Atwood, Hannah

Title

Atwood, Hannah

Description

Investing in Camden real estate provided steady income to an artist's wife for nearly 40 years.

Biographical Text

In a city atlas of Camden published in 1877, a name appears diagonally across the lots numbered 413, 415, and 417 Cooper Street: Hannah Atwood. Yet Hannah does not otherwise appear in records of Camden residents, such as city directories or the Census. Who was she, and why did she own property where she apparently did not live?

A clue lies in the nomination of Cooper Street for the National Register for Historic Places, which documents a sale of land from Richard Cooper to Hannah Atwood in 1845, more than thirty years prior to the atlas. The transaction, which the nomination associates with 413 Cooper Street, would have been among the first sales of Cooper family land on the north side of Cooper Street. The nomination provides a further clue, an undated later transfer of the land to Hannah's granddaughter, Clara V. Fisher, and a sale of 413 Cooper Street by Charles P. Fisher (Clara's husband) in 1883.

The rest of the story, as it emerges from records of the lives of Hannah Atwood and her family, reveals more about the development of Camden in the nineteenth century and the economic strategies of a married woman whose husband, an artist, was frequently absent and dependent on patrons for income. Jesse Atwood, born in New Hampshire, was an itinerant portrait painter who became best known for a journey to Mexico to paint General Zachary Taylor during the Mexican-American War (while living in Camden in 1847, he created a bust based on the portrait and offered it for sale). He also painted portraits of presidents, including Abraham Lincoln, and promoted this work to entice other patrons as he traveled.

According to Who's Who in American History, Hannah and Jesse Atwood came to Philadelphia from Rhode Island around 1830, which may have been shortly after their marriage. They had at least two children while Jesse pursued his art in a city known for institutions such as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where he displayed his work in 1841. He also traveled to Deerfield, Massachusetts (1832), and Richmond,  Virginia (1841), among other places. His trip to Mexico to paint Zachary Taylor was covered in the press, as was his opportunity to paint Abraham Lincoln in Illinois shortly after Lincoln's election.

Hannah, who had been born Rhode Island, was about 45 years old when she purchased the Camden property in 1845. It was not unusual for Philadelphians to purchase investment property in Camden during the nineteenth century, and that seems to have been Hannah's purpose. When she later bequeathed her property to her granddaughter, she described the process of collecting rents and maintaining the property in good order. During the 1840s and 1850s the Atwoods added to the value of the property, which spanned sixty-five feet on Cooper Street, by building seven houses. Three faced Cooper Street, and four smaller houses faced Lawrence Street in the rear. Two of the houses, built in 1853 at 415 and 417 Cooper Street, attracted notice in the Philadelphia Public Ledger: "Mr. Atwood has nearly finished two exquisitely, ornamentally and conveniently arranged dwelling houses on Cooper Street. They are fine additions to the improvements of that part of the city."

Hannah's presence can be traced only through her marriage to Jesse, who was listed in Camden and Philadelphia city directories. The Atwoods lived in Camden during the late 1840s and again between 1855 and 1860, but otherwise they lived in Philadelphia. Throughout the 1860s and 1870s, other tenants occupied row houses on Hannah's Cooper Street land--among them, a widow and her daughter who generated their own income by taking in boarders.

Jesse Atwood died in Philadelphia in 1870, at the age of 79, and Hannah lived until 1883. Both are buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery. Hannah's will specified the houses at 415 and 417 Cooper Street as bequests to her granddaughter, without mentioning the adjoining property at 413. Although her will envisioned the houses as an ongoing source of independent income, Clara Fisher sold both to a new owner by 1888. Separately, Clara's husband sold 413 Cooper Street in 1883. Hannah Atwood's long record of ownership on Cooper Street faded from memory.

Time period on Cooper Street

C. 1845-1883 (property owner, possible resident c. 1847-50 and 1855-60)

Location(s) - Cooper Street

413-415-417 Cooper Street

Location(s) - Other

Philadelphia

Occupation

Property owner

Birth Date

c. 1800

Birthplace

Rhode Island

Death Date

1883 in Philadelphia, buried Laurel Hill Cemetery

Associated Individuals

Jesse Atwood (husband)
George Atwood (son)
Sarah Miller Atwood (daughter-in-law, wife of George)
Mary Atwood (daughter)
Clara Virginia Atwood Fisher (granddaughter, daughter of George and Sarah)
Charles Perry Fisher (son-in-law, husband of Clara)
Edith Gay Fisher (great-granddaughter, daughter of Clara and Charles)
Richard Fisher (great-grandson, son of Clara and Charles)
Ellen M. Gay (sister, living in New York City)
Gamelia Gay (brother-in-law, husband of Ellen)
George Grace (boarder in Philadelphia home, 1880)

Sources

Camden and Philadelphia City Directories (Ancestry.com).
Holzer, Harold. Lincoln, President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter, 1860-61 (New York, Simon and Shuster, 2008), 88.
Hopkins, G.M. City Atlas of Camden, New Jersey (1877), Camden County Historical Society.
New Jersey Wills and Probate Records (Ancestry.com). U.S. Census, 1860, 1870, and 1880.
Philadelphia on Stone Biographical Dictionary of Lithographers (Library Company of Philadelphia).
Sandweiss, Martha A. Print the Legend: Photography and the American West (Yale University Press, 2002), 27.
Who's Who in American History (Marquis Biographies Online).

Research by

Charlene Mires
Send corrections to cmires@camden.rutgers.edu

Posted by

Charlene Mires

Collection

Citation

“Atwood, Hannah,” Learning From Cooper Street, accessed October 1, 2022, https://omeka.camden.rutgers.edu/items/show/54.

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