In March of 1778, Major Simcoe and his Queen’s Rangers attacked the occupants of this Quaker home. “The surprise was complete…” and it would be called a massacre.
The house was built in 1734 by William & Sarah Hancock, a prominent Salem County Quaker family. The house is an excellent example of English Quaker pattern end wall brick houses associated with the lower Delaware Valley and southwestern New Jersey. It was also the scene of a British-led massacre during the American Revolution.
The story of the Hancock House begins in 1675 when John Fenwick, a lawyer and a Quaker from England, arrived in West Jersey (now Salem County). With land purchased two years earlier, he established the first permanent English settlement here called "Fenwick's Colony," and founded the town of Salem. Eager to populate the area with skilled, industrious individuals, he advertised the area's assets by stating, "…if there be any terrestrial "Canaan" 'tis surely here, where the land floweth with Milk and Honey".
Throughout the 18th century and during the American Revolution, English Quakers who were largely opposed to violence and armed conflict inhabited Salem County. This stance inevitably brought the tragedy of war to hearth and home.
The winter of 1777/78 found George Washington and his army encamped at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The British occupied Philadelphia. Both armies needed food and supplies. In February of 1778, General Washington ordered a foraging expedition to be conducted. After moving through parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware, General Anthony Wayne was detached from the main force and crossed the Delaware River into Salem County, New Jersey. He gathered cattle and other supplies before returning to Valley Forge. A month later, Sir General William Howe dispatched 1500 British and Loyalist troops under Colonel Charles Mawhood to do the same. Mawhood’s foraging activities met with considerable resistance from the Salem and Cumberland County militias. A brief skirmish at Quinton’s Bridge on March 18, 1778 left the British frustrated and unable to cross the Alloway Creek to gain access to fertile fields below Salem. On the night of March 20, 1778, Colonel Mawhood sent Major Simcoe and his Queen’s Rangers to lead a surprise attack at Hancock’s Bridge. With local Tories (British Loyalists) and their slaves acting as guides, approximately 300 troops of the Queen’s Rangers made their way down the Delaware River by boat and landed at the mouth of the Alloway. Making their way through the marshes, they surrounded the militia stationed at the bridge. At approximately five o’clock in the morning of March 21, 1778, the attack began. The Rangers attacked the entrenchments at the creek and the Hancock House, believing it was the militia’s headquarters. Everyone inside the house was bayoneted; not a shot was fired. Among the 10 killed and five wounded, was Judge William Hancock. He died several days later.
Cornelia Hancock (1840-1927) was the great granddaughter of Judge William Hancock, Jr. Educated in Hancocks Bridge and Philadelphia, she taught school at the Alloways Creek Meetinghouse School “Buttonwood Academy.”
In the midst of the American Civil War, she left for Gettysburg where she served as a nurse. After tending to the wounded, Cornelia wrote her sister, “…I feel assured I shall never feel horrified at anything that may happen to me hereafter.”
After the war, she founded the Laing School for Freedmen in Mount Pleasant, SC. ten years later she returned to the Philadelphia area to help found the Society for Organizing Charity and The Children’s Aid Society. The Laing School and The Children’s Aid Society are still in existence today.
She went to London, England to study worker housing. When she returned to the United States, she helped organize the workers' village in South Philadelphia called Wrightsville. Cornelia convinced the village owner to sell the houses to the workers. She then went on to improve sanitary conditions in the village and later founded a bank and a library for Wrightsville.
The Hancock House sits on property that was purchased from John Fenwick in 1675 by William Hancock, an English shoemaker. Upon his death the property passed to his wife and then to his nephew, John Hancock.
John’s inheritance of approximately 500 acres made him a major landholder in Fenwick’s Colony. He contributed to the development of the area by building a bridge across Alloways Creek in 1708. Now known as “Hancocks Bridge,” it permitted passage on an important highway between Salem and Greenwich and gave the settlement its name.
When John Hancock died in 1709, he left his property to his son William. William became a Justice of the Peace for Salem County and served in the Colonial Assembly for 20 years.
In 1734, William and his wife Sarah built the Hancock House. Their initials [WHS] and the construction date  can be seen in the brickwork on the house’s west elevation.
Upon Sarah’s death in 1764, the house was left to her son William, who succeeded his father in the Assembly and became His Majesty’s Judge of the County Court for the County of Salem. In September of 1776, William accepted a commission to serve as a County Judge for the newly formed State of New Jersey. It was this William who figured in the massacre of March 1778.
The Hancock House remained in the family until 1931, although the extent to which the house was used as a private residence and the property farmed is uncertain. There is evidence to suggest a section of the house was leased for a tavern during the 18th & 19th centuries. The State of New Jersey acquired the Hancock House for $4,000 in 1931 and opened it as a museum in 1932.
Group Tours & School Programs: Available by reservation.
Grades: K through 12thgrade, college, adult, Year-round
Topics: The American Revolution in Salem County and the Delaware Valley (late 18th century), Quakers plight in the Revolutionary War (18th century), Cornelia Hancock and the Civil War (19th century).
The Hancock House earned a place in history on that fateful day in March 1778. Yet the story of its architecture also is important. With its distinctive patterned end wall brickwork, simple lines and little ornamentation, it reflects the building traditions of the Quaker’s English Homeland.
Other elements of this architectural style include Flemish bond brickwork; a pent-roof on the front and back of the house; simple entrance steps and interior paneling.
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3 Front St, Hancocks Bridge, NJ 08038
P.O. Box 139, Hancock’s Bridge, NJ 08038-0139
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Tour Hours Please call the site for hours of operation.
Entrance Fee Admission is free, program fees may apply.