This is the 22nd article in the project, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, the shipping and railroad tycoon from New York and founder of Vanderbilt University, is a first cousin five generations removed because of his mother’s lineage.
He was born to Cornelius van Derbilt, who was of Dutch descent, and Phebe Hand, who was of English descent, May 27, 1794, in Staten Island, New York. Cornelius Vanderbilt’s uncle, Obadiah Hand, was Phebe Hand’s brother. Obadiah Hand married Sarah Britton, and their daughter, Sarah Britton Hand, married John Fagan Everett, and the cousin connection was born.
After an early life of working with his father on the ferry, Vanderbilt quit school at age 11 and by 16 was running his own ferry service. He would continue his entrepreneurial pursuits that made him a multimillionaire.
On Dec. 19, 1813, Vanderbilt married his first cousin, Sophia Hand Johnson. She was the daughter of Elizabeth Hand, another sibling to Phebe and Obadiah. They had 13 children.
During the course of their marriage, Vanderbilt became wealthier as he pursued steamboats and then ocean-traveling steamships. During the Civil War, he donated a ship, the USS Vanderbilt, to the Union army. He took an interest in railroads in the 1850s and by 1869, he built Grand Central Depot.
Vanderbilt’s wife, Sophia, died in 1868. Vanderbilt traveled to Canada and on August 21, 1869, he married another cousin, Frank Armstrong Crawford, in London, Ontario. Crawford and her family had been vacationing in Canada.
Frank Crawford’s mother was Martha Eliza Everett, daughter of John Fagan Everett and granddaughter of Obadiah Hand. Frank was named because of a friend of her father, and the name was selected before she was born. Frank Crawford was a first cousin, twice removed, from Cornelius Vanderbilt. She was 45 years his junior.
Frank Crawford was raised in Mobile, Ala., but after the Civil War, moved to New York with her mother, who was a widow.
In 1873, Frank invited her cousin by marriage, Methodist Bishop Holland N. McTyeire, to stay at the Vanderbilt mansion to recover from a medical treatment. Holland’s wife was Amelia Townsend, granddaughter of John Fagan Everett.
Over the course of the visit, Holland and Frank persuaded Vanderbilt to donate $1 million to establish a university in the war-ravaged South. This became Vanderbilt University. Cornelius Vanderbilt was nearly 80 by the time he decided to make the donation and he was too ill to visit the campus when it opened in 1875.
Cornelius Vanderbilt died Jan. 4, 1877. He was buried at the cemetery of the Moravian Church. He had donated money to several churches at his wife Frank’s request, including the Moravian Church.
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