HOW DOROTHY HANCOCK KEPT OPEN HOUSE.
Paul Revere galloped up to what is now known as the Hancock-Clark
house in Lexington, on a now famous
night in April, 1775, a
minuteman who was acting as sentry refused to admit him.
"You mustn’t make any noise," said the sentry; "Mr.
Hancock and Mr. Adams are asleep in the house."
"Noise!" cried Paul Revere, "noise, d’ ye say? Well!
you’ll have noise enough before long, I can tell you. Why, man, the
regulars are coming!"
Hancock was on his feet at once. He had
recognized the rider’s voice.
"Hello! is that you, Revere? Come in. We’re
not afraid of you."
And Revere entered with his news.
It set every one astir. The bells of Lexington, by
Hancock’s order, began to ring the alarm. The minutemen flocked to the
rendezvous at Buckman’s tavern, and John Hancock, determined to join
the farmers in their armed protest, spent the most of the night in
cleaning his gun and sword and getting ready for the fight he felt
certain would come with the dawn.
There was another interested listener and talker in
the Hancock-Clark house that night. She was a Boston girl, and her name
was Dorothy Quincy. In fact, it was because of her that John Hancock
came so near to being trapped by the British. For Dorothy Quincy was
visiting there; and Dorothy Quincy was engaged to marry that successful
Boston merchant and uncompromising Massachusetts patriot who, later,
affixed his bold signature, as president of the Continental Congress, to
the Declaration of Independence.
John Hancock was, at last, persuaded out of the idea
of personal opposition to the British aggressors on the green at
"You are too important a person
just now to risk death or capture," his friends declared; and, as
John Hancock always did feel rather important, he yielded to their
advice. He slipped from the house just in time to escape capture, and
stood on a hilltop beside Sam Adams when that "Father of the
ing the guns of the Lexington fight, cried
enthusiastically to Hancock, "What a glorious morning for
Dorothy Quincy that very morning joined her lover in
his flight, and, four months later, on the 28th of August, 1775,
the two were married in the town of Fairfield,
Connecticut, to which place Hancock came from his duties as president of
the congress, for the sole purpose of being married to his "dear
Dolly," as he called her.
Whereupon a New York newspaper of the day remarked:
"A brave Roman purchased a field in a certain territory near Rome,
which Hannibal was besieging, confident of success. Equal to the conduct
of that illustrious citizen was the marriage of the Honorable John
Hancock, who, with his amiable lady, has paid as great
a compliment to American valor, and discovered equal
patriotism, by marrying now, while all the colonies areas much convulsed
as Rome when Hannibal was at her gates."
Then they went to Philadelphia, where for two years
Hancock remained as president of the congress. Mistress Dorothy was
considerably younger than her famous husband, but she proved an
excellent helpmeet. She saw to it that his dignity was supported in a
style befitting the president of the congress—and it must be confessed
that John Hancock was most particular about that same dignity.
"King Hancock" was what some people nicknamed him, and they
used to tell how he appeared in public "with all the panoply and
state of an oriental prince; " how
he was attended by "four servants dressed in superb livery, mounted
on fine horses richly caparisoned, and escorted by fifty horsemen with
drawn sabers, the one half of whom precede and the
other follow his carriage."
Perhaps, for a leader of democracy, John Hancock,
president of the Continental Congress, did think a good deal of himself.
But he was an honorable patriot and a hard worker, and Dorothy, his
wife, helped him in his congressional work at Philadelphia, as she also
helped him in his big Boston mansion.
She acted, sometimes, while he was at Philadelphia,
quite as if she were his private secretary and confidential clerk. She
would pack up the military commissions that were to be sent to the
officers appointed by congress to positions in its army; she would
neatly trim off the rough edges of the paper money issued by the
congress as continental currency and signed by John Hancock as
president; and she would put the packages carefully in place in the
saddlebags in which they were borne by swift riders to different points,
to meet the bills of the government and pay the wages of the continental
When they were at home again in Boston, in 1778
John Hancock and his wife Dorothy kept open house, in their fine mansion
on Beacon Hill, for the friends of the colonies, domestic and foreign,
American as well as French.
Indeed, when the French allies came to Boston, the
hospitable doors of the big house stood wide open for them, and Mistress
Dorothy was kept very busy doing the honors as the wife of one of the
chief citizens of Boston, the wealthiest "
rebel" in Massachusetts, the man who was to
be the first governor of the new Bay
State, and who even hoped to be president
of the new American republic.
So taxed was Mrs. Dorothy’s hospitality, indeed,
that her poor cook was quite worn out with dinner-getting. At least
three fat turkeys had to be killed every night for the guests of the
next day, and a flock of one hundred and fifty of these
"Thanksgiving birds" was shut up in the big coach house at
night and turned out to feed, in the daytime, in the great pasture lot
where now ‘stands the Boston Statehouse with its gilded dome.
But if Dorothy Hancock’s cook was overtaxed by the
open-handed hospitality of" rosy John," as some undignified
neighbors had a way of referring to him, so, too, was Mrs. Dorothy
herself sometimes put to her wits’ end to keep up with her husband’s
But she was a shrewd and level-headed young woman,
and did not permit herself to become confused or "put out,"
One day, in 1778, John Hancock told his wife that he
had invited the Count d’ Estaing and thirty officers of the French
fleet to breakfast with them next day. Now, the Count d’ Estaing was a
gentleman who took the will for the deed, and then, in all courtesy,
tacked on the deed itself. He read Mr. Hancock’s invitation to include
all his officers, and the midshipmen as well.
So, next morning, the breakfast guests
all came streaming up from the wharfs, off which
the French fleet lay at anchor. They counted nearly two hundred in
all, and were in such fine feathers that, as Mistress Dorothy
said herself, in telling the story some years
after, all Boston Common was "bedizened with lace."
But, before they reached the Hancock house, up came a
messenger from the Honorable John, to tell Mrs. Dorothy of the
"enlargement" of the invitation, and begging her to prepare
breakfast for one hundred and twenty more than the original plan.
She does not tell us what she said; but she does tell
us what she did. Evidently she was determined to maintain her own and
her husband’s reputation as to their ability to keep "open
Even while the guests were in sight she set her
servants at work. They spread twelve pounds of butter on generous slices
of the Hancock bread, while one of them hurried down to the officer of
the guard on the
Common with Mrs. Hancock’s
compliments, and would lie be so kind as to bid his men milk all the
cows that were grazing on the Common, and send the milk at once to Mrs.
The guard complied, the milk was secured, Mrs.
Dorothy begged all procurable cake from her neighbors, stripped her
garden of fruit, and the breakfast for two hundred was ready in time.
The French officers evidently enjoyed the hasty,
homemade banquet, for Mistress Dorothy herself is authority for the
statement that one Frenchman alone drank seventeen cups of tea.
As for those young scamps of midshipmen, they made a
raid on the cake, captured it from the servants who were bringing it
through the hall, and would have eaten it all had not Mistress Dorothy
put them to rout, recaptured the cake, and, hiding it in napkin-covered
buckets, saved it, with the fruit, as dessert at the breakfast.
Mrs. Dorothy Hancock was as clever as she was
capable, and she had her revenge. For when the polite Count d’Estaing,
desiring to return her hospitality, invited her to visit his fleet "
with her friends," she appeared on the wharfs
with a party of five hundred "to visit the count"
But he was as cool as she, and fully equal to the
joke. He transported "Mrs. Hancock and friends" to the fleet
and entertained them there all day. Honors were about even, just then,
Mistress Dorothy had many opportunities, after this
experience, to keep open house in the big mansion on
the hill—a noble old colonial
house which stood on Beacon Street far into the memory of the
Massachusetts of to-day; for, in 1780, the
colony of Massachusetts Bay, which had
claimed the right to be called a "free and independent state,"
became one in fact,
with a constitution and a governor, and that first governor of
Massachusetts was John Hancock.
Massachusetts was proud of "King Hancock,"
despite his pomposity and love of show. For, underneath it all, he was
true metal. When other men of means and station
had deserted the people, he had stood firm, even to loss of property and
risk of life itself. He was genial even if he was conceited, charitable
even if peculiar, a true American even if an aristocrat, and
level-headed even if a bit peppery of temper and overweighted with a
sense of his own importance. John Adams once got angry with him and
called him "an empty barrel ;"
but John Adams, despite his greatness and his
patriotism, had a sharp tongue, and often made unpleasant personal remarks.
After all, even great men are but human, notwithstanding their loftiness
of purpose and grandeur of soul.
For ten years John Hancock served his state as
governor of Massachusetts, and served it well—from 1780 to 1784,
and again from T787 to
1793, when, on the third day
of October, he died, Governor Hancock still.
To the last his hospitality was
boundless, while Mrs. Dorothy Hancock was just suited to her high
position as "the governor’s lady," and met her duties with
dignity, ability, and ease.
It was while Governor John Hancock was chief
trate of the Bay State that Maine, so long a part of
Massachusetts, sought to break away from the parent colony, and set up
for a commonwealth "on her own hook."
Piece by piece had Massachusetts been shorn of her
extended territory. When, after her long fight with kings
and parliaments for territorial rights and chartered privileges, the
colony of Massachusetts Bay lost, in 1691, its old-time independence and
became an appendage to the crown of England under the title of the
"Province of Massachusetts Bay," it was granted, as a salve to
the wound made by the loss of its charter, additional and extensive
territory; for into it were merged the provinces of Plymouth,
Massachusetts Bay, Maine, Sagadahoc, and Acadia,—a region stretching
from Long Island Sound to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, from Rhode Island to
Newfoundland. New Hampshire, too, was a part of the
Massachusetts Bay jurisdiction, as one might say, "off and
on." For that land of the granite hills was attached to and
detached from Massachusetts so often that a Portsmouth man could
scarcely tell to which colony he owed allegiance. Massachusetts, indeed,
claimed the entire .territory of New Hampshire under an old charter, and
again and again, for a period of a hundred years, the matters of
ownership or boundaries were unsettled, and New Hampshire was either a
part or a protégé of the Bay colony.
Acadia, or what we know as New Brunswick and Nova
Scotia, was wrested from the French by New England, largely by
Massachusetts fighters, in 1710, although
it had been made part of Massachusetts by
royal proclamation in 1691. It was even harder than
it is now for the two races—French and English—to live as comrades
and neighbors under one flag. The Acadians were unruly and quarrelsome;
they impeded the progress of English ideas and methods; and finally, as
a military and political necessity, seemingly harsh but really
imperative under the peculiar life of those days, the Acadians were
removed from their lands in 1755, and
scattered among the English colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia. Mr.
Longfellow’s, poem of "Evangeline" is beautiful and
pathetic, but you must read the real story of the removal of the
Acadians before you accept his fine hexameters as history, and say
"how dreadful" or " how
But the years brought losses to Massachusetts, and,
piece by piece, she was shorn of her territories. First, Acadia was torn
away and made a crown colony; then New Hampshire, in 1740, set up for
herself; and when the Revolution had brought independence to the
colonies, Maine chafed under restraint and sought separation from
Separation did not come just then,
however. For years the people were divided over the matter, and not
until another war with Great Britain had been waged and won, and Maine,
at the cost of a great slice of her territory yielded up to the British,
established the right to settle her own affairs, was separation from
Massachusetts finally arranged in 1820, and the last dismemberment of
the old provincial territory of the Bay State made for the sake of
others and the strengthening of the republic. And the move toward this
ment began while Governor John Hancock was in office.
Now, as "King Hancock" did not bear with
ease anything that detracted from his dignity and importance, he did not
look with favor upon anything that lessened the dignity and importance
of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. So lie objected to Maine’s move
toward a separate state making, just as he objected to a lowering of his
independence in a certain interview that has become historic.
For it was while Governor Hancock was in office that
George Washington came to Boston, in the course of his Northern tour. It
was the fall of 1789.
He came as President of the United States. All
people, high and low, turned out to welcome him—all except Governor
Hancock. For this occasion only his famous hospitality failed.
It was a question of dignity. John Hancock was a
believer in what is called the doctrine of States’ rights. He held
that Massachusetts was a sovereign State; he claimed that the governor
of Massachusetts was the equal in dignity and importance of the
President of the United States, and that it was the President’s duty
to call upon him first. But George Washington was a Federalist. He held
that the Union was paramount, and that it was the duty of a governor to
visit and welcome the President first.
It is needless to say that the President did not
visit the governor first. George Washington was always right as to both
theory and practice. But there was a delay that exasperated the loyal
citizens of Boston—
at last, he "made hi manners" to the President, pleading his
convenient am frequently present gout as his excuse for his one
apparent lack of hospitality—the only one on record.
federalists and anti-federalists alike. Governor
Hancock speedily saw he was wrong,
At once Washington returned the governor’s visit
and, so Mrs. Dorothy declares, was "very sociable an’ pleasant
during the whole visit." As for dignified Mrs. Dorothy, you may be
sure that with graciousness and ease she did the honors of Hancock house
to her distinguished guest.