PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION
oil on canvas
Thomas Hancock (1703-1764) to his widow Lydia;
Lydia Henchman Hancock (1714-1776) to nephew John Hancock (1737-1793);
Samuel Adams (1722-1803) to his granddaughter, Belinda Randall of Stow, Massachusetts;
Belinda Randall to her friend, Sarah Storer as a wedding gift;
Sarah Storer to her daughter, then by descent to the present owner.
Chicago, Illinois, Columbian Exposition, 1893;
New York, New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Earliest American Landscapes, A Special Loan Exhibition, October 24, 1952 to January 4, 1953;
Boston, Massacusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, Paintings by New England Provincial Artists: 1775-1800, July 21 to October 17, 1976. Illustrated in the catalogue, p. 32-33, fig. 6;
Boston, Massachusetts, Museum of Fine Arts, John Singleton Copley in America, June 7 to August 27, 1995, traveling;
On extended loan, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 1977 to present.
According to Nina Fletcher Little, "The House was built of stone by Thomas Hancock, uncle of the Governor, in 1737. The property fronted on Beacon Street, overlooking Boston Common, and stood just to the west of the present State House. At the left one observes the coach house and stable and at the right the seventeenth century beacon on the summit of Beacon Hill. This ancient landmark was blown down during the night of November 26, 1789. It was replaced in 1790 with a sixty-foot monument surrounded by a gilded eagle, but this in turn was demolished in 1811 during lowering of Beacon Hill. Generals Washington and Lafayette and many other distinguished guests were entertained by John Hancock, and the house and stables were partly occupied by the wounded after the Battle of Bunker Hill. By the mid-nineteenth century the Hancock land had risen greatly in speculative value, but efforts were initiated to preserve the house for use by either the city or state. When these endeavors failed, the historic mansion was torn down in 1863.
This scene presents one of the most important early views of the Hancock House, its outbuildings, and their eighteenth century surroundings with cows grazing in the foreground. A less comprehensive engraved view was published in the Massachusetts Magazine in 1789. The painting was originally the property of John Hancock, by whom it is said to have been given to the patriot Samuel Adams for use as a fireboard."
Shortly before the demolition of the Hancock house in 1863, a young architect, John Hubbard Sturgis, faithfully recorded the architectural details of the house in what are today considered the first measured architectural drawings in the United States. Sturgis' drawings made features from the house accessible to architects. Many elements of the Hancock House style served as a model or template for Colonial Revival architecture (see Rebecca J. Bertrand, Myth and Memory: The Legacy of the John Hancock House, Master's Thesis: University of Delaware, 2010, p. 21).
So many people were outraged that the John Hancock house was razed in 1863 that the event spawned Historical Preservation Societies in Boston and other Northeastern cities whose mission was to preserve antique buildings, especially those related to the Revolutionary War era. This house therefore stands as an emblem of sorts for the preservation movement in the United States.
The New York State Historical Association at Ticonderoga uses a Hancock house reproduction as the museum, library and offices for the Ticonderoga Historical Society. The replica of the Hancock House was built by industrialist and philanthropist Horace Moses in 1926, and gifted to the Historical Society. He used the exact materials inside and out as the original building. The Society continues the architectural legacy of John Hancock's residence by referring to their site today as the Hancock House.
For further information, see Nina Fletcher Little, Paintings by New England Provincial Artists 1775-1800, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, 1976, illustrated in the catalogue, p. 32, fig. 6.
The long-standing tradition that View of the John Hancock House, Boston was given by Hancock to Samuel Adams is certainly supported by the length and intimacy of the friendship of the two patriots. During the two tumultuous decades in which British America transformed itself into the United States, Hancock and Adams were linked—usually as allies but occasionally, and perhaps inevitably, as adversaries—in the political affairs of their city, their state, and their country.
John Hancock was to the manor adopted: the imposing Beacon Hill stone house depicted on the fireboard was built by an uncle, Thomas Hancock, who took John into his home after the death of his father, a minister from Braintree. Beginning with a small bookshop, Thomas Hancock built a mercantile empire that made him one of the wealthiest men in New England. Thomas groomed his nephew to succeed him in the business, sending John first to Harvard and then to his London offices and making him his partner and, at Thomas's death in 1764, his heir.
John Hancock's ascension to the head of Hancock & Company coincided with Great Britain's efforts to tax her North American colonies through such Parliamentary legislation as the Sugar Act, the Stamp Act, and the Townshend Acts. Opposition to this wildly unpopular "taxation without representation" was led by Samuel Adams. Adams was Hancock's senior by some fifteen years, far less successful than the younger man in business ventures but an increasingly influential voice in Boston politics. Under Adams's tutelage, Hancock came to oppose the interference of the British in colonial affairs on constitutional, as well as strictly economic, grounds. In May 1766, Hancock was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives, which Adams severed as chief clerk.
The two men worked closely to advance the agenda of the Whig (or Patriots) party, and while Hancock was initially receptive to the possibility of reconciliation with Great Britain, events like the Boston Massacre pushed him to adopt Adams's more radical intransience. Adams presided at, and Hancock addressed, the town meeting in 16 December 1773 that led to the Boston Tea Party. (It was about this time that Hancock commissioned a portrait of Samuel Adams by John Singleton Copley.)
Subsequently, Hancock and Adams served together in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and in the Continental Congress; during their attendance in the latter both signed the Declaration of Independence. While serving in Congress at Philadelphia, the two allies began to fall out with one another, as much for personal differences and political ones. Adams is thought to have become annoyed with Hancock's extravagance and vanity—and he was perhaps especially aggrieved that his former protégé could afford the former and had at least partly earned the right to the latter.
In 1788, during Hancock's second term as governor of Massachusetts, the two men again found common cause by supporting their state's ratification of the U.S. Constitution. When Hancock left office, Adams succeeded him as a governor, and when Hancock died in 1793, Governor Adams declared the day of his funeral a state holiday. It seems likely that the fireboard was presented by Hancock to Adams during this late period of reconciliation.
For more information see the extended footnote in the online catalogue.
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