Two of the above three last names are very familiar to even casual observers of American history. John Hancock, whose signature is readily apparent at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence, where it was joined by John Adams and Samuel Adams. Yet, that last name in the title, Quincy, may not be as obvious as should be at first glance.
What is remarkable about these last names? Besides, the simple fact that members with those three surnames played a major role in the road to revolution and surprisingly on both sides of the chasm of loyalties? All could trace their roots to a small town in Massachusetts; Braintree.
“The covenant of liberty that they shared would be sharpened by ambition and envy, polished through friendships and love, and fought for in a revolution fomented by these children of Braintree” (pg. 8).
In that town, from its first inhabiting European settlers, the spirit of questioning accepted decrees took root, matured, and blossomed. And until now, the intertwining vines of those family trees had not been put under the microscope of historic observation until the publication this year of American Rebels, How the Hancock, Adams,and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution. Penned by Nina Sankovitch an Illinois native, author of several nonfiction works, and resident of New England, she effortlessly weaves the stories of these families into part biography, part family history, and part United States history. All parts equally important and very well written.
“Even as the fortunes of these children of Braintree diverged, their futures would bring them together again. A shared promise connected them, fostered by the history, the land, and the people of Braintree…” (pg. 8)
One of the highlights in the book is the emergence of the Quincy family into a popular history such as this. One of the unsung heroes of the road to revolution was Josiah Quincy Jr.
“As Reverend Hancock preached, the “solemn covenant….of their Liberty” was not obtained through faith alone but could only be realized through hard work performed by a community together. And this sacred covenant would be protected against any and all usurpers who attempted to take their liberty away.” (pg. 15).
Furthermore, Sankovitch brings to the forefront the role of women in the various families and their impact on the time. The best known is Abigail Adams who is the confidant and intellectual equal of her husband, John. Another is the aunt of John Hancock, Lydia, who constantly watches out for John’s place in society. She is the driving force that will bring to fruition the connection between the Quincy and Hancock families. Or Abigail Quincy, who had married Josiah Quincy, Jr., would never remarry but dedicated the rest of her days to raising their son and preserving his memory and contributions to the cause of America. The anguish of losing her beloved is quite evident:
“I have been told that time would wear out the greatest sorrow, but mine I find is still increasing. When it will have reached its summit, I know not.” (pg. 348).
Highlighted by the quote above, the author brings these historic personas and people to life, capturing the heartache, familial turmoil, ambition, and connections. Just as these families bred revolutionaries, there were sons that stayed loyal to the British crown, including a brother and brother-in-law of Josiah Quincy.
From weaving the families together, to connecting the threads of the evolution of political thought, and showing the personal strains of what the road to revolution looked like, Sankovitch has compiled an easily readable, insightful look into the 18th century world.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (March 2020)