J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Dorothy Hancock: political hostess

A detail rarely omitted from the story of Lexington and Concord is that Dorothy (Dolly) Quincy was with her fiancé, John Hancock, at the Clarke parsonage when they received word that British troops were approaching. Her presence adds a little romance and femininity to the martial story.

The two married in August 1775, making Dolly Hancock a politician's wife. And John was a natural politician, terribly concerned with public popularity and never losing a race. He left his heirs a much smaller fortune than he had received from his uncle because he put his money into being what everyone in Massachusetts wanted in a governor.

For Dolly Hancock, that meant a lot of dinner parties and other entertaining, and it wasn't easy. The following is from an article in the New England Historical & Genealogical Register for 1854 by William H. Sumner, recalling his conversations with the governor's widow. He said she

spoke freely of the character of Mr. Hancock, who was afterwards Governor, and said he would always have his orders executed through life. That he always kept open house, and spoke of his entertainment of the French officers and others at the time the French fleet was in Boston.

The poor cook, she said, was worn out, and could not set to picking turkeys every night after getting a great dinner, and the feathers were sometimes too visible on the poultry upon the table. Mr. H. was mortified at this, and to cure the cook, directed the turkey to be roasted with the feathers on.

This was actually done, and the turkey caught fire on the spit, and the feathers, when they were burnt down to the quill, popped off with such a noise, and made such a stench which annoyed every body in the house but Mr. H., who, though confined up stairs with the gout, affected not to smell it. . . .

She says at one time they had 150 live turkeys, which were shut up in the coach house at night, and let out to feed in the pasture, where the State House now is, by day, and that two or three were killed every night.
In 1778, the Hancocks invited thirty French naval officers for breakfast. The admiral accepted on behalf of his entire officer corps, more than one hundred men. According to a grandniece of Dolly Hancock quoted at the Colonial Hall site:
There was nothing to do but for the Governor to overlook the Frenchman's bad manners and accede to the request.

It was upon Mrs. Hancock's resourcefulness, however, that the duty fell hardest, of providing for so many guests in the short time available. The problem was speedily solved with the exception of the item of milk. The Governor's private dairy could not possibly furnish all that was needed, and there was not a place in Boston where such a supply could be obtained.

Mrs. Hancock summoned the life guards [i.e., the governor's honor guard] and bade them milk the cows pasturing on Boston Common, and if any persons complained, to send them to her. This was done and no one objected. Plenty of milk was obtained and the dinner to the Admiral and his officers was a great success.
Mrs. Hancock told Sumner that she had returned the admiral's favors by bringing “a party of five hundred” out to the fleet.

John Hancock died in October 1793. Less than three years later, his widow married James Scott, who had long been one of John's ship captains, and they moved to the quieter town of Portsmouth.

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