Hancock-Clarke House

Lexington
MA

Hancock-Clarke House in Lexington

QUICK FACTS
  • On the night of 18 April 1775, first Paul Revere and then William Dawes — traveling separate routes from Boston to avoid capture — reached the house to report news of advancing British troops.
  • After making their escape, Hancock and Adams fled north and moved from place to place, staying away from Boston, until they went to Philadelphia to attend the Continental Congress, which convened 10 May.
  • The structure consists of two frame sections, erected by Rev. Hancock, first in 1698 and then in 1734.
  • The house was originally across the street; in 1896 the Lexington Historical Society saved it from demolition by acquiring and moving it.
  • The Hancock-Clarke House now serves as headquarters for the Lexington Historical Society.
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Completed in 1737 by John Hancock's grandfather, Reverend John Hancock, the house is now a museum.

The only extant residence associated with John Hancock, this was his boyhood home. In 1744, after the death of his father, the 7-year-old boy came to live at this house with his grandfather until 1750 (after which he joined his uncle, Thomas Hancock, a wealthy Boston merchant, who adopted him.)

Succeeding Hancock as minister in 1752, the Reverend Jonas Clarke and his wife, who was a cousin to John Hancock, reared twelve children in the parsonage. As a supporter of the Patriot cause, Clarke encouraged revolutionaries to use his home as a meeting place and refuge.

On the night of 18 April 1775, patriot leaders Hancock and Samuel Adams were visiting there. Around midnight, after everyone had gone to bed, Paul Revere and later William Dawes, warning the countryside of the approach of British troops, galloped up and in formed the household. They also delivered the warning from Dr. Joseph Warren that Hancock and Adams would likely be arrested. After some deliberation, Revere and Dawes proceeded to Concord; Hancock and Adams fled north towards Woburn.

Restored to its 18th-century appearance, and very well maintained, the house is open to the public for guided tours.

As students of Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau are always reminding us, the age of reason was really an age of sentiment. In this too, Washington was a man of his age. When he established the first general decoration in the American Army, the Purple Heart, it was not (as it became in the twentieth century) an award available to all soldiers wounded in the line of duty. Only privates and noncomissioned officers could win the original Badge of Military Merit, a cloth-shaped heart sewn over the man’s actual heart, which allowed him to pass all guards and sentinels which officers are permitted to do. The symbol was not of heart’s blood shed, but of virtue proceeding from the heart. Limiting the award to nonofficers was meant to indicate that great virtue can be shown regardless of rank — that in Washington’s words, the road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.

Garry Wills
Cincinnatus: George Washington & the Enlightenment (1984)