Little is known about the formal education of Cornelius Harnett during his early years. The signature of Cornelius Harnett, with its elegant flourishes, obviously belongs to one who apparently had the very finest education available. The signature appears on documents that he signed when a Wilmington Town Commissioner and Justice of the Peace. 1
His manner and interests were described by his good friend George Hooper, brother to William Hooper, a signer of the Declaration of Independence for North Carolina. As reported by Historian R. D. W. Connor, Hooper said this about Harnett:
Easy in manner, affable, courteous, with a fine taste for letters and a genius for music, he was always an interesting, sometimes a fascinating companion. He had read extensively for one engaged so much in the bustle of the world, and he read with a critical eye and inquisitive mind. 2
Harnett’s education may not have been formal, or it may have been, but the following article, “A Son of the Enlightenment Age,” gives some insight into the nature of his education.
1. Donald R. Lennon, and Ida B. Kellam, eds. of The Wilmington Town Book – 1743-1773. Raleigh, NC Division of Archives and History, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 1973. Print, 250+. [See Comment below]
CORNELIUS HARNETT: AN ESSAY IN NORTH CAROLINA HISTORY; Raleigh, N. C. : Edwards and Broughton Printing Company, 1909. 1-209. p. 208.
Comment: He was identified as a commissioner or alderman of the town in town meetings, on pages 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 47, 49, 50, 60, 68, 69, 70, 72, 73, 88, 89, 91, 92, 156, 158, 159, 160, 173, 185, 188, 189, 190 and 193. The Town Book has a typed version of the minutes and proceedings but presumably his signature appears many times on these pages in the actual original since the typed version shows as “Corn. Harnett,” the signature version as shown above. It appears that the practice was for the commissioners to actually sign when an order was being issued. Such was the case with regard to actual signatures of Town Commissioners on page 74 when Harnett and the other commissioners issued an order relating to use of the town ladder. A photocopy of his actual signature also appears on pages 51 on a document he signed as a Justice of the Peace. It too contains the same flourishes that appear above on the sample signature above.