Abigail Irena Hanks was born on 10 November, 1816, in Mansfield, Tolland County, Connecticut. She was the daughter of Rodney Hanks (1782–1846), a Mansfield, Connecticut, manufacturer of silk machinery, woolen goods, cannon swabs, and other machinery, and Olive Freeman (1783–1816). The extended Hanks clan were large-scale makers of silk, a business that had begun with the family importing English mulberry trees to Connecticut for the nurture of silkworms.
The Hanks family was also associated with the Meneely (Watervliet) foundry, which closed the mid-20th Century after more than a hundred years providing bells for various carillons and chimes throughout the Western hemisphere. The bell foundry was established 1826 in Gibbonsville, New York, on the west bank of the Hudson River, a few miles north of Albany, by Andrew Meneely, a former apprentice in the foundry of Benjamin Hanks (1755-1824), Abigail’s uncle, who is generally credited with being the first bronze cannon and church bell maker in the United States. Hanks is believed to have worked at a foundry connected with patriot Paul Revere and was a drummer during the Revolutionary War.