Monday, 24 August 2015

John Hancock's Purchase

Lydia Henchman Hancock by John Singleton Copley
Thomas Hancock by John Smibert, 1730

Every American has heard of John Hancock (1737-1793), merchant, statesman, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Less people know of Hancock's uncle Thomas, from whom he inherited the bulk of an estate worth £70,000 at the time of his death in 1764. Even fewer people have heard of Daniel Henchman (1689-1761) whose daughter Lydia married Thomas Hancock in 1730.

Thomas Hancock and Daniel Henchman were merchants in Boston. Both sold general goods, but Henchman specialized in publishing and selling religious works. Henchman published several important works by Jonathan Edwards, including his first public sermon, God Glorified in the Work of Redemption (1731), the third edition of A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1738), which chronicled the revival that took place at Edwards's church in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1734-35, Edwards's funeral sermon for the New England missionary David Brainerd, True Saints, When Absent from the Body, Are Present with the Lord (1747), Edwards's call for coordinated transatlantic prayer for the continuation of the revivals, An Humble Attempt to Promote Explicit Agreement and Visible Union of God's People in Extraordinary Prayer for the Revival of Religion (1748), and Edwards's biographical Life of David Brainerd (1749).

For the past several days, I have been slowly working my way through the American Antiquarian Society's microfilm rolls of the Daniel Henchman Papers. I have looked at these reels before, but I wanted to examine them more closely for information pertaining to Henchman's involvement in the publication of Edwards's works. After several hours of staring at the microfilm reader today, I came across a very interesting account bill, two images of which the good folks at the AAS have allowed me to post on the blog.

The images above show John Hancock buying Daniel Henchman's household items in August 1770 for a total of £623-15s. in Massachusetts Old Tenor currency, valued as £83-3s.-4d. in Lawful Money (Massachusetts currency revalued by the Crown after 1750). Henchman died in 1761, and so at first it might seem strange that Hancock would be buying these goods nine years later. However, this can make sense if we take into consideration a provision in Henchman's will (Suffolk County Probate Record Books, Massachusetts State Archives, Volume 58, 206-8), stipulating that his brother Samuel could live in his house after his death. Knowing that Samuel Henchman died in April 1770, it is reasonable to imagine Daniel's brother utilizing these household items until his death, at which time they were sold to Hancock.

I remember feeling very disappointed when I finally located Daniel Henchman's estate records at the Massachusetts State Archives, and saw that he ordered that no inventory should be taken of his holdings. I gathered that he was a wealthy man, owning at least two slaves (I came across two purchasing orders today in Reel 3 for "Negros" in 1758 and 1760, and also an order for a slave named Pompey, whom his brother Samuel bought in 1737), a mansion on Tremont Street, and some unnamed pieces of furniture. Imagine my delight today when I was able to see the kinds of household goods that he owned, giving me a greater picture of the kind of wealth that Henchman had.

Rubens, The Death of Achilles (1630-35)
If you can't see the detail in the two images above, allow me to list most of the goods that Hancock acquired (all valued in Old Tenor currency): 1 large mahogany desk (£36), 1 large mahogany table (£18), 1 large mahogany tea table (£9), 1 large mahogany small table (£11-10s.), 1 couch (£6-15s.), 6 black walnut framed leather bottom chairs (£27-10s.)... 1 large looking glass (£50)... 1 black walnut table (£3)... 1/2 dozen china plates (£6), 1 large china bowl (£3), 2 blue and white china dishes (£2), 1 set of ivory handle knives and forks (£9), metal dishes, plates, bowl, etc. (£25), 1 brass kettle (£9), 1 bell metal kettle (£4-10s.), 2 metal skillets (£4), 1 steel andiron (£3-10s.), 2 copper pots (£4), 2 pairs of steel shovels and tongs (£3), 3 feather beds (£150), 1 mahogany framed armchair (£9), 1/2 dozen maple framed green bottom chairs (£18), 1 roasting meat jack (£11), 8 prints of Peter Paul Ruben's Life of Achilles (£18), 3 large bedsteads (£27-10s.), 11 pairs brass candlesticks (£4), 12 pairs of sheets (£50), 5 pairs of pillow cases (£7-10s.), and 1 [suite?] of Red Harratan Curtains (£50).

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