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, October 17, 2017

Gov. Hancock’s Funeral Procession

At sunrise on Monday, 14 Oct 1793, all the church bells in Boston began to ring. They tolled for an hour in tribute to Gov. John Hancock, who had died the previous Tuesday and was being buried that day.

All the flags “in town, at the Castle, and on the masts of the shipping in the harbour, were half hoisted.” At one o’clock, all the shops closed.

All morning local militia units, both official and independent, were gathering in the town. Everyone knew that Hancock, colonel of the Cadets before the war, loved military pomp.

Newspapers and broadsides announced the order of the funeral procession, often with a coffin ornament in the middle of the column of text, as shown here. The most detailed listing of the participants that I’ve seen was printed in Haverhill’s Guardian of Freedom newspaper on 18 October. It listed those mourners as:
Company of horse (from Stoughton) under Capt. Crane,
Company of horse (from Braintree) under Capt. Thayer,
Company of horse (from Middlesex) under Capt. Fuller, who commanded the horse.

A detachment from the Boston artillery, under Capt. Bradlee——(With this detachment was the “Hancock” piece of artillery, reversed, with a pall of black velvet over it.)
That cannon is one of those at the center of my book, The Road to Concord. The same gun is now on display at the North Bridge Visitor Center of Minute Man National Historical Park, with no black velvet.
Artillery Musick.
(All the drums in the procession were muffled, and covered with crape. The field musick played the dead march, and the band a solemn dirge.)

The first battalion of infantry, Composed of the Boston Regiment, in complete uniform, commanded by Col. [William] Schollay; and led by Lt. Col. Wood.
Music of the 1st battalion.
The second battalion of infantry, Composed of the Medford light-infantry, under Capt. Hall,
The Braintree light-infantry, under Capt. Baxter,
The Concord light-infantry, under Capt. ——
The Westown light infantry, under Capt. ——
Boston independent fusiliers, under Capt. Laughton,
The Middlesex fusiliers, under Capt. Willington
Independent Cadets, under Major Elliot.
(This battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Bradford.)
Brigadier General [William] Hull, Commanded the whole of the military parade.
Aids to Gen. Hull.

Col. [John Steele] Tyler, Marshal of the unarmed procession preceding the Corpse.
Platoon, and field-officers, of the third division of Militia.
Major Gen. [John] Brooks, of the third division.
Aids to Gen. Brooks.
Platoon and field officers of the second division.
Major Gen. [John] Fisk, and aids
Platoon and field-officers of the first division.
Major General [Henry] Jackson and aids.
(All the above officers were in uniform, with side arms.)

Justices of the Peace,
Judges of various courts,
Attorney General [James Sullivan] and Treasurer [Thomas Davis],
Members of the house of Representatives,
The speaker of the house [Edward Robbins],
Members of the Senate,
Judges of the Supreme Judicial Court,
Sheriff of Suffolk with his wand,
Quarter-Master-General, and Adjutant-General,
Secretary of the Commonwealth [John Avery],
His Honour the Lt. Governor [Samuel Adams].

Pall Supporters.
Hon. Mr. [James] Warren, Hon. Mr. [Oliver] Wendell,
Hon. Mr. [Eleazer?] Brooks, Hon. Mr. [Thomas] Durfee,
Hon. Mr. [Azor] Orne, Hon. Mr. [Moses] Gill.

Col. [Josiah] Waters, marshal of the procession, following the corpse.
Vice-President of the U. States [John Adams].
Members of the Hon. Senate, and House of Representatives of the U. States.
Judges of the U. States Courts,
Secretary at War [Henry Knox],
Gentlemen heretofore Counsellors and Senators of Massachusetts,
The President, professors and other instructors of Harvard College,
Clergy of all Denominations,
Municipal Officers,
Members of the Ancient and honorable Artillery, in uniform, with their side arms,
Citizens four and four.
The Foot closed by Captains of vessels, and seamen, with flags furled.
As the procession moved through town, a cannon was fired every minute from Castle Island and a squad of the artillery militia stationed on Beacon Hill. After Hancock’s corpse was interred at the Granary Burying Ground, the troops under arms fired three times.

TOMORROW: Particular tributes.


Marshall Stack said...

Wasn't the Castle a prison by then?

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, Castle Island held a state prison from 1785 to 1805. It was still the main fortification guarding Boston harbor, and starting in 1797 that federal fortification became a federal outpost, Fort Independence.

daffern1 said...

It has always seemed odd to me that Hancock's grave is so plain. I realize they had a different perspective on death back then, but I would think a man of his stature and renown would have had something more remarkable. The large column that marks his grave was only installed in 1896, I wonder what marked it before?

J. L. Bell said...

Most of the big monuments to Revolutionaries in Boston’s cemeteries were erected in later generations, like the Hancock column. That does indeed reflect different tastes, including the lingering influence of Puritanism.

In addition, Hancock’s estate would have had to pay for a fancy grave. He’d spent down his large inheritance in order to make himself a popular and successful politician. I’m not saying his widow and nephew were left without anything, but they inherited more in property than in cash.

Charles Bahne said...

Hancock's original gravemarker disappeared around the mid 1800s. The story of its disappearance is itself the object of considerable speculation and rumormongering, including tales claiming that all or part of Hancock's body might have been taken as well. Those legends might be an interesting subject for a future posting on this blog. (Hint, hint.)

J. L. Bell said...

As I read the mid-19th-century sources, Hancock’s resting place was still marked with a marble slab that read “No. 16. Tomb of Hancock.” There’s no indication then that a previous marker had been put up and then disappeared. But by the 1890s, that slab was gone.

The rumors that Hancock’s body, or just his hands, were stolen seem to date from the late 20th century. There are conflicting reports from the turn of the last century that his coffin was disturbed during construction or preserved intact.

This might take a while to sort out.