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Ancestor 23: Frank Crawford, a woman with a man’s name in a man’s world

Frank Crawford married her cousin, Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was a second marriage for each of them.
Frank Crawford married her cousin, Cornelius Vanderbilt. It was a second marriage for each of them.Public Domain

This is the 23rd article in the project, 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks.

Frank Armstrong Crawford is a first cousin three generations removed on the Everett and Hand sides of the family.

She was born to Martha Eliza Everett and Robert Leighton Crawford in Mobile, Ala., Jan. 13, 1839. She was named after her father’s good friend, Frank Armstrong Crawford. The plan was to name the first-born child as his namesake. Apparently, the Crawfords did not plan on having a girl, but they named their daughter Frank just the same.

Martha was the daughter of John Fagan Everett and Sarah Britton Hand. She was the granddaughter of Obadiah Hand.

Frank Crawford married John Elliott in 1859 in Mobile and was divorced by 1860. After Crawford’s death, the “New York Times” published an article about Crawford that stated, “the union was not a happy one, and did not last long.”

On Aug. 21, 1869, Frank Crawford married Cornelius Vanderbilt. He had recently lost his wife of many years, Sophia Hand Johnson. Vanderbilt and his wife had been first cousins through the Hand lineage.

Vanderbilt and Crawford were first cousins, twice removed, through the Hand line as well. He was 75. She was 30.

The book, “Reminiscences of Famous Georgians, Embracing Episodes and Incidents in the Lives of the Great Men of the State, Also an Appendix Devoted to Extracts From Speeches and Addresses,” mentions many prominent Southerners, including the Crawfords and the Crawford-Vanderbilt wedding.

While the wedding was a private affair in Canada, the book states, “A special car carried the wedding party to Saratoga Springs. The fashionable world was electrified by this event and the newspapers were filled with descriptions of all the facts and attendant circumstances.”

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.

After Cornelius Vanderbilt’s death in 1877, Frank Crawford continued to live in the Vanderbilt residence under conditions outlined in a prenuptial agreement. She wrote her memoir in 1883, “Laurus Crawfurdiana: Memoirs of the Crawford Family Memorials of that branch of the Crawford Family which comprises the descendants of John Crawford of Virginia.” Although the book is primarily about her father's Crawford ancestors, it has chapters on Everett and Hand families.

Frank Crawford died unexpectedly May 4, 1885. The “New York Times” reported May 5, 1885 that she caught a cold while she stood on damp ground at a cemetery when she attended the funeral of another Vanderbilt relative on April 25. The cold turned to pneumonia and Crawford’s health quickly took a fatal turn for the worse. She was buried in the Moravian Cemetery in New Dorp on Staten Island.

She did not leave a will. The “New York Times” reported that a friend had said she did not expect to die and when she became so ill so quickly, it was too late.

Frank Crawford’s brother, Robert Leighton Crawford, became administrator of her estate, valued at more than $1 million.

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