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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

American Rebels

How the Hancock, Adams, and Quincy Families Fanned the Flames of Revolution

Nina Sankovitch

St. Martin's Press



Founding a Village

Not such Another Place, for benefit or rest,

In all the universe can be possessed.


The first Quincy to arrive in America was named Edmund, a name that would go on to be shared through generations of Quincys. Edmund Quincy and his wife, Judith, arrived in Boston in 1633, traveling from England with the prominent Puritan minister Joseph Cotton. Because of his association with Reverend Cotton, Edmund was able to purchase title to over four hundred acres of very good land, fertile and ready for farming, south of Boston.

John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, oversaw the purchase himself. The land had recently been confiscated—Governor Winthrop would have said “saved”—from a blasphemer and troublemaker named Thomas Morton, and Winthrop was eager to have God-fearing settlers purify the lands Morton had desecrated.

Morton had arrived in the Massachusetts Bay Colony eight years earlier, in 1625, traveling from England with Richard Wollaston, captain of the ship Unity. Wollaston’s cargo was human, a large group of indentured servants whose contracts Wollaston hoped to sell to fishing companies operating out of Cape Ann and up the New England coast. Along with Morton and a fellow by the name of Fitcher,1 after arriving in Boston Wollaston traveled south and set up a temporary camp on a low hill on the coast. The indigenous Massachusett tribe called the hill Passonagessit, meaning “little neck of land,” for the way it jutted out into the bay. Under the leadership of sachem Chickatawbut the Massachusetts had cleared most of the trees on the hill, leaving a fertile and open hilltop attractive for farming.

Captain Wollaston, however, wasn’t interested in farming. When he heard that there was a need for indentured workers at the plantations in Virginia, with prices paid even greater than those offered in New England, he decided to try his luck farther south. He returned to his ship, leaving only a small group of indentured men behind in the settlement on the hill. Morton and Fitcher would guard over the indentured men until Wollaston returned, and then they too would be sold off to work in fledgling colonial industries.

Waiting for Wollaston to return, Thomas Morton found himself becoming enchanted by the landscape around Passonagessit: “The more I looked, the more I liked it.… in all the knowne world it [cannot] be paralel’d, for so many goodly groves of trees, dainty fine round rising hillocks, delicate faire large plaines, sweete cristall fountains, and cleare running streames that twine in fine meanders through the meadows, making so sweete a murmering noise to hear.”2

He became so enchanted that he decided to settle for good on these low hills south of Boston. But first, he had to start his own rebellion. Through skillful argument (he had trained as a lawyer at Clifford Inns, London) and a generous gift of more than a few barrels of beer (he had ample funds through family ties), Morton convinced the men left behind by Wollaston to rebel against their indentured status and start life over as free agents in the New World. Fitcher was run off the hill of Passonagessit and Morton became the new leader of the small band of men. He named his community Mare-Mount, meaning “a hill providing views upon the sea.”3

Morton set up a robust trading post at Mare-Mount, inviting local Indians to trade goods, including highly lucrative furs, for guns and other supplies. As William Bradford, then governor of the Pilgrim colony at Plymouth, described it, Morton not only gave the Indians guns but he “taught them how to use them, to charge and discharge, and what proportion of powder to give the piece, according to the size and bigness of the same; and what shot to use for fowl and what for deer.”4

From his own account, Morton got on quite well with the locals and wanted to live in harmony with them: “these I found most full of humanity, and more friendly” than the English Pilgrims.5 He claimed that the purpose of the settlement at Mare-Mount was to create a community where the English settlers and the local Indians could live together, trade together, and prosper together. And the settlement did prosper, with brisk trade and plenty of furs acquired to send back to England.

But Governor Bradford and his band of Pilgrims saw a different purpose to Morton’s settlement: they condemned it as a den of vice and iniquity. As Bradford wrote later, the settlers at Mare-Mount “fell to great licenciousnes, and led a dissolute life, powering out themselves into all profanesses. And Morton became a lord of misrule … quaffing and drinking, both wine and strong waters in great excess.”6

Outraged by reports of good times being had on the hilltop, the Pilgrims called Morton’s settlement not Mare-Mount but Merrymount, a name intended to indict Morton and all his followers; “for the same Reason that the common People in England will not call Gentlemen’s ornamented Grounds, Gardens but insist upon calling them Pleasure Grounds, i.e. to excite Envy and make them unpopular.”7

While Morton’s settlement continued to prosper, the Pilgrim trading posts floundered, and tensions between Morton and Bradford grew. The Pilgrims spread stories about Morton’s arms deals with Indian populations (while ignoring the same weapons trading that went on by other settlers) and also shared largely embellished accounts of the debauched revelries enjoyed at Mare-Mount.

Morton himself bragged of his May Day festivities, during which a “goodly pine tree of 80 foote longe” was raised in the middle of the settlement and decorated with pairs of buck antlers nailed to the top in a particularly heathen flourish; tables of food were set out, barrels of drinks provided, and “drinking and dancing” ensued.8 According to Morton, a good time was had by all.

But Governor Bradford put a sexual spin on the May Day merrymaking, alleging that Morton and his men invited “Indian women for their consorts, dancing and frisking together, like so many fairies, or furies rather, and [engaging in] worse practices.”9

The fact that Morton was aligned with the Church of England and opposed to the Pilgrims at Plymouth was another reason for discord between the two settlements; Morton saw himself as “a man that endeavored to advance the dignity of the Church of England,” while the Pilgrims were separatists who sought, as Morton put it, to “vilify” the Church of England.10 Morton called the somberly dressed and dour Pilgrims “moles” and disdained their frugal and joyless lifestyle.11

Disturbed by the economic and religious threats posed by Morton (and the great fun he was having), in the early summer of 1628, the Pilgrim leaders sent Captain Miles Standish to “take Morton by force.”12 “Captain Shrimp” (as Morton called Standish, who was very short) and his company “fell upon [Morton] as if they would have eaten him: some of them were so violent that they would have a slice with scabbert.”13

Standish arrested Morton and brought him back to Plymouth. Morton was exiled for a brief period to a deserted island off the coast and then transported back to England in 1628.

Morton returned to Massachusetts a year later, intent on retaking his settlement on the hill. Finding a small but welcoming community still living there, as well as his glorious maypole still standing in the center of the village, he settled back into his Mare-Mount life. He resumed trading for furs but no longer dealt in arms or ammunition. He also invited the locals to live in his community, which they did, leading once again to rumors that Morton was engaging in sexual adventures proscribed by God.

Morton saw in his little community a model for living in the New World, a kind of utopia based on social integration with the native people, economic flexibility, and enjoyment of life with all its natural and manmade pleasures. But his “consorting” with Indians and having too good a time as a “Lord of misrule” rankled the Puritan authorities that were now coming to power in Massachusetts.14

In 1630 he was arrested again, this time under the orders of Governor Winthrop, Puritan leader of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. Morton was put on a ship to be sent back to England, the famous maypole was finally cut down, and the homes of Mare-Mount were burned to the ground. The fires were timed to coincide with Morton’s departure by sea so that he could see the flames and smoke of his destroyed settlement from the ship.15

The hilltop at Mare-Mount was renamed Mount Wollaston and its lands were redistributed by Governor Winthrop, with the intent of returning the lands to placid, God-fearing settlers. Edmund Quincy was one of the lucky ones and, as a devout Congregationalist, received property on and around the low hill overlooking the bay. Fellow emigrants who received land grants on the hills of Passonagessit included the Coddingtons and the Hutchinsons, families with whom the Quincys quickly became friendly.

The peace and quiet sought by Governor Winthrop, by making land grants to emigrants of good reputation, was denied to him when the new settlers on the hill began to follow the radical teachings of one of their own. It was as if the hills themselves breathed rebellion into their inhabitants. Anne Hutchinson, married to William Hutchinson, arrived on the hill as an already strong and outspoken woman. While living in England she had questioned the practices of Puritan leaders there. But once she arrived in America, Hutchinson became even more critical of the ways in which Puritan dogma was interpreted by both local ministers and colonial leaders, including Governor Winthrop.

When a minister named John Wheelwright, who was married to her husband’s sister, arrived in Mount Wollaston, Anne helped him to become pastor of the local church. Strongly influenced by Anne Hutchinson and her spiritual convictions, Wheelwright began to preach in a way that brought him many followers, including the Coddingtons and the Quincys. But his preaching, and her convictions, also caught the attention of elder ministers in the colony.

Anne Hutchinson believed the covenant of grace, a tenet of Congregationalism that holds that certain people are destined for eternal salvation from birth, was proven only through direct communication with God, which she herself enjoyed on a regular basis. Hutchinson told her followers that the directives she received from God were more important in guiding how she lived her life than the dictates of local ministers, who tended to couch their commands in terms of the covenant of works, which held that doing good in the community was a way of proving one’s worthiness and eventual salvation. Hutchinson rejected teachings based on the covenant of works; she saw outward acts of goodness as irrelevant, given that only internal communication with God assured salvation.

While the Congregationalist clergy did believe that grace was necessary for salvation, it was impossible for them to discard the covenant of works. How else could they impel their flocks to behave morally, to follow town and church rules, to perform the needed work to make the settlements flourish and grow?

Grace could only get the Puritans so far; they needed hard work to succeed. Adherence to strict rules of behavior set by the church was vital to the success of the communities in New England, and Anne Hutchinson’s teachings about resistance to church rules—and her arguments against the usefulness of good works in achieving salvation—threatened the stability of those communities.

In 1637, the General Court of Massachusetts brought charges against Anne Hutchinson for the heresy of antinomianism, meaning operating “outside the law” of the church. (Charges of sedition for preaching against conventional doctrine in his sermons were brought against the Reverend John Wheelwright.) The court, led by Governor Winthrop, demanded that Hutchinson recant her criticisms of the clergy of Massachusetts. Hutchinson refused to back down and threatened the members of the General Court and the entire community for prosecuting her: “if you go on in this course you begin, you will bring a curse upon you and your posterity, and the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.”16

The court responded by banishing her from the colony; she was then excommunicated from the Puritan Congregational church. During her sentencing, she was “cast out” and delivered “up to Satan.”17 Reverend Wheelwright was also exiled; he left the colony for New Hampshire, where he founded the settlement of Exeter. Although he was an active supporter of Hutchinson and Wheelwright, William Coddington was not exiled; he chose to leave, however, following Anne Hutchinson and her family to Rhode Island. Once there, Coddington would play a prominent role in Rhode Island government, reaching the position of royal governor of the colony of Rhode Island in the 1670s.

After her husband died, in 1641, Anne Hutchinson left Rhode Island for New York, settling in a small community by Pelham Bay. In 1643, Anne and six of her children were massacred by local Native Americans. Her daughter, Susanna, was taken captive, and later ransomed back to Anne’s son Edward, who was still living in Boston.

Edmund Quincy died early in 1637 before he and his family could be drawn into the battles surrounding Anne Hutchinson; thus, he unwittingly protected his family from possibly being charged with heresy themselves and losing their position—and lands—in Mount Wollaston. Nevertheless, his wife, Judith, and their two children were left “in the wilderness” (as the family lore went), and Judith was compelled to sell the lands on Mount Wollaston to Captain William John Tyng, one of Boston’s wealthiest merchants.18 She moved down into the sandy lands along the coast, into a house that would stay in the Quincy family for generations.

The lands sold to Tyng eventually came back to the Quincy family through marriage.19 In the early 1700s, John Quincy (father of Norton Quincy and uncle to Edmund Quincy IV and Josiah Quincy) built a mansion on the hill where Thomas Morton had held his wild parties, not far from where Anne Hutchinson had lived with her family.

The selectmen of the village changed the name of their settlement from Mount Wollaston to Braintree in 1640, perhaps because of the controversies associated with the previous name. The name of Braintree was chosen from a well-favored town in England. But both the mansion built by John Quincy and the hilltop on which it stood would forever be known as Mount Wollaston.

Even with the change of name, the village of Braintree continued to foster a rebellious spirit in its citizens. The villagers of the eighteenth century would prove to be as fiercely independent in their political and religious convictions as both Morton and Hutchinson. But the Christianity they practiced would not have been sanctioned by the Congregationalism of their forefathers nor acceptable to the even more exacting Anne Hutchinson.

By the time Reverend John Hancock became minister of the Third Parish Church of Braintree in 1726, the families of the village, including the Adamses and the Quincys, no longer relied on predestination but instead demanded that each community member work hard to achieve satisfaction on earth and salvation in heaven.

They were still deeply religious and loyal to their local church, and they still followed many behavioral strictures of the Puritan church, including prohibitions against working on the Sabbath, playacting, dancing, or celebrating Christmas or Easter (and certainly no drunken celebrations around a huge maypole). What had changed was how they defined their own worth and their role in the world.

The people of Braintree believed not only in their individual abilities but also in their collective duty to determine their own fates and the shared future of their village. As Reverend Hancock preached, the “solemn covenant … of Liberty” was not obtained through faith alone but could only be realized through hard work performed by a community together.20 And this sacred covenant would be protected against any and all usurpers who attempted to take their liberty away.

Copyright © 2020 by Nina Sankovitch