George Hewes and John Hancock

Late in I762 or early in I763, George Robert Twelves Hewes, a Boston shoemaker in the last year or so of his apprenticeship, repaired a shoe for John Hancock and delivered it to him at his uncle Thomas Hancock’s store in Dock Square. Hancock was pleased and invited the young man to “come and see him on New Year’s day, and bid him a happy New-Year,” according to the custom of the day, a ritual of noblesse oblige on the part of the gentry. We know of the episode through Benjamin Bussey Thatcher, who interviewed Hewes and wrote it up for his Memoir of Hewes in I 835. On New Year’s Day, as Thatcher tells the story, after some urging by his master, George washed his face, and put his best jacket on, and proceeded straightaway to the Hancock House (as it is still called). His heart was in his mouth, but assuming a cheerful courage, he knocked at the front door, and took his hat off. The servant came: “Is ‘Squire Hancock at home, Sir?” enquired Hewes, making a bow.

He was introduced directly to the kitchen, and requested to seat himself, while report should be made above stairs. The man came down directly, with a new varnish of civility suddenly spread over his face. He ushered him into the ‘Squire’s sitting-room, and left him to make his obeisance. Hancock remembered him, and addressed him kindly. George was anxious to get through, and he commenced a desperate speech-“as pretty a one,” he says, “as he any way knew how,”-intended to announce the purpose of his visit, and to accomplish it, in the same breath. “Very well, my lad,” said the ‘Squire-now take a chair, my lad.” He sat down, scared all the while (as he now confesses) “almost to death,” while Hancock put his hand into his breeches-pocket and pulled out a crown-piece, which he placed softly in his hand, thanking him at the same time for his punctual attendance, and his compliments. He then invited his young friend to drink his health-called for wine-poured it out for him-and ticked glasses with him,-a feat in which Hewes, though he had never seen it performed before, having acquitted himself with a creditable dexterity, hastened to make his bow again, and secure his retreat, though not till the ‘Squire had extorted a sort of half promise from him to come the next NewYear’s-which, for a rarity, he never discharged.

George Robert Twelves Hewes (I742-i840): A Boston Shoemaker and the Memory of the American Revolution, Alfred F. Young

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