advanced age of seventy six years. Mr. Hancock is best known here as one of the originators of the early temperance movements in Williamsburgh, and one of the founders of the first temperance society started here under the name of the Washingtonian. He was born in Lancashire, England, and brought up to the cutlery business. About the year 1842 he emigrated to the United States and settled in the old village of Williamsburgh, first renting the premises then well known as "the cottage on the cliff" on Grand street between Second and Third Streets. He followed his business at this and in other parts of the city, latterly on South Fourth street - till the death of his wife, which occurred about four years ago. Besides being a strong temperance advocate, he was an active member of the Methodist church from early youth and possessing much natural eloquence, was often called upon to discharge Ministerial duties in the absence of regular Ministers. Deceased leaves behind him three daughters married, all of whom occupy highly respectable positions in life.

The obituary and this death notice appear in the Brooklyn Daily Times:

     Robert's death certificate says he was 76 years and 9 months old when he died at 50 Grand Street, Brooklyn. As the death notice says, this was where his daughter Margaret Vyse lived. He's called a cutler and died of scrofula (an affliction of lymph glands in the neck, caused by tuberculosis bacteria) and the above mentioned ulcera scorbutia (scurvy), which he had for a "great number of years," with a secondary cause of 10 days of erysipelas, a skin infection. Scrofula and erysipelas apparently often appear together. He was buried in Cypress Hills Cemetery next to his wife Ann.

Robert's stone in Cypress Hills Cemetery after some excavation. His and Ann's stones are in the tradition of Friends ("Quaker") mode of grave markers (round-topped with plain, capital lettering)

Robert wrote his will on 9 July 1868. First he gave daughters Margaret and Sarah $2000. He then directs that all his real and personal estate be sold, the proceeds of which to be divided into four equal parts: one to be equally divided between grandsons Walter and John Frederick Clough, one to daughter Mary, one to daughter Margaret and one to daughter Sarah. He appointed James B. Hay, ironfounder of Newark, New Jersey, and Joseph Bryan, a Williamsburgh undertaker, executors of his estate. It was witnessed by William T. Nicholls and Joseph Bryan.

children of Robert Hancock and Ann Pownall:

i. Martha b. abt. 1821 (bap. 18 Nov 1821, Manchester Cathedral)
ii. Mary b. 5 June 1823 (bap. 7 Sep 1823, Oldham St. Methodist Chapel, Chorlton on Medlock)
iii. Maria b. 9 January 1825 (bap. 17 Apr 1825, Grosvenor St. Methodist Chapel, Chorlton on Medlock), d. 15 May 1826 (bur. Rusholme Rd. Cemetery)
iv. Margaret b. 22 November 1826 (bap. 18 February 1827, Grosvenor St.)
v. John b. 21 December 1828 (bap. 29 Mar 1829, Grosvenor St.), d. 14 November 1835 (bur. Rusholme Rd.)
vi. Ann b. 23 April 1831, d. after the 1855 NYS census
vii. Sarah b. 25 March 1833, d. 17 January 1911
vii. Maria Harriet b. 10 November 1835, d. 19 March 1838 (bur. Rusholme Rd.)
viii. Robert b. 6 December 1836, d. 2 Apr 1838 (same)
ix. Samuel John, b. 19 February 1839, d. abt 1862, perhaps San Antonio, TX
x. Emma Pownall b. 10 June 1843, d. by the 1850 census

vital records sources: Robert's baptism hasn't been found in Sheffield records. His marriage is in the records of Manchester Cathedral and his death is recorded in a Brooklyn death certificate (1871, #4251) and reported in the Brooklyn Daily Times. His will, written on 9 July 1868 and probabted 28 June 1871, is in book 43, p. 145, with a final account (not yet seen) in book 56, p. 507 (12/21/1872). He specified that all his real and personal estate was to be sold or auctioned and distributed among his heirs. James B. Hay, ironfounder of Newark, NJ, was one of his executors. Did you provide Robert with the raw materials for his cutlery business?

1 1.

all text and photographs © 1998-2020 by Doug Sinclair unless where otherwise noted