John Fenwick, a Quaker and lawyer from England, arrived in what is now Salem County, New Jersey, in 1675. He established the first permanent English Settlement there. In that same year, William Hancock, a shoemaker by trade, and also an Englishman, purchased the property on which now stands the Hancock House. The property was subsequently passed onto a nephew, John Hancock. That John Hancock was responsible for construction of a bridge across Alloways Creek in 1708, allowing easy passage between the ports of Salem and Greenwich. John’s son William inherited the property in 1709 upon his father’s death. In 1734, william and his wife Sarah built the Hancock House. Their intials WHS and the construction date, 1734, can be seen in the brickwork on the west side of the house. The house remained in the Hancock family until 1931. On a fateful day in March 1778, the house earned a dubious place in history. Foraging activities by British troops and loyalists under General Charles Mawhood were met with fierce resistance by Salem County militia and local patriots in February of 1778. They were firmly repulsed in a pitched battle at Quinton’s Bridge, and were frustrated and angry with the people of Salem County for their support of George Washington’s Continental Army. In retaliation, General Mawhood issued the following mandate to his British troops: “Go – spare no one – put all to death – give no quarters.” At approximately five o”clock in the morning of March 21, those odious orders were carried out. Approximately 300 troops, plus local Tories and their slaves attacked the Hancock House where the local militia was stationed. Everyone inside was bayoneted. Among the 10 killed and five wounded was Judge William Hancock who died several days later.
The Hancock House was a favored historical site for field trips when I was in school at Pennsville. Several of my classes visited there, always careful to step around what were reported to be blood stains on the floors of that venerable old place. In later years I came to treasure the house for it’s simple architectural beauty and the old bulls-eye windows. I could never walk in there, though, without considering it’s place in local history. Salem County abounds in such history, and that history seeps into the very fibers of one’s being, especially when one is exposed to it an early age. One of my favorite teachers in high school was a Quaker, and perhaps she influenced my love of the historical aspect of life in southern New Jersey.