Friday, May 10, 2013
HANNAH COOKE MATLACK (SCOVEL), b. 1805 130 South Broad St., Woodbury, NJ, d. January 20, 1885, Wooster, Ohio. Hannah married Dr. Sylvester Scovel in Philadelphia, PA on June 23, 1829. They had nine children, James Matlack Scovel*, Sylvester Fithian Scovel, Robert Ashley, John, Isabel (Barnett), Hannah, Kitty, and Belle. Hannah's Scovel's husband, Dr. Sylvester Scovel was President of Hanover College in Hanover, Indiana. He died on July 4, 1849 in a cholera epidemic which swept through the college.
(The following is reprinted from the book, "Hannah Matlack Scovel" by Eleanor Scovel Miller, 1930)
On an autumn afternoon in 1827, in Woodbury, Hannah tied the strings of her plain but rich bonnet and was on her way to a Tea given by a friend for the young and handsome Sylvester Scovel, a Presbyterian minister, newly arrived in Woodbury. Scovel was a graduate of Williams College and Princeton Theological Seminary. They had met before and an immediate and strong attraction between them was noticeable. If opposites attract it was the case between these two, in looks at least.
Sylvester Scovel was tall and robust-looking. Hannah was small, slightly over five feet, dainty but rather frail in appearance. Due to her father's wealth and cheapness and abundance of servants at that time, she had no knowledge of housework. My Grandfather used to say that before marriage, his mother had never ironed a pocket handkerchief (let alone other, heavier work). This is brought out to show the change from this era of her life and that following her marriage.
For marry she did, and Sylvester Scovel was the man, despite the attitude of her father who was bitterly against it. James Matlack had other ideas for his beloved first daughter than the hard life of a minister's wife. He considered her too delicate for marriage and motherhood; she had a weak back - and became quite stooped in later years, her doctor did not consider marriage advisable for her. James Matlack, apart from his daughter's interest in the young Presbyterian minister, did not like ministers of any denomination; called them "black coats" - paid to preach. He forbade his daughter's marriage in no uncertain terms. His personal ill will toward Rev. Scovel was the main reason the call from the Woodbury congregation was declined. He left there in 1828 and after preaching for six months in Norristown, Pennsylvania, received and accepted a commision from the Board of Missions to labor as a missionary in the West. He and Hannah were married in Philadelphia on June 23, 1829 and on the same day directed their steps toward their new and distant home in the Ohio Valley. In a Memoir of Sylvester Scovel, D.D., "Late President of Hanover College,
Indiana, and formerly Domestic Missionary and Missionary Agent of the West" by James Wood, D.D., published in 1851 it reads:
"Had we the talent and inclination for a romance, we might here introduce a narrative which, with some expansion and embellishment would form by itself a volume of thrilling interest. Without gathering material from the realms of fancy or fiction, the simple facts in the case would furnish all the essential requisites for a regular drama, partly amusing and partly tragic. Several distinguished Ministers in Philadelphia, after being fully acquainted with the circumstances, advised their marriage but they preferred waiting for James Matlack's consent. After a delay of two years he reluctantly gave his permission, did not witness the ceremony nor ever invite the bridegroom to his house. He even threatened to disinherit his daughter."
The foregoing is interesting but unfortunately there is no one living now who could give an idea of the young couple's trials and tribulations in more detail. There is a slight parallel, we feel, between this story and that of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Hannah was about twenty-one when she met Sylvester Scovel. Her father, though he visited her and her family of (then) ten children in later years (Dr. Scovel was visiting his aged mother in Massachusetts) never entirely forgave her. While he did not disinherit her, he left her considerably less than he willed to her brother and half-sister.
Sylvester Scovel's father Jonah was a soldier in the Revolutionary War. He married Sarah Spencer of one of the first families of East Haddam, Connecticut where they were both born.
Hannah's first child was James Matlack Scovel who was my grandfather. Evidently she loved and revered her father in spite of his attitude toward her marriage and her husband.
For a person considered too delicate for marriage and children, she confounded such ideas by having eleven children. A son died at 21 of typhoid fever while preparing for the ministry and a daughter died in infancy. Nine children lived. Hannah reached the good age of ninety.
Rev. Scovel's district in the Ohio Valley consisted of over 20 miles long and width of ten miles, which a church at Harrison Ohio, and Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Their home was a one-room cabin. Hannah told that she took yards of red goods in her trunk and made curtains. Later, boxes and barrels of various necessities were sent to her by Eastern friends. She distributed these and the people of the congregation were delighted. Here was the scene of Sylvester's labors for the next three years. It was in the strictest sense a missionary field requiring diligent, protracted and self-denying exertions on the part of the minister. One of the Rev. Scovel's church members wrote of him:
"He combined an eminent degree every Christian virtue. As a pastor he was pre-eminent and truly the father of his people, entering with the deepest interest into all their feelings. He wept with those who wept and rejoiced with those who rejoiced. The poor and the rich shared alike in his kind attention and generous hospitality."
During the two years when his family residence was at Lawrenceburg, there occurred an extraordinary rise in the Ohio River, by which the whole town was inundated. The Scovels' were taken from the second story of their house and conveyed to a place of safety across the river. The flood was one cause of Rev. Scovel's removal from that place and settlement at Harrison. The congregation at Harrison, from personal attachment, from sympathy for him in view of his losses and from their desire to contribute to his comfort as their minister, purchased a parcel of ground containing about ten acres with a dwelling house which they invited him to occupy as a parsonage.
This he was glad to accept, affording him timely and valuable assistnce in the support of his family.
Owing to the embarrassment occasioned by the purchase of a parsonage and the expense of finishing the meeting house, there was never more than three hundred dollars (yearly) subscribed for the pastor's salary and sometimes even this small sum was not fully realized.
In 1836, Sylvester received a call from the Board of Missions to act as their agent in the West. He rode the circuit which took him away from home for weeks at a time, and the family moved to Kentucky. We are told that while Hannah was alone with her children, one day an Indian appeared and indicated in limited English tht he wished to enter and have food. The family were about to have their midday meal; he was invited to join them at table. He made several appearances.
How the once elegant Miss Matlack managed during those early years of work, child-bearing and loneliness constitutes a lesson in fortitude and patience. That their devotion to each other was very great is evidenced in letters to her.
Sylvester Scovel, who had been given a degree by Hanover College at Hanover, Indiana, became its president in 1846. He was well thought of at Hanover and labored assiduously to build it up. He was cruelly struck down by cholera (which raced through the college, killing many of the students) and died July 4, 1849.