Hancock–Clarke House: where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were sleeping when Paul Revere awoke them during his midnight ride

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Milica Sterjova
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The famous Hancock-Clarke House in Lexington, Massachusetts is one of the very few remaining houses connected to the leading figures in the American Revolutionary War. It is an excellent example of early Georgian architecture as it has remained virtually unaltered since its early days.Reverend John Hancock purchased the land where the house was built in 1699, a year after he became Lexington’s minister.

There are reports which mention a house on the property in 1701, but the Hancock-Clarke House was built several decades later. The house was constructed in an early Georgian style, and many of its features such as the asymmetrical plan and the central chimney are typical of this former architectural style. This was characteristic for many homes built in this period.

In small communities in that time period, the minister was one of the most important figures and his home was a reflection of his status. This is why it is not surprising that the Hancock-Clarke House was among the largest in town at the time. It is believed that Thomas Hancock, the Reverend’s son, who was a wealthy merchant, financed the construction of the house, whilst building his own mansion, although there are no documents confirming this.

The house in 1868.

According to the tests of the timber used, it was established that the two distinct parts of the house were built at the same time in 1737-1738. The south part is a two-and-a-half story construction with a gable roof and the north part is a two-story ell. The ell is far more simple than the south part of the house. It includes the functional rooms of the house such as the kitchen and a small study on the ground floor. The south part contains a small lobby, two rooms on the ground floor, and another two above them.

The house is the only remaining home related to the American statesman and first signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock. After his father died, John came to live here with his grandfather in 1744 when he was seven years old. He lived in the house until 1750, when Thomas Hancock, who had no children of his own, adopted him.

A postcard showing the house. Author: Boston Public Library. CC BY 2.0

Reverend John was planned to leave the house to his son Ebenezer who was supposed to replace him as the town’s minister. Unfortunately, Ebenezer died in 1742 and Thomas bought the house after his brother’s death. After Rev. John died, he was replaced as the town’s minister by the next owner of the house, Rev. Jonas Clarke. Clarke bought the house from Thomas Hancock in 1860.

Hancock-Clarke House in 2013. Author: Bostonian13. CC BY-SA 3.0

Clarke was a vigorous supporter of the Revolution and it was his idea that revolutionaries would use the house for gatherings. On 18 April 1775, the house hosted two important figures in American history: John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Sometime around midnight that same night, Paul Revere and William Dawes came to the house to warn Hancock and Adams of the British troops. Shortly after, they all left the house in order to escape arrest.

A view of the interior from a postcard published by the Detroit Photographic Company.

Reverend Clarke died in 1805, leaving the house to his two daughters, Elizabeth and Sara, who lived there until their deaths in 1843 and 1844. After changing owners several times, the house was purchased by the Lexington Historical Society in 1896, which attempted to save the house from demolition.

Hancock and Adams Room, Hancock-Clarke House, Lexington, Mass., Where John Hancock and Samuel Adams were sleeping when awakened by Paul Revere on his Midnight Ride, April 19, 1775.

The Society had to move the house across the street that same year. Fortunately, several decades later, the original land where the house was built was donated to Lexington Historical Society and they were able to restore Hancock-Clarke House to its original location in 1974.

Living Room, Hancock-Clarke House.

The house was turned into a museum by the Historical Society and by the early 1960s, it had received over a million visitors. There are original furnishing inside that belonged to the Hancock and Clarke families as well as objects linked to the events in April 1775, many of them donated by locals.

Dorothy Quincy Room, Showing Trundle Bed, Hancock-Clarke House, Lexington, Mass.

There were several repairs through the years, including the restoration of the chimneys and the replacement of the windows but the original 18th-century appearance was well preserved. The Hancock-Clarke House is listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places and recognized as National Historic Landmark in 1971.