The Hancock House: Boston and Ticonderoga
This year we are commemorating the 90th anniversary of the dedication of the Hancock House, the home of the Ticonderoga Historical Society. Throughout the year, in this forum, we will be presenting a series of articles about the building, the society, and other related subjects pertinent to the building and the society.
We begin with an article that was written for the first issue of a new serial publication that the society began in 1990: Patches and Patterns Extended.
Thomas Hancock, uncle of John and one of the wealthiest men in Boston, was the builder of the mansion in Boston. The first Georgian style architecture in the New England colonies, the house stood on Beacon Street and faced the commons. It was built during the years 1737 and 1741 when it was first occupied. It was a “wonder-house” in its day. The contract for the stone trim dated “tenth year of the reign of George the second” was between Thomas Hancock and one Thomas Johnson of Middletown, Conn.
Surprisingly, wallpaper had long been used in the colonies. In 1736 a Boston newspaper carried an advertisement for “Roll paper for Rooms”. The paper was usually of Chinese orgin or from those panels printed in England following the Chinese designs.
The following is a portion of a letter from Thomas Hancock to Mr. John Rowe, stationer in London, under the date 23 January 1738:
“Sir, Inclosed you have the Demensions of a Room for a Shaded Hanging to be Done after the Same Pattorn I have sent per Capt. Tanner who will deliver it to you. It’s for my own House & Intreat the favor of you to Get it Done for me, to Come Early in the Spring or as Soon as the nature of the Thing will admit. The pattorn is all was left of a Room Lately Come Over here & it takes much in ye Town & will be the only paper-hanging for Sale here wh. am of Opinion may Answer well There-fore desire you by all means to Get mine well Done & as Cheap as Possible & if they can make it more Beautifull by adding more birds flying here & there, with Some Landskip at the bottom should Like it well”.
Beside wallpaper, the glass for windos, stone caps for columns and many of its furnishing were brought from England.
Wings were added to the east and west sides of the house. Though their date has not been established, it is quite probable that they were put there during the time John Hancock was in residence. The east wing served as a Ballroom, and had been removed to Allen Street, Boston by 1818.
John Hancock lived in the mansion during those years of the American Revolution, and no doubt many personages associated with Ticonderoga were his frequent guests. Following his death in 1793, the house, inherited by nieces, slowly fell into disrepair, and was eventually handed over to the City of Boston for nonpayment of taxes.
When it became known that the house and its furnishings would be sold at auction and the house demolished, an attempt was made to save it as a monument to its historic past. Probably because the public’s interest was then concerntrated on the Civil War, there was little if any support. However, John Hubbard Sturgis, architect (1834-1888), made a series of measured drawings of the exterior and interior of the house before it was torn down in 1863.
These drawings were the basis of the blueprints drawn for the Hancock house at Ticonderoga, and were used through the kindness of R. Clipston Sturgis, a nephew.
The reproduction of the Boston Hancock House in Ticonderoga was presented in 1926 to the New York State Historical Association as its headquarters by Horace A. Moses, a native Ticonderogian, ” to perpetuate American Traditions in History and the Fine Arts.”
In choosing a permanent home for the Association, many houses were considered and the Hancock House finally agreed on as most nearly fulfilling all the requirements. In the first place, Mr. Moses insisted that the building be of stone and fireproof as valuable records were to be kept here. Secondly, here was an excellent opportunity to restore to the public something that had been lost, instead of duplicating a house still standing and accessible to visitors. Thirdly, the Hancock House was one of the most important of the houses of the Northern colonies.
Until the late 1930’s Headquarters House served its purpose well, but its numerous members found it located in too isolated and remote area. The Association was offered a more centrally located facility in Fenimore House at Cooperstown, NY. and the decision was made to move its headquarters to that place. Hancock House continued to serve as a branch facility of the Association until 1956 when financial needs caused the closing of the building as a museum and research library. Through the farsightedness of the late John H. G. Pell, a member of the Board of Trutees and President of the Fort Ticonderoga Association, the building was leased to that organization thus insuring its safekeeping for Ticonderoga. But, once again, in the fall of 1974, the New York State Historical Association felt that Hancock house and its endowment could be put to better use, and the decision was made to remove all its holdings to Cooperstown.
The Ticonderoga Historical Society, under the leadership of its then president, Virginia B. LaPointe, moved immediately to obtrain the building for its home. Successful in this attempt, the furnishings, originally made for Hancock Hosue in 1926, the library, manuscript, art and photographic mateirasl were returned to Ticonderoga in February 1976. Hancock Hosue was again opened to the public in June of that year, and one of its first major functions was the celebration of its 50th anniversary on 21 August 1976.
JOHN HANCOCK: 1737-1793
His father died when John was a child and he was adopted by his uncle, Thomas Hancock, the richest merchant in Boston. He was 28 years old when he inherited his uncle’s wealth.
In 1768 his sloop “Liberty” was seized by British authorities for nonpayment of duty. Its cargo of wine had been smuggled ashore. A riot on the shore followed which aroused violent feelings and was an important prelude to the revolution.
After the Boston Massacre in 1770, he was one of the committee who went to the governor to demand the removal of the British troops from Boston. At the funeral of the victims of the massacre, his speech led to an order for his arrest. He was president of the revolutionary Provincial Congress which met at Concord and later Cambridge. His and Sam Adams’ arrest was one of the objects of the British expedition to Concord which led to the battles of Lexington and Concord and which began the American Revolutionary War.
John Hancock was elected president of the 2nd Continental Congress in 1775 and served 2 years. In 1780, he became the 1st elected governor of Massachusetts and was re-elected annually with the exception 0f 2 years (1785-18787) until death. He was buried in the “Old Granary Burying Ground” at Boston.
John Hancock’s Tombstone and grave
It may be probable that John Hancock’s interest in the Pre-revolutionary years may have been more business than patriotism, but whatever, his support was invaluable to the colonies.
As we begin the 90th commemoration of the dedication of the Hancock House here in Ticonderoga, we would like to hear from anyone that has material associated with the Boston or Ticonderoga homes, principal family connections, and personal memories. Donations welcomed.