Scope and Contents note
This collection houses letters written to or by Sarah Cooper Tatum Hilles, her husband John Smith Hilles, and other Tatum or Hilles family members. There is also a small sampling of assorted family papers and deeds to properties owned by the Hilles family in Wilmington, Delaware; New Jersey; Illinois and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
It is divided into three series: “Correspondence,” “Family Papers” and “Deeds.”
The “Correspondence” series is divided into three subseries: “To Sarah Cooper Tatum Hilles,” “To John Smith Hilles” and “To Others.”
A majority of the correspondence in the collection is comprised of letters written to Sarah Cooper Tatum Hilles from her husband, John Smith Hilles; her father, Joseph Tatum; her brother, John Cooper Tatum; her mother-in-law, Margaret Hill Smith Hilles; and dozens of other family and friends from 1840 to 1882. Of note are letters from John Smith Hilles around the time of their courtship and engagement in 1861 as well as letters sent throughout their marriage while he was on frequent trips away from home due to the Civil War and/or business obligations. With the exception of letters from John Smith Hilles, Joseph Tatum and John Cooper Tatum, a majority of the letters in the series are from women. Sarah received many letters from friends and family while attending Westtown School in West Chester, Pennsylvania in the 1840s and just after her engagement to John Smith Hilles in 1861. Particularly dedicated correspondents include Sarah’s cousins, Hannah Tatum, and Anne and Sarah Nicholson; her mother-in-law, Margaret Hill Smith Hilles; and her friends, Alice Fothergill and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Howell. Alice Fothergill’s letters are particularly interesting as she writes from and about her experiences abroad. Generally, the letters in the series reflect on daily life and, to a lesser extent, on major events in the community and national history.
Letters written to John Smith Hilles from 1852 to 1875 are from: Margaret Hill Smith Hilles, Samuel Hilles, Sarah Cooper Tatum Hilles, William Samuel Hilles, Gulielma Marie Hilles Howland, John Cooper Tatum and others. Many letters reference business ventures and investments as well as family matters.
Correspondence written “To Others” includes letters between Sarah Hilles’ parents, Joseph and Ann Tatum; letters to Mary Tatum Whitall (Joseph Tatum’s sister) from Joseph Tatum; letters to Samuel and Margaret Hill Smith Hilles from John Smith Hilles; and others from 1821 to 1919.
The “Family Papers” series is a diverse sampling of receipts, school notebooks and report cards, and other writings of John Smith Hilles, Sarah Cooper Tatum Hilles, William Samuel Hilles, Anne Cooper Tatum and others. Of note is a memoir written by Joseph Tatum about his wife, Anne Cooper Tatum just after her death in 1834. The memoir is inscribed to his “infant children,” John and Sarah.
Finally, is the series, “Deeds.” There are deeds to properties in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Illinois, which were purchased, sold and/or acquired by John Smith Hilles, William Samuel Hilles, Samuel Hilles, Margaret Hill Smith Hilles and Sarah Cooper Tatum Hilles.
Sarah Cooper Tatum was born circa 1832, the daughter of Joseph Tatum (1806-1881) and Anne Cooper Tatum (1808-1834) of Woodbury, New Jersey. Sarah had one brother, John Cooper Tatum, who was a farmer and Director of the First National Bank in Woodbury, New Jersey. Sarah and John were educated at Westtown School in West Chester, Pennsylvania from around 1846 to 1848, and John also attended Haverford College from 1850 to 1852. Anne Cooper Tatum died in 1834, when Sarah and John were small children. Joseph Tatum was remarried in 1845 to Hannah M. Whitall. Sarah Cooper Tatum married John Smith Hilles (1830-1876) on May 7, 1862. They had four children: Anne Tatum Hilles (1863-unidentified), William Samuel Hilles (1865-1928), Joseph Tatum Hilles (1867-1924) and Margaret Hill Hilles (1870-unidentified).
John Smith Hilles was born in 1830, the second son of Samuel Hilles (1788-1873) and Margaret Hill Smith Hilles (1786-1882), who were married in 1821. He attended Haverford College from 1844 to 1845 and afterwards operated brick kilns in Wilmington, Delaware. Later, he operated a coal-yard in Philadelphia and then went on to work for the Philadelphia and Reading Railroad Company, serving as General Freight Agent and Assistant Superintendent. Eventually, the Railroad gave him charge over their new steam vessel shipping service. Hilles’ work with Philadelphia and Reading Railroad attracted the attention of William P. Clyde and Company, a Philadelphia shipping firm, which hired him as manager and eventually made him a partner. John Smith Hilles was also involved with the Friends Association of Philadelphia and its Vicinity for the Relief of Colored Freedmen, making at least one trip into the south to visit and report back on the conditions of the freed black communities on Roanoke Island in Virginia and other places in the early 1860s.
John and Sarah Hilles’ son, William Samuel Hilles (1865-1928), graduated from Haverford College with honors in 1885, providing the valedictory address at the commencement ceremonies and receiving the Alumni prize for composition and oratory. He was also captain of the cricket team in 1884 and 1885.
William Samuel Hilles, John Smith Hilles’ older brother, graduated from Haverford when it was a select boarding school and then worked as an instructor there from 1844 to 1845. He then moved to Wilmington, Delaware and worked for Richard P. Gibbons as a clerk in a rolling mill. He moved to Philadelphia and worked as the Secretary of McCullough and Company in 1859. In 1860, he moved back to Wilmington and worked as Director of the National Bank of Delaware until 1862 when he became involved in a machine-shop where engines, boilers and machine tools were manufactured. The William S. Hilles, a seven-hundred ton schooner was one of the wooden ships built. He died in Nice, France in 1876. William Samuel Hilles married Sarah Lancaster Allen, daughter of Dr. Thomas L. Allen on May 17, 1849. They had four children: Susan Watson Hilles, Thomas Allen Hilles (b. 1852), Samuel Eli Hilles (1854-1928) and Margaret Smith Hilles (1856-1912).
John Smith Hilles also had a sister, Gulielma Marie Hilles Howland.
Samuel Hilles, John Smith Hilles’ father, was a notable educator, who taught at the Westtown School; opened his own school in Wilmington, Delaware; and served as Haverford College’s first principal, among other positions. From 1841 to 1873, he served as director of the Bank of Delaware, and from 1851 to 1857 he served as director of an insurance company. He also dedicated time and efforts toward the abolition of slavery, participating in the Underground Railroad by hiding slaves in his barn. He also served as the first president of the Friends Freedman’s Association which was established on November 5, 1863 as an Association of Friends of Philadelphia and its Vicinity for the Relief of the Colored Freedmen. As a Quaker, Samuel Hilles served as Assistant clerk of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox) and as an elder of the Wilmington Monthly Meeting.
Margaret Hill Smith Hilles, John Smith Hilles’ mother, was born on November 7, 1786 and died March 27, 1882.
Brown, Francis G. Downingtown Friends Meeting: An Early History of Quakers in the Great Valley. Glenmorore, PA: Glenmoore Corp., 1999.
Dictionary of Quaker Biography, Haverford College: Friends Review, Vol. XXXVIII, No. 48, July 4, 1885, pp. 761-762.
Descendents of David Hilles: http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/h/i/l/William-C-Hilles/PDFGENE60.pdf (accessed November 6, 2009).
Hilles, Samuel E. Memorials of the Hilles Family: More Particularly of Samuel and Margaret Hill Hilles of Wilmington, Delaware. Cincinnati: S.E. Hilles, 1928.