Touchstones With History: Daniel Hand

12/15/2016
By John Van Epps

This month is the 125th anniversary of the death of Daniel Hand. Daniel Hand was a major benefactor of the American Missionary Association. He was born in 1801 in East Guilford, in the area of Hammonasset, what is now the town of Madison. His mother was from the Meigs family, and in 1818 Daniel went in the charge of his uncle to Augusta, Georgia where he was a merchant. He succeeded to his uncle's business. There he became a member of the Presbyterian Church and was a Sunday School teacher for over thirty years. In the meantime he established a branch of his business in Charleston, South Carolina, which in 1860 was where his grocery business was headquartered and became one of the largest in the South. Although he voiced his anti-slavery views, he was not an abolitionist. His business was in the slave states and partly utilized slave labor.

At the start of the Civil War, Daniel Hand happened to be in New York City. Immediately he was able to go through the lines to New Orleans, where he had some business. There he was detained, accused of being an alien and a "Lincoln spy." Upon examination he was "determined to be a gentleman who would keep his word" and was told to report to the Confederacy headquarters in Richmond. On his way there he stopped overnight in Augusta, where he was arrested again because of his known anti-slavery sentiments. However his slave-holding friends vouched for his honorable character and he was allowed to continue his journey to Richmond. There he was allowed to go anywhere in the Confederacy and settled in Asheville for the duration of the war. While there the Confederate government sought to confiscate his property in Charleston as "Yankee money."  Eventually he was absolved of the charge of treason.

At the close of the war he went north and settled in Guilford. He believed the South's greatest need was the elevation of its Black population, primarily through education.  In 1872 he made a gift of $100,000 to the American Missionary Association, which had been founded in 1846 (in CT), in part to provide education and support to Blacks in the south. After the Civil War it founded many schools and colleges for the education of Blacks, six of which still survive. Then in 1888 his business partner in the South presented him with the proceeds of his business and the accumulations.  That year Daniel Hand made a gift of over one million dollars to the American Missionary Association, determined that his entire life effort was to support education for Blacks, especially for public school teaching. At the time it was the largest single donation to a benevolent society by a living donor. Upon his death in December 1891 he bequeathed another $500,000 to the AMA. He made some bequests to his heirs as trust funds, with the proviso that at their deaths the trusts would be transferred to the AMA.  

An 1889 publication of the American Missionary Association says this of Daniel Hand: "He finds it the joy and crown of his life to be thus not only a benefactor to the poor blacks, but to furnish a marked illustration of the fraternal feeling which the North cherishes towards the South." To this day the "Daniel Hand Education Fund" provides scholarships to further the education of African Americans, a legacy of this Yankee merchant in the pre-Civil War South. 

The Rev. John Van Epps is Archivist of the Connecticut Conference UCC.