HBC has obtained a photograph of the Cocroft family of Staten Island, New York. Mrs Cocroft has 10 children and has she looks rather young, more presumably
followed. It is difficult figuring out who is who in her family. She describes the children as "born as close together as nature permits". Mrs. Cocroft appears to have
been particularly parcial to white smocks, presunmably the laundry load was a factor here even if she had help. The family is a good example as to how large 19th century families could be.
This particular portrait is dated. We know it was taken in 1886. From the look of the trees it looks to be a spring portrait.
The Cocrofts lived on Staten Island. Staten Island is part of New York City. It is one of the city's five boroughs (the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, and Brooklyn). It is located to the southwest of the rest of the city on an island that is the most geographically separate part of the city. It is the least deensley populated of the city's five boroughs. We believe that in 1886 that Staten Island was a suburban community for New York City. Part of Staten Island at the time were still rural. Thus people living there were generally affluent, able to afford living outside the city. Only in recent years with the construction of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge has Staten Island's population increased sharply.
The Cocrofts were clearly a comfortable middle class family. The fact that they are having their picture taken outside rather than trooping to the studio, is a sign of affluence. I rather think that the fact the children vurtually all wearing smocks and the boys have long hair is a further sign of affluence. Boys from poor families would have been less likely to wear smocks and have long hair. The size of the family is another sign of affluence. It was quite common for farm families to be large, but city or suburban families were less likely to be so large, especially poorer families because it was difficult to support large families in the city.
Mrs Anna Cocroft pictured here was known as Annie (figure 1). She was the second wife of John Barnard Cocroft (1847-1931). Mrs Georgia Anna (Mann) Cocroft (1850-c 1881), John's first
wife, had at least six children before she died some time after 1881. John Cocroft then married Annie. She was from either Ireland or England (census reports give both). This is probably because at the time, Ireland was still part of the United Kingdom. They married some time around 1881 or 1882 (the 1900 census indicates that she had been married for 18 years). The 1900 census says she had borne 8 children, 5 of whom were still living in 1900. If the 1900 census is correct about her age (she was born in March of 1857), she was between 28 and 29 years old in 1886 when the photograph here was taken. [Gallant]
John Cocroft was in early life a stone-cutter, later some kind of inspector
for the city of New York. He comes from an extensive family of stone-cutters
and stone masons. The family goes back to the Halifax area in Yorkshire
(where virtually all Cocrofts, Cockrofts, and Cockcrofts come from). All the
Cocroft men who emigrated to Staten Island, as well as their male children,
worked as skilled stone masons and (later) as engineers. John (and his older
brother James) may have been cadets at Norwich University in Vermont from
1861 to 1863. And John's family were well-enough-to-do to afford to have an
Irish servant in 1880. John Cocroft's father James (1817-1883) must have been fairly well off: he
had been appointed (by Col. Robert E Lee, no less) superintendent of works
at Fort Wadsworth on Staten Island, right where the Verrazano Narrows Bridge
comes on to the island. (My branch of the Cocroft family, incidentally,
comes from Brooklyn, to which city a younger brother of the aforementioned
James moved.) [Gallant]
I believe we can be sure that this photograph was taken by Alice Austen,
photographer, of Staten Island. From a book that includes a chapter about
Alice Austen, ""By the time she was eighteen Alice Austen was taking excellent photographs.
An impressively posed photograph of 1886 shows Mrs Cocroft, who did the
housework for the Austen family, surrounded by her eleven [sic] children,
one of whom is a baby in her arms. The children, sturdy and confident,
neatly dressed in white smocks are shown standing in the branches of a tree,
a far cry from the careful romantic idylls of other contemporary
photographers, or from the idealised Little Lord Fauntleroy image created by
the writer Frances Hodgson Burnett."
The portrait of the Cocroft children in itself is inyeresting. It was not common in the 1880s for families to have portaits taken outdoors. Most families would gonto the photographer's studio. It would have been more expensive to have the photorapher come to the hime. The children are artistically arranged on a sumac tree, presumably in the family's back yard. Another possibilt is that Mr. Cocroft might have taken the portrait--perhaps he was an amateur photroapher. Given the size of the family, one might expect that Mr. Cocroft might have been present to help sort out this lot.
I believe the children were being educated at home. New York City in 1886 did have public schools, but it was still common for affluent families to hire governesses and tutors. HBC believes that it is unlikely that boys in 1886 would have attended school in white smocks and ling hair.
Figuring out who is who is a challenge. The two older children without smocks appear to be girls, perhaps 11-12 years old. There is no way of knowing about the three infant children. That leaves five children in between that look to be about 5-9 years of age. At least three of tem appear to be boys--although their outfits are virtually identical. The child to the left of mother is an enigma. The child could be either a boy or girl. The hat is quite disinct--suggesting that the child is perhaps a girl. Certainly the child to her right in the tree is a boy. The child further to the right may be a girl, although note the similarity in dress. We believe the child on the ground is a boy. The child on the extrene right would appear to be a girl--note the scalloped smock.
We have since obtained details about the children. Surprisingly the children seem to have been call girls. Here is a list of Georgia Cocroft's children, with their approximate ages in 1886 (from the 1880 census): Annie 12, Daisy Gertrude 10, Eva 8, Harriet T (Hattie) 7, Clara Estelle 6, and Flora G. 5. And here is the list of Annie Cocroft's children (from the 1900 census): Ada M. 1, Alice S. (infant, born September 1886: probably the one in her mother's lap, unless the picture was early in 1886). In that case the infant would be Ada, born March 1885. But I'm guessing that the baby at the left, sitting on the knee of her half-sister, is Ada. The other children in the picture must be among Annie's 3 children who died before 1900. Only the three children who died can have been boys, as the censuses from 1880 and 1900 list only the 8 girls. The only sons of Annie who survived (at least by the census evidence) were born after 1886: Robert H, Leonard, and Fred W were born in 1890, 1891, and 1892. [Gallant]
The family is a good example as to how large 19th century families could be. The interesting thing is that this is a suburban and not a farm family. In addition, Nrs. Cocroft is still a fairly young woman. She holds a baby thank looks only about a month old, so she may well have has some additional children.
In evaluating thos photograph, it is necessary to understand just how just how onerous and time consuming laundry was for a housewife in the 19th century, even the late 19th century. Today we give little attention to washing clothes. It is also so simple with
modern blended easy to care for fabrics, washing machines, and an array of detrgents, bleaches, fabric softners and much more. Often teenagers, including boys are now involved with washing clothes. This was not alway s the case. The family laundry used to be an arduous, back breaking effort perforned only by mothers and daughters. It is thus understandable that children once wore their clothes longer than is the case today and why
so much care was taken to protect clothes.
Several items of clothing that the boy is wearing and clothing detailing are worthy of note. This is a particularly interesting photograph as it appears to show the children in their every-day clothes rather than dressed up for a studio portrait. There are realtively few portraits of american choldren wearing smocks for a portrait. The most striking aspect of the photograoh is how many of the children are addressed in vurtually identical white smocks.
The standard headgear for the children appear to be a black, wide brimmed hat. Both boys and girls seem to be wearing these hats. The babies have bonnets. The eldest girl and the boy on the ground do not have hats. One wonders why mother did not insist that he wear a hat like the other children in smocks. I rather doubt that all of the other children would have brought out their hats withourt being reminded. The older girl at the left wears a very plain cap which I do not know how to describe. The child to the left of mother appears to wearing a kind of informal floppy hat.
Only two children have destinctive collars, the two older girls both have wide white collars. One looks to be a lace collar, the other a plain white collar. The imageis not clear enough to make our any collars on the smocks, except for the boy to mother's right. That boy does appear to have a collar on his smock.
The only principal garment other than smocks are the dark dresses the two older girls are wearing. We can not make out much detail. For the other children we can make out the long dark stockkings that they are wearing, but not any dresses or trousers under their smocks.
As the smocks are white it is difficult to see any detail. They all appear to be very plain smocks, long sleeved smocks. Only one has a collar. The children mostly wear smocks with plkain hems, although the infants and younger girl have sclloped hems. One onders if many of these smocks were worn interchangibly by the different children, rather than being for a specific child. None of the smocks are worn with belts.
Some of the boys look old enough to be breeched. Some may be wearing kneepants under their smocks, but all we can note is the long stockings. Even with the boy on the ground, only his long stockings can be seen.
All of the children wear long dark stockings. They appear to be black, but some may be dark brown.
The shoes are not very clear in the photograph, but all appear to be button-up high-top shoes.
All of the children exceopt the babies have long hair. The younger girl to the right appears to have the longest hair, but all of he children have shoulder-length hair. None of them, however, have had their hair curled. Presumably that would have been just too much work with so many children. We do note that 1886 was the year after Mrs. Burnett's book, Little Lord Fauntleroy was published so curls for boys were all the rage.
Gallant, Walter. E-mail message, January 27, 2007.
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