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Parent Category: 18th Century History Articles
Category: Society and Culture
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"As an old landmark the Hancock Tavern is a failure. There was not an old window in the house; the nails were Bridgewater nails, the timbers were mill-sawed, and the front of it was of face brick, which were not made even in 1800. At the time of the Revolution it was merely a four-room dwelling house of twelve windows, and the first license ever given to it as an inn was in 1790. The building recently demolished was erected during the years 1807 to 1812."

With the above words, Edward W. McGlenen, city registrar, effectually settled the question June 3, 1903, at a meeting of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, as to the widely credited report that it was in the Hancock Tavern, which for many years stood on Corn Court, the members of the Boston Tea Party met, disguised themselves as Indians, and from there journeyed to Griffin's Wharf, where they threw overboard the obnoxious tea.

It was a special meeting of the society called to hear the report of a special committee appointed "to consider the question of the circumstances attending the formation and execution of the plans for what is known as the Boston Tea Party." This committee was made up of men who for years had been students of that very subject, and the result of their researches is interesting and conclusive. William C. Bates was chairman, and his associates were Edward W. McGlenen, the Rev. Anson Titus, William T. Eustis, and Herbert G. Briggs. The members of the society were present in large numbers, and Marshall P. Wilder Hall was well filled.

William C. Bates, as chairman of the special committee, spoke of the endeavors of himself and colleagues to avoid ground covered by historians. He said that places of rendezvous for the "Mohawks" are to some extent known, for over half a dozen of the members have left to their descendants the story of where they met and costumed themselves. The four Bradlees met at their sister's house, corner of Hollis and Tremont streets; Joseph Brewer and others at the foot of Summer Street; John Crane in a carpenter shop on Tremont Street opposite Hollis; Joseph Shedd and a small party in his house on Milk Street, where the Equitable Building now stands; and James Swan in his boarding house on Hanover Street. In the testimony of the descendants, down to 1850 at least, there was no mention of the _Hancock Tavern_. The place of origin of the Tea Party and who first proposed it are matters of considerable discussion. Many of the party were members of St. Andrew's Lodge of Masons, which owned the _Green Dragon Inn_, and the lodge records state that the meeting held on the night of the Tea Party had to be adjourned for lack of attendance, "public matters being of greater importance."

 SHEFFIELD PLATE URN Used in the Green Dragon Tavern, now in possession of the Bostonian Society

It is not surprising that so much secrecy has been maintained, because of the danger of lawsuits by the East Indian Company and others. The members of the St. Andrew's Lodge were all young, many under twenty, the majority under thirty.

Mr. McGlenen's report as to his investigations was especially interesting, settling, as it did, three distinct questions which had been undecided for many years--the location of the inn of Samuel Cole, the location of his residence, and the much mooted point as to whether the "Mohawks" met at the Hancock Tavern for the preparatory steps toward the Boston Tea Party.

All three questions were based on a statement printed in the souvenir of the Hancock Tavern, reading as follows:

    On the south side of Faneuil Hall is a passageway through which one may pass into Merchants' row. It is Corn court, a name known to few of the present day, but in the days gone by as familiar as the Corn market, with which it was connected. In the center of this court stands the oldest tavern in New England. It was opened March 4, 1634, by Samuel Cole. It was surrounded by spacious grounds, which commanded a view of the harbor and its shipping, for at that time the tide covered the spot where Faneuil Hall now stands. It was a popular resort from the beginning, and was frequented by many foreigners of note.

The seeming authority for these statements and others, connecting it with pre-revolutionary events, said Mr. McGlenen, appears in _Rambles in Old Boston_ by the Rev. E. G. Porter, pages 67 and 68, evidently based on a newspaper article written by William Brazier Duggan, M.D., in the Quincy Patriot for August 28, 1852, and to a novel entitled _The Brigantine_ by one Ingraham, referring to legendary lore. None of these statements can be confirmed. The confusion has been caused by the statement made many years ago and reprinted as a note in the _Book of Possessions_, Vol. II, _Boston Town Records_, that somewhere near the water front Samuel Cole kept an inn; but Letchford's Note Book, the Town Records, and the _Suffolk Deeds_ prove to the contrary.

Samuel Cole's Inn was kept by him from 1634 to 1638, when he sold out by order of the Colony Court. He purchased a residence near the town dock seven years later. It adjoined the _Hancock Tavern_ lot, and was bounded on the west by the lot originally in the ownership of Isaac Gross, whose son Clement kept the Three Mariners, an ale house which stood west of Pierse's Alley (Change Avenue) and east of the _Sun Tavern_.

It is impossible to connect the _Hancock Tavern_ with any pre-Revolutionary event. It was a small house, as described in the Direct Tax of 1798, of two stories, of two rooms each, built of wood, with twelve windows, value $1200. It was first licensed in 1790, and the earliest reference found in print is in the advertisement for the sale of lemons by John Duggan, in the _Columbian Centinel_ in 1794.

As to Cole's Inn, from the records of the Massachusetts Bay Colony Court, it appears that Samuel Cole kept the first inn or ordinary within the town of Boston. In 1638 the court gave him liberty to sell his house for an inn. This he did, disposing of it to Robert Sedgwick of Charlestown, as shown in Letchford's _Note Book_. The town records show that in 1638 Edward Hutchinson, Samuel Cole, Robert Turner, Richard Hutchinson, William Parker, and Richard Brackett were ordered to make a cartway near Mr. Hutchinson's house, which definitely locates Samuel Cole on the old highway leading to Roxbury, _i.e._ Washington Street (Town Records, Vol. II, Rec. Com. Report, p. 38).

The _Book of Possessions_ shows in the same report that Valentine Hill had one house and garden bounded with the street on the east, meeting house and Richard Truesdale on the north, Capt. Robert Sedgwick on the south, and the prison yard west.

Major Robert Sedgwick's house and garden bounded with Thomas Clarke, Robert Turner and the street on the east, Mr. Hutchinson on the south, Valentine Hill on the north, and Henry Messinger west.

Valentine Hill granted, March 20, 1645, to William Davies, his house and garden bounded on the south with the ordinary now in the possession of James Pen (_Suffolk Deeds_, Vol. I, p. 60). This presumably is _Cole's Inn_, then in the possession of Robert Sedgwick, and occupied by James Pen.

The question of Cole's residence was easily settled by Mr. McGlenen, when he read from deeds showing that in 1645 Valentine Hill sold to Samuel Cole a lot of land near the town dock. Samuel Cole died in 1666, and in his will left his house and lot to his daughter Elizabeth and son John. This property is on the corner of Change Avenue and Faneuil Hall Square, and is now occupied by W. W. Rawson as a seed store.

The Hancock Tavern is a distinct piece of property. Mr. McGlenen read from deeds which proved that the land was first owned by John Kenerick of Boston, yeoman, and was first sold to Robert Brecke of Dorchester, merchant, on January 8, 1652. It was again sold to Thomas Watkins of Boston, tobacco maker, in 1653; by him in 1679 to James Green of Boston, cooper; by him to Samuel Green of Boston, cooper, in 1712; and by him willed to his sons and daughter in 1750.

The eastern portion of the original lot (that situated east of the one on which the Hancock Tavern, just demolished, was located) was sold by Samuel Green's heirs to Thomas Handasyd Peck in 1759. The _Hancock Tavern_ lot itself was then sold to Thomas Bromfield, merchant, in February, 1760. The deed says: "A certain dwelling house, with the land whereon the same doth stand." Bromfield in 1763 sold it to Joseph Jackson of Boston, who owned it at the time of the Revolution, and disposed of it on August 19, 1779, to Morris Keith, a Boston trader. Morris Keith, or Keefe, died in April, 1783, aged 62, leaving a widow and two children, Thomas and Mary. The son died in 1784, the widow in 1785, leaving the daughter Mary to inherit the property. The inventory describes Morris Keefe as a lemon dealer, and the house and land in Corn Court as worth £260.

Mary Keefe married John Duggan, May 24, 1789, and in 1790 John Duggan was granted a license to retail liquor at his house in Corn Court. This is the earliest record of a license being granted to the _Hancock Tavern_, so called. Mary Duggan deeded the property to her husband in January, 1795, a few weeks before her death. In 1796 John Duggan married Mary Hopkins. He died April 21, 1802, leaving three children--Michael, born 1797; William, born 1799, and John Adams, born 1802. Mary (Hopkins) Duggan then married William Brazier in 1803. He died ten years later.

The record commissioners' reports, No. 22, page 290, show the following inventory for 1798:

  John Duggan, owner and occupier; wooden dwelling; west on Corn Court; south on Moses Gill; north on James Tisdale. Land 1024 square feet; house 448 square feet; 2 stories, 12 windows; value                              $1200

Duggan's advertisement in the _Columbian Centinel_ of October 11, 1794, reads:

    Latest imported lemons--In excellent order, for sale, by John Duggan, at his house, at the sign of Gov. Hancock outside the market.

His address in the Boston Directory for 1796 is: "John Duggan, lemon dealer, Corn court, S. side market."

In 1795, Duggan, who is described as an innholder, and his wife deeded this property to Daniel English, who, on the same day, deeded it back to John, in order that he might have a clear title.

"From these investigations," said Mr. McGlenen, "I think it is clear that as an old landmark the _Hancock Tavern_ is a failure."

The Rev. Anson Titus then made his report of personal investigations relating to the Tea Party itself. He said that the only sure thing is this--that something happened in Boston on the evening of December 16, 1773. Beyond this to make statements is dangerous. Details of the affair were not subject of public conversation, because of the danger of prosecution and legal action. It was at the very edge of treason to the King. It is certain that there were a great crowd of visitors in Boston that night from the country towns who had been informed of what to expect and had come for a purpose. Secrecy was the word and obedience was the command.

Mr. Titus quoted from the Boston papers of that time and from Gov. Hutchinson's letters, but declared that it was impossible to learn of the names of the actual members of the party. He said that the "Mohawks were men familiar with the vessels and the wharves. It is generally recognized that they were Masons."

"In conclusion, as we began," he said, "in 1908, as in 1822, very little is known concerning the real participants of the Boston Tea Party. The lifelong silence on the part of those knowing most of the party is most commendable and patriotic. It was a hazardous undertaking, even treason, and long after American independence was gained, if proof which would have had the least weight in court had been found, there would have been claims for damages by the East India Company or the Crown against our young republic, which would have been obliged to meet them. The affair was a turning point in the history of American liberty, and glad ought we all to be that there is no evidence existing connecting scarcely an individual, the town of Boston, or the province with the Boston Tea Party."

The Town of Boston before 1645 Showing the Streets Mentioned in the Book of Possessions Outline traced from Bonner's Map 1722 Details token from the records Annie Haven Thwing © 1914