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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Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Hancocks’ Dinner Table

Ticonderoga, New York, boasts the most accurate recreation of the Hancock mansion that used to stand on Beacon Hill.

The merchant Thomas Hancock built the original and passed it to his nephew John.

The replica was erected in 1925, long after the original was torn down, based on detailed architectural drawings. It is the headquarters of the Ticonderoga Historical Society.

Now the society is also the owner of a dinner table that was in the Hancock mansion, as the New York History Blog explains.
The table was the gift of Benn and Claire Eilers of Bend, Oregon. Benn Eilers is a descendant of Hancock’s sister-in-law, Sarah Quincy [who married William Greenleaf, sheriff of Worcester County].

With leaves that extend to 30 feet, the table is constructed of birds-eye walnut, a relatively rare wood. It is believed that George Washington dined at the table while visiting the Hancock House in Boston in 1789, during Hancock’s time as Governor of Massachusetts.
Hancock served many terms as governor, so depending on when he had that table he and his wife Dolly could have used it to entertain French army and naval officers, local politicians, and close friends.

However, I don’t think Washington dined at the Hancocks’ house in 1789. The governor invited him to do so, but the new President was trying to establish that he outranked American governors, so he wanted Hancock to wait on him instead of the other way around. Eventually Hancock relented and visited the President at a tavern, pleading infirmity for not coming out earlier. There was also a public dinner for Washington at Faneuil Hall. But I can’t find a mention of the President visiting Beacon Hill.

The table is on display in the parlor of Ticonderoga’s Hancock House daily until Labor Day. The society is hoping to raise funds to interpret a table setting in John Hancock’s time.

TOMORROW: Why that display should include plum cake.

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