Hancock Church Silver in “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty”
March 04, 2010
Among the many treasures on view in “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution” are some wonderful examples of communion silver. Residents of Lexington first used them to take communion as part of their worship over 240 years ago. In addition to playing an essential role in the service, these cups, associated with different members of the Hancock family, were fashioned to be enduring memorials.
In the 1700s in Lexington and other New England towns, only church members took communion from these during Sunday services. Not all who attended the First Church in Lexington were members. To become a member, a man or woman needed to publicly confess their transgressions and be saved. During that time, in Congregational churches, church goers commissioned communion silver that could be passed easily from hand to hand. As well, they selected forms based on the kinds of vessels they used in their own in households, including beakers and cups like these. Although these forms may have been familiar to Lexingtonians, the fact that they were crafted of a precious metal made them anything but ordinary.
On a gray day, polished silver would have glinted, shone and added glamour to the meeting house. In addition to their aesthetic properties, the monetary value of these cups ensured they were well looked after. In fact, these cups may have been among those cared for by the elder church deacon, Joseph Loring (1713-1787), at his home in 1775. On April 19, still in shock from the morning's battle, Lexington residents worried that British soldiers might loot homes on their way back from Concord. To protect her family's and the church's valuables, the deacon’s daughter, Lydia (b. 1745), hid these portable valuables under a pile of brush behind the house. She was smart to have done so. British soldiers pillaged the Lorings' home and burned itto the ground, but Lexington did not lose its communion silver.
Both of these cups both memorialize Hancock family members. Successful Boston businessman Thomas Hancock (1703-1763) grew up in Lexington. He was the son of John Hancock (1671-1752), the town’s first minister. Upon his death, he left £20 to his father’s former church, specifying it be used to make “two silver cups for the communion table.” Thomas Hancock, with his wife Lydia, raised his nephew, also named John Hancock (1736/7-1793). The younger John Hancock later served as the President of the Continental Congress and in that capacity added his now-famous signature the the Declaration of Independence.
Also a son of the Reverend John Hancock, Ebenezer Hancock (1710-1740) followed in his father’s footsteps and served as his assistant for six years. He died at the age of thirty, possibly in a diphtheria epidemic. Made of valuable, long-lasting material and permanently marked with his name, this present to the church endured well after the memory of Ebenezer’s contributions to town life faded.
The National Heritage Museum is grateful to the First Parish Church of Lexington, Unitarian Universalist, for the loan of the communion silver that helps tell the story of April 19, 1775.
Footed Cups, 1764. Nathaniel Hurd (1729/30-1777), Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by First Parish Church of Lexington, Unitarian Universalist, EL99.001.011a and.011b. Photograph by David Bohl
Beaker, ca. 1740. Jacob Hurd (1702/03-1758), Boston, Massachusetts. Loaned by First Parish Church of Lexington, Unitarian Universalist, EL99.001.7. Photograph by David Bohl