Hancock, Frederick
Manuscript Diary of Frederick Hancock, early Iowa legislator and pioneer of Bentonsport, Van Buren County, Iowa, 1879-1883

oblong octavo, 337 manuscript pp., entries dated 31 December 1879 to 13 April 1883; earlier 19th century burgundy calf, with gilt rules on the spine, worn at edges, tips, corners, boards scuffed and rubbed, otherwise good, entries written in ink, in a legible hand.

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The bulk of the diary was written by Hancock from 31 December 1879 to 13 April 1883 and amounts to a total of 296 pages. Before Hancock starts his diary, in the front, there are 11 pages with dates of accounts for 1828 to 1854, and in the rear, after Hancock finishes, there are 30 pages of accounts for the years 1844 to 1864. Presumably the front section is by members of Hancock’s family and used for their bookkeeping purposes. The names of Jonathan and Mary Hancock are mentioned. The rear section also mentions Mary Hancock, as well as Frederick Hancock.

At the time of this diary (1879-1883), Hancock appears to be retired from active business, although he is still much concerned with affairs and events in Bentonsport. He writes, for example, of a bridge being built over the river, a dam being repaired, and the sale of a flour mill. He observes the lives of friends and their deaths. Hancock also frequently writes of the weather, as he is an avid gardener and does some farming. He makes notes of plantings and harvests, the ice on the river destroying trestles on the bridge, etc. He also mentions seeing the Great Comet of 1882 on 14 October. Throughout the diary he writes on current events, including the assassination of President Garfield and various Republican Party election results.

The diary is an interesting window into the life of a retired merchant, and Iowa pioneer, kept in the late 19th Century.

       Capt. Frederick Hancock (1814-1903)

Captain Frederick Hancock was born in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne county, Pennsylvania., 13 December 1814. He graduated from Wilkes-Barre Academy. At the age of 21, on the 11 October 1835, he married Anna Penrose Collins, a native of Delaware. Two years later they immigrated west, locating themselves on a farm in Washington Township, Van Buren County, Iowa, about three miles northeast of Bentonsport, and for ten years engaged in farming.

In 1848, Hancock sold his farm and moved his family to Bentonsport, and there engaged in the mercantile business. While living on the farm Captain Hancock represented Van Buren County in the territorial legislature, serving in the sessions of 1844-1845. He conducted business in both Bentonsport and Vernon and owned and managed the ferry which plied between the two towns for some years. He early espoused the cause of Abolition and affiliated with the Free-Soil Party. When the Republican Party was organized, he attended its first convention, and supported Abraham Lincoln for President in 1860.

During the Civil War Era, Hancock was a strong adherent of war measures for the preservation of the Union and was appointed as Assistant Quarter Master of Volunteers, with the rank of Captain in May of 1864. He was assigned for duty to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and served there until 1866, one year after the war had ended.

Hancock’s wife Anna, who accompanied him to the Iowa frontier, died in Bentonsport on 9 January 1863. She left him with a family of six children, four girls and two boys. Paul, the eldest enlisted early in the Civil War in 1861 in Company A, 7th Missouri Cavalry, and served his term of enlistment and was mustered out at St. Louis, Missouri in the autumn of 1864, and died while on his way home from Keokuk.  Hancock’s daughters grew to womanhood at Bentonsport: Fannie married Andrew Alexander and moved with him to California; Sallie married Edward A. Robinson and resided in Lowell, Massachusetts; Mary H. after the civil war was over became the wife of Lieutenant J. Sloan Keck, who was an officer in Company G, 4th Iowa Cavalry; and Pattie, the youngest daughter and Frederick, the youngest son, died unmarried.

On 1 May 1873, Captain Hancock married a second time to Martha Brown, of Bentonsport. Hancock was a member of the Congregational Church for many years. He was elected to the office of Justice of the Peace in Washington Township soon after the close of the Civil War and was continuously re-elected to that office until advancing age and enfeebled health interfered with his capacity to fill the position. Capt. Hancock died at his home in Bentonsport on 3 October 1903, at the age of 88, one of the last of Iowa’s territorial legislators.

      Bentonsport, Iowa

Bentonsport, Iowa was platted in March, 1836, and was located at the first dam and locks on the Des Moines River authorized by the state in 1839. Soon it had two grist mills and a saw mill. The locality was filling up with settlers on both sides of the river and was called Benton's Port, for Thomas H. Benton, the United States Senator from Missouri. On June 21, 1837, the board of supervisors of Van Buren County granted licenses to Isaac Reed and Henry Smith to operate ferries across the river between North and South Benton's Port. Rates of ferriage were established for persons, wagon with team, horse and rider, yoke of oxen, and heads of cattle, horses, sheep, goats, and swine.

Among the first arrivals at Benton's Port was John W. Burton from Kentucky who came late in 1836 and settled north of the river. Gideon Bailey from Kentucky, James McCrary from Indiana, A. H. Woods from West Virginia, and L. R. Merideth from Illinois came in 1837. Dr. Cowles, a surgeon from the East, came to practice at Benton's Port in 1838, and, with many others that year, came our diary writer Frederick Hancock, who bought land to the north; a Freeman family from Ohio and Samuel Morris from Kentucky.

As work on a new dam for Bentonsport progressed in the 1850s, cement and heavy cast iron for the lock gates were hauled from Keokuk by team and steamboat. Frederick Hancock at times advanced money and materials to expedite construction.  Bentonsport at one point had a population of about 1,000, but declined after the Keokuk, Fort Des Moines and Minnesota Railroad reached Des Moines in 1866. The river became non-navigable in 1870 and the dam and locks deteriorated, the dam "failed" in 1879. The Bentonsport Bridge opened in 1883 and is said to be the oldest wagon bridge of its type remaining on the Des Moines River. Today the village has 40 residents, many of them artists and bed and breakfast keepers.

         Sample Quotes from Diary:

“1879 Dec 31.

Christmas morning15˚ below zero. Moderating during the day. Coldest this winter. Yesterday 30th, heavy wind. Sam Woodriff was hung by a mob at Golden near Denver on Sunday 28th with another man named Seminole for murder of a man called Hayward. They were taken out of jail and hung in the night…”

 

“Saturday July 2, 1881

Wind E. ther. 80 clear & fine. A report by telegraph that President Garfield was shot and killed. Subsequent news that tho’ twice wounded he is not dead, but may yet live. Assassin arrested name not known.”

 

“Monday July 4, 1881

Wind S. ther. 85, Clear. President thought to be able to recover. He was shot by a crazy office seeker named Guiteau. Wife and I dined with Mary. A warm day.”

 

“Friday August 26, 1881

Wind S. ther. 80 Clear. President Garfield given up as almost dying. A gloomy feeling over the whole nation.”

 

“Tuesday, September 20, 1881

Wind N.E. ther. 65, Foggy. The President died last night at 10:30 at Long Branch, N.J. after being shot on July 2 last by that scoundrel Guiteau. The Nation universally mourns his loss. Wife gone to Farmington.”

 

“Saturday October 14, 1882

Wind S. ther. 55, clear. This morning before day I saw the great Comet in the East. The grandest sight. It seemed 10 feet long, funnel shaped and brilliant. Wrote Mr. Colton at Green, R.I. Elections in Ohio went against the Republicans. They lost 3 or 4 members of H.R. in Congress.”

 

“Saturday November 18, 1882

Wind N.W. ther. 45, cloudy. Moon 1st ¼ 3:58 A.M. Our Congregational Church having been repaired and cleaned by our brethren the Adventists, will be opened this morning for service. Our own society can use it on Sundays and by this arrangement we are now ready to receive a pastor when the Lord sends one. It has been without a preacher for 11 or 12 years.”

 

“Tuesday December 5, 1882

Wind N.E. ther. 40. Snowing, about 2 inches of snow fell during the day, almost turning to rain…Tomorrow is to happen the great Transit of Venus, which will not happen again for 130 years.”

 

“Wednesday December 6, 1882

Wind N.W. ther. 10, clearing, but not clear. A snow storm began and continued, so we had no Transit of Venus in Bentonsport. About 4 inches of snow fell and at night it turned colder.”

 

“Monday December 11, 1882

Wind S.E. ther 5 above 0. Clear. A soft pleasant day. There is discouragement about the new dam. It leaks, so that now the mill cannot be run & the river is unnecessarily low.”

 

“Tuesday January 2, 1883

Wind N.W. ther. 4 below 0. Clear. At the town elections yesterday, the old council was voted out for misconduct. Wife went to Farmington.”

 

“Friday February 16, 1883

Wind E. ther. 60, raining last night about 10 o’clock began a storm of thunder lightning & heavy rain and continued all night. The cellar is flooded. River rising rapidly, a gloomy outlook. Ice almost ready to go out. Mark Thatcher and old Seltler in Vernon Town is to be buried today. About 1 ½ o’clock the ice moved out without apparent damage to the dam, wrecking the trestles of iron work at the Bridge. Lanora Middleton, Alice Catters, and Kate Fulton girls raised here ran off last night to Ottumwa. Kate was reached by telegraph and brot back. In the P.M. a change came and before dark every thing was frozen hard and we were put back to winter.”

 

“Wednesday March 21, 1883

Wind N.W. ther. 30 clear & cold. Work has again begun on the Bridge, preparing to put on the iron. Has been a clear cold day. I walked up to see Mary and had a pleasant visit.”

 

“Thursday March 29, 1883

Wind NE, ther. 35, cloudy. Still cool & disagreeable. Flour Mill sold to Warren Scott for $3400.”

 

“Tuesday April 10, 1883

Wind S. ther. 65 cloudy. Planted cucumbers & melons, parsnips. At 5 P.M. wind strong in N.W. & cold. Also planted a young apple tree south of the stable.”