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Hannah B. Smith

Hannah Burling Smith was a young Quaker woman of means who took up the study of mineralogy around 1822 in order to fill her leisure hours. She was born in New Jersey, the daughter of Hannah Burling (1755-1840) and Richard S. Smith (1752-1796), whose family were third-generation American shipbuilders and merchants. Burlington is where William Penn's Quakers founded West Jersey in 1677, based on the then unique American concept that all races, sexes, nationalities, and religions deserved equal rights. In a letter written to Mary Woolsey Dwight (1754-1845) of New Haven, Connecticut, on July 24, 1823, her friend Hannah B. Smith (1793-1866) of Burlington, New Jersey attempted to interest her in mineral collecting. Mary, who had recently visited Hannah and admired her mineral collection, was the wife of Timothy Dwight (1752-1817), author and former President of Yale College, where Benjamin Silliman's lectures on mineralogy were open to both men and women for a tuition fee of $5. The letter reads in part:

My dear Mary,
Many thanks, my friend, for recollecting me and my cabinet [in your recent letter]. It is indeed an infant one, scarcely more than 20 specimens, and few varieties of any one mineral. I wish thou wouldst interest thyself in the subject. It would, I think, be a source of pleasure to thee, as it unfolds a new and ample page of the book of Nature, and opens a new avenue through which we may admire the great author of the wonderful and the magnificent chambers of the earth.

In this retired spot, and living as I do both from inclination and duty, separated from much gay society, particularly in the winter season, the mind is forced upon itself, and obliged to draw from its own resources. And last winter, in company with my friend S[arah] Sharpless, I was induced to enter a little upon mineralogy, but it was with great diffidence of our own powers I do assure thee, yet we were both surprised that we were able to understand it, and encouraged to pursue it, and the delight of finding a specimen I assure thee was very great and amply repaid our trouble.

I have felt a dread, I might almost say, of speaking of the subject when any gentlemen have been present, from the idea that it might be considered unfeminine, perhaps inadmissible, yet why, I cannot tell Few ladies have the opportunity of clambering amongst rocks and mountains themselves to procure these treasures, yet if they meet with a kind friend who is willing to give them some [specimens] I cannot see any impropriety in it. Yet from the circumstance of its being so rare, I dread its being thought ridiculous, and right or wrong, I believe you are more enlightened in the east, and I hope have a better view of the subject.
Truly thy friend,
H.B. Smith

Hannah married Robert Mott, a schoolteacher. The Motts were a prominent Quaker family from Westchester County, New York, who had several familial ties with the Burlington area. The Mott's country estate was named Hickory Grove; Robert Mott died soon after his marriage, but fathered one son, Richard Field Mott (1825-1891). The ultimate disposition of Hannah's mineral collection remains unknown.

William Wade Hinshaw, Encyclopedia of Quaker Geneology vols. 2 and 3, Ann Arbor, MI: Edwards Bros., 1936-.
James C. Purdy, Moorestown Old and New (1886), Moorestown, NJ: The Historical Society of Moorestown, 1976.
William E. Schermerhorn, The History of Burlington New Jersey, Burlington, NJ: Enterprise Publishing Co., 1927.
R. Morris Smith, The Burlington Smiths: A Family History, Philadelphia: printed for the author by E. S. Hart, 1877.
Jane Thompson-Stahr, The Burling Books: Ancestors and Descendants of Edward and Grace Burling, Quakers, Baltimore: Gateway Press, Inc., 2001.
Major E. M. Woodward, History of Burlington County, New Jersey, Philadelphia: Everts & Peck, 1883.
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