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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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shoes Found in Hancock-Clarke Wall

Last week I had a lot to say about what was (or wasn’t) happening at the Hancock-Clarke House in Lexington, where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were staying until the very early hours of 19 Apr 1775.

This month the Lexington Minuteman reported on what’s happening at the Hancock-Clarke House right now: a renovation that’s unearthed some unusual items in the walls. Ian B. Murphy reported:

One of Lexington’s treasures, the Hancock-Clarke House, has a treasure of its own: six 18th-century shoes buried in its wall.

The shoes, known as concealment shoes, were discovered while the house was being refurbished and reconstructed. They were used to bring good luck and ward off evil spirits. These shoes were hidden away in the historic house’s walls with a cartridge box, a child’s corset, a shoe buckle, and a letter dated 1768.
As Guy Curtis pointed out when he alerted me to this story, cartridge boxes from the eighteenth century are relatively rare. Reenactors will be eager to know what shape this one is in and how it’s designed.

Here is Murphy’s photo for the Minuteman of the find.
As of spring 2005, the Sharon (Connecticut) Historical Society newsletter reported, “According to Jennifer Swope at the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, no one has ever photographed a concealment shoe in its discovered location.” So this might be a historic image.

The same article says, “the consensus seems to be that it [concealing an old shoe] was usually done during renovation rather than original construction.” That could fit with the architecture of this house since this wall links what’s thought to be the oldest part of the house with an extension added at an unknown time. The 1768 letter could valuable there. Also, someone is doing dendrochronology.

The University of Southampton’s Textile Conservation Centre has an entire website devoted to Deliberately Concealed Garments. Brian Hoggard has a site on Concealment Shoes as part of a larger website on British folk magical beliefs, including an analytical study by June Swann of the phenomenon in Britain. The early modern British colonists in the New World brought that habit with them, so concealed shoes are a surprisingly common find in buildings that date from before 1800. Here’s a page about some from the Wayland Historical Society, for example.

1 comment:

Marissa said...

That's fascinating!