Review: American Rebels, How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution

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.


*Book Information*

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press (March 2020)

Pages: 416

Review: Founding Martyr, The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero by Christian Di Spigna

ERW Book Reviews (1)

Doctor. Major General. President of the Provincial Congress. Author of political tracts. A true patriot. Forgotten.

41mPwaMUWfL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_All these words, plus many more, are titles that depict the life of Dr. Joseph Warren. However, the last term is most synonymous with the Massachusetts doctor who fell in the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775 in the early stages of the American Revolutionary War. That last word, forgotten, is exactly what author and historian Christian Di Spigna is hoping to expunge with his new biography, Founding Martyr. 

Di Spigna, an early American history expert and Colonial Williamsburg volunteer, focuses his account of Dr. Warren on not the events immediately surrounding his death at Bunker Hill and subsequent martyrdom but “to fill in the more obscure parts of Warren’s life” which will lead to understanding more of the “key period in the formation of his character, his special networks, and ultimately his medical and political careers” (pg. 7). Continue reading “Review: Founding Martyr, The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution’s Lost Hero by Christian Di Spigna”

April 19th Memories from Lexington

Leading up to the anniversary of April 19, 1775, we will be sharing some short remembrances from a few people who are from Lexington and Concord. This installment is by Rich Gillespie, a native of Lexington, Massachusetts.

If you live in Lexington, Massachusetts, the beginning of the American Revolution is an essential piece of life. The Minuteman statue dominates the center of town, the village green where the Alarm List stood to face the Regulars is much as it once was, the Town Seal seen on your friendly snowplow quotes Sam Adams’ comment to John Hancock upon hearing the firing—“Oh, What a glorious morning for America!”, and the high school’s team is predictably the Minutemen.  The British marched to and from Concord within 150 yards of my 4th grade classroom, and the spring field trip was to the key sites of Lexington and Concord.  My first job (as was my sister’s) was guiding visitors on Lexington Green.

Hip-hip Huzzah-Haughty British troops leave Lexington
(author collection)

Continue reading “April 19th Memories from Lexington”

Stepping Onto Long Wharf and Into History: The Day the British Came To Boston

Emerging Revolutionary War is honored to welcome guest historian Katie Turner Getty. A short biography is at the bottom of the post. 

In terms of historical significance, few American cities rival Boston, where shades and shadows of the Revolution can be found around every corner. By walking the city’s famous Freedom Trail, one can follow in the literal footsteps of the inhabitants who left such an indelible mark on the city. Indeed, many heroes of revolutionary Boston—Revere, Adams, Otis—lie in their eternal repose in burying grounds mere steps from busy thoroughfares.

The presence of those revolutionaries still looms large in Boston and many of their old stomping grounds still stand. Several buildings located on the Freedom Trail played unforgettable parts in the revolution. From the fiery speeches at Old South Meeting House on the eve of the tea party to the blood shed by those massacred outside the Old State House*, these sites are popular and are frequently visited.

But there is one site not located on the Freedom Trail that is yet imbued with great historical import. Indeed, it is the site of the 1768 arrival of British warships in Boston Harbor and the troops who first took those fateful steps into Boston for the purposes of occupying the city.

East-facing view of Long Wharf and John Hancock’s office and counting house, built in 1763, and now the Chart House restaurant.

The name of this site, so often overlooked, is Long Wharf.

Long Wharf has stretched into the Atlantic from Boston for 300 years, serving as the world’s great doorway to the city. It was the longest wharf in Boston, extending 1,586 feet into the deep water of the harbor allowing up to 50 ships to dock at one time[1]. It would have been a place of great bustle—the loading and unloading of cargo by longshoremen, transporting of such cargo to the busy warehouses and shops that lined the wharf, and then the purchase of such goods by local people.

West-facing view toward Boston, from the end of Long Wharf. The Town House (now known as the Old State House), built in 1713, is in the distance.

On Friday, September 30, the Beaver, the Senegal, the Martin, the Glasgow, the Mermaid, the Romney**, the Launceston, and the Bonetta anchored in the harbor. On board the ships were “the 14th and 29th Regiments, a detachment from the 59th regiment, and an artillery train”.[2]  The next day, Bostonians warily watched as “the war ships maneuvered closer to the town and ranged themselves as if for a siege.”[3] Then, carried off the warships by small boats, British troops stepped onto Long Wharf and into American history.

These ships and troops had arrived in the port of Boston as a response to colonial opposition to the Townshend Acts which were enacted by Parliament in 1767 in an effort to enforce their sovereignty over the colonies and raise revenue. The Townshend Acts imposed a tax on imports such as tea, glass, paper, and paints, as well as instituted a Customs board to help enforce British trade regulations and deter smuggling activity. Many Bostonians were opposed to the Townshend Acts and protested by gathering in mobs and harassing officials.

View of the Atlantic Ocean from the very end of Long Wharf.

Paul Revere immortalized the landing of the troops in an engraving entitled “A View Of Part of the Town of Boston In New England And Brittish [sic] Ships of War Landing Their Troops! 1768”. The image depicts the eight British ships of war arrived in the harbor, with smaller boats carrying red-coated soldiers to Long Wharf. Some troops are already amassed on the wharf, gathering into formation.

“A View of Part of the Town of Boston In New England And Brittish [sic] Ships of War Landing Their Troops! 1768” (courtesy of American Antiquarian Society )
Revere’s engraving also shows many buildings running along the north side of Long Wharf in an uninterrupted line toward the town. They were warehouses, counting houses, shops, and dwellings. One of these buildings was John Hancock’s Counting House, which still stands on Long Wharf today. Currently incarnated as a restaurant called the Chart House, it is the oldest extant building on Long Wharf, built in 1763. John Hancock’s original wall safe is actually still set in the red brick wall of the second floor dining room. The safe is not off-limits; visitors may freely open and close the safe’s inner and outer doors or even run a hand over the smooth metal.

John Hancock’s original safe, still fixed in the wall of his Counting House.

When standing at the wall safe, take a few steps to the right and look out the front windows of the building. Look down to the ground level to see the path of the troops as they passed right by Hancock’s Counting House, “with insolent parade, drums beating, fifes playing, and colours flying, up King Street” as they headed down the wharf and into the town. The soldiers were marching to the Town House, at the base of King Street. And beyond that, to Boston Common.

View out a second floor window of Hancock’s Counting House, a few steps from the wall safe. The viewer is looking down at Long Wharf where the British troops marched past on October 1, 1768.

Long Wharf at the time (as it is today) was really just an extension of King Street, which ran all the way from the Town House (later to become the site of the Boston Massacre), down to the shoreline, then continued along in the form of a wharf, out into the harbor. After the Revolution, King Street was (perhaps appropriately) renamed State Street and is known by that decidedly more American moniker today.

The soldiers’ route may be traced today by any perambulating history enthusiast. Walk out past Hancock’s Counting House, to the terminus of Long Wharf and stand where the British soldiers disembarked. As you gaze out across the cold gray Atlantic, feel the stiff sea breeze rolling in off the water just as they did. Then turn your gaze away from the Atlantic and look back toward the city. The view is the same as in 1768—the Town House will be in your direct line of sight. As the soldiers marched down the wharf in a straight line, they too would have seen the Town House quite clearly.

A pamphlet published by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in the 1980s reveals that although the wooden timbers of Long Wharf are experiencing decay, the 17th and 18th century granite bulkheads beneath the wharf are still intact.[4] It is a thrill for any revolutionary history enthusiast to walk out to the end of Long Wharf, knowing that deep beneath his or her feet are the very same granite blocks, impervious to time and history, that bore silent witness to the arrival of the British soldiers who stepped onto Long Wharf and into history when they came to occupy Boston.

*The building known today as the Old State House was known in the 1770s as the Town House.

**The Romney actually arrived in Boston Harbor in May 1768 to help enforce customs and discourage the flouting of trade regulations, attempting to seize John Hancock’s ship, Liberty.
*Katie Turner Getty is a lawyer, history enthusiast, and lifelong resident of Boston. She holds an A.A. from Bunker Hill Community College in Charlestown, Massachusetts, a B.A. in History from Wellesley College, and a J.D. from New England Law Boston. She can often be found exploring historic sites both on and off the Freedom Trail.



[1]  National Park Service, “Long Wharf and Custom House Block,” Maritime History of Massachusetts, accessed October 28, 2016, http://

[2] Paul Revere, A View of Part of the Town of Boston in New England and Brittish [sic] Ships Landing Their Troops! 1768, circa 1770, engraving, 26 x 40.5 cm, American Antiquarian Society, Worcester, Massachusetts

[3] Richard Archer,  As If An Enemy’s Country (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010), xiv.

[4] Boston Public Library, “Long Wharf”, Sasaki Associates, Boston Redevelopment Authority, 1980, accessed October 24, 2016

Six Signing Signers

Part One of Six

On August 2, 1776, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the majority of the 56 men who would forever be known as the “Signers of the Declaration of Independence” placed quill to ink and affixed their signature.

On September 17, 1787, the men who persevered, haggled, and agreed on the United States Constitution, dipped a quill into ink and placed their signatures on that famous document.

If one looks closely and reads the names of the signers, six gentlemen’s names would appear on both documents. If one hazarded a quick guess, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, John or Samuel Adams, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin would most likely be the first names to spill off the tongue.

Only one of those names would be correct; Benjamin Franklin. This post, the first in the series, will shed light on whose these men were, who had the great fortune–or luck?–to sign both famous political documents. The first of the “Six Signing Signers” is…..


George Clymer. Continue reading “Six Signing Signers”

“Happy Independence Day”

Whether you are about to enjoy a firework display, finishing up a family barbecue, or enjoying this holiday in some other form, the historians here at Emerging Revolutionary War wish all our readers and fellow historians a “Happy Independence Day.”

For those protecting our country on this day, around the world, a big “thank you” to go along with this July 4th, to you as well.

But, let’s not forget the true meaning of this day. When, in 1776, in Philadelphia, Mr. John Hancock, as president of the Second Continental Congress, affixed his signature to the document below, which declared to the world the break from Great Britain.

Declaration of Independence

From the words of Richard Henry Lee, “Resolved, That These United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent states,” to the quill of Thomas Jefferson, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political  bands which have connected them,” let us truly remember the history behind this day and the build-up to that fateful decision in Philadelphia.

Have a “Happy Independence Day.”


The Second of July’s Importance

This year, July 4th, which falls on a Monday, and will be celebrated as America’s Independence Day around the country. Americans remember that date, in 1776, as the day that John Hancock, as president of the Second Continental Congress, put quill to ink and then parchment, to affix his signature in a bold stroke at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence. Interestingly, only one other person signed their name to the document that day, secretary to the Second Continental Congress, Charles Thompson.

However, the important date to remember, is today, July 2. On this date in 1776, the Second Continental Congress will adopt Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee’s resolution to declare independence from Great Britain. This document, crafted by another Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, was originally brought up for debate in June. By June 28th, Jefferson, chosen by a sub-committee to write the declaration, had presented it to Congress assembled in Philadelphia for review.

Artist Charles E. A. Dumaresq’s rendition of the Second Continental Congress signing the Declaration of Independence

Continue reading “The Second of July’s Importance”

Immediate: Concord (MA) Museum Signs Historic Agreement to Operate the Wright Tavern

On Wednesday, June 8, a signing ceremony marked the beginning of an agreement between First Parish in Concord, owner of the Wright Tavern, and the Concord Museum. Starting this fall, the Concord Museum will provide educational programming to school groups in the Wright Tavern and open the historic building to the public for commemorative events in October and April each year. On hand for the signing were representatives of the Concord Museum and First Parish as well as members of the Wright Tavern Exploratory Committee (WTEC), appointed last fall to develop a sustainable, strategic plan to showcase the Wright Tavern as a National Historic Landmark.

Plaque on the Wright Tavern (ERW collection photo)

“Opening the historic Wright Tavern to public and educational access will provide a true sense of place when learning about the historical events of the American Revolution,” said Mel Bernstein, member of WTEC and Chairman of the American Revolution Round Table of the Minute Man National Historical Park.

No building in this historic community was of greater consequence to the beginnings of the American Revolution than the Wright Tavern, built in 1747. The First Provincial Congress met in Concord at the Wright Tavern in October 1774, electing John Hancock as the Congress’s president and making provision for the collection of taxes. The Second Provincial Congress met there again in March and April 1775. Presided over by John Hancock with Samuel Adams and Dr. Joseph Warren in attendance, the Provincial Congress met in defiance of Royal and Parliamentary authority — creating a Massachusetts army, raising taxes, and performing other roles necessary to form its own government, independent of British authority.  Then, in the early hours of April 19, 1775, Concord’s Minute Men assembled in the Wright Tavern before setting off to repel the advancing British troops at the North Bridge.

Since 1886, First Parish in Concord has owned and maintained this historic structure. “The Wright Tavern is certainly one of the most important Revolutionary War-era buildings in Concord,” explained Tim Jacoby, Chair of the First Parish Trustees of Parish Donations. “Although the building is owned by the church, we truly feel it belongs to the people of Concord and to the American people. This agreement with the Concord Museum will establish greater public accessibility to the Tavern.”

In 1961, the Wright Tavern was designated a National Historic Landmark by U.S. Secretary Fred Seaton, declaring it “an historical site of exceptional value in commemorating and illustrating the history of the United States.”

Margaret Burke, Executive Director of the Concord Museum, said: “The Museum is thrilled with this partnership to bring the importance of the Wright Tavern to the fore. Concord is home to invaluable historical and cultural resources, and this is a wonderful example of how organizations within the town are working together to promote this history and make it relevant to residents and visitors.”

Leah Walczak, the Concord Museum’s Director of Education and Public Programs, explained the role the Wright Tavern will play in educating visiting school groups:  “The Museum currently provides specialized programming to over 10,000 school children each year. Along with hands-on history education using objects from the Museum’s collections, this agreement will allow us to provide programs within the setting of one of the finest historic buildings in Concord.”

This partnership was brought about through the work of the Wright Tavern Exploratory Committee, which convened from September 2015 through January 2016.  Members included:  John Boynton, Chair of the Exploratory Committee and a First Parish Trustee; Doug Baker, Sacristan and Curator of First Parish; Mel Bernstein, Chair of the American Revolution Round Table of Minute Man National Historical Park; Jim Cunningham, Project Manager for Barrett Farm Restoration, and Treasurer of Save Our Heritage; Sue Gladstone, Director of Development for the Concord Museum; Jayne Gordon, Public Historian for Robbins House, Thoreau Farm, and the Concord Museum; Tim Jacoby, Chair of the First Parish Trustees; Bob Morris, Chair of the Friends of Minute Man National Historical Park; and Tom Wilson, First Parish Treasurer.

A generous gift to the Museum from John and Johanna Boynton is funding this historic partnership.

*About the Concord Museum
The Concord Museum is where all of Concord’s remarkable past is brought to life through an inspiring collection of historical, literary, and decorative arts treasures.  Renowned for the 1775 Revere lantern and Henry Thoreau’s Walden desk, the Concord Museum is home to a nationally significant collection of American decorative arts, including clocks, furniture, and silver. Founded in 1886, the Museum is a gateway to historic Concord for visitors from around the world and a vital cultural resource for the town and the region.  Visit*

*For More Information, contact:

Barbara Rhines, Director of Marketing and Public Relations
978-369-9763, ext. 229

Lexington Part II – “Our troops advanced towards them, without any intention of injuring them.” Who Fired First at Lexington?



Battle of Lexington, Engraved 1874
Battle of Lexington, Engraved 1874

The above words were written by Lt. Col. Francis Smith in his official report to General Thomas Gage. Smith, in command of the British expedition to Concord recently returned from what would be the opening salvo of rebellion. Smith wanted to be clear that he never intended to start bloodshed. In the days afterwards, the Massachusetts militia made it clear that they intended to lay the blame at the “regulars.” As soon as the British returned to Boston, the war of words began on who fired the first shot to begin a worldwide war. The British column that was led by Smith was sent from Boston to capture supplies reportedly stored at nearby Concord.  To get to Concord, the British would have to march through Lexington.  Due to a complex warning system, the local militia in Lexington were mustered and called to arms.  Captain John  Parker and his minutemen were lined up on the Lexington green in two rows, facing the road to Cambridge and the Lexington meetinghouse. The road south of the green headed to Concord, and Parker had his mean assembled on the northern portion of the green, away from the Concord road.

Continue reading “Lexington Part II – “Our troops advanced towards them, without any intention of injuring them.” Who Fired First at Lexington?”