On a beautiful, sunny and warm autumn New Jersey afternoon, with no particular destination in mind, we found ourselves at The Hancock House, est. 1734. This beautiful historic home has a tragic history of war and death, bloodshed and massacre. But is it haunted? Has there been paranormal experiences? Read on to find out.
On July 4th, 1776, while the Revolutionary War was in full swing, the Continental Congress voted to adopt the Declaration of Independence – creating the Birthday of America and all the Freedom that represents. Before that, this great Nation was under British Rule and known as the 13 American Colonies. After a series of revenue raising tax increases on the Colonies (Stamp Act of 1765; Townshend Acts of 1767; and the now infamous Tea Act of 1773), the colonists began protesting – demanding equal rights and “No Taxation without Representation”. There were several prominent acts of resistance by the colonists resulting in violence – most notably is the Boston Massacre where British Soldiers opened fire on a mob of colonists, killing 5. These acts of resistance and resulting violence led to the Boston Tea Party. In 1775 the Revolutionary War began from the growing tensions between the residents of the 13 American Colonies and the colonial government which represented the British Crown. The war was essentially a civil war until, in 1778, France joined with the Continental Army, making it an international conflict and turning the tide of the war.
Many of the small towns in the Colonies were protected by Militia – men in arms formed to protect their towns from foreign invasion and the ravages of war. Many of the significant battles of the Revolutionary War were fought by militia men on both sides.
THE HANCOCK HOUSE
The story of The Hancock House begins in 1675 when John Fenwick, an English Quaker, arrived in West Jersey (now Salem County). He established “Fenwick’s Colony” and founded the town of Salem. He sold ~500 acres of land to William Hancock, a prominent Quaker and a shoemaker. In 1734, William & Sarah Hancock built The Hancock House. Their initials – W and S – can be seen, along with the date built, in the brickwork along the home’s west elevation. The house is a beautiful example of English Quaker pattern end wall brick houses.
Upon William’s death, the 500-acre property eventually passed to his nephew John Hancock. John Hancock built a bridge – now known as Hancock’s Bridge – across Alloway Creek in 1708. This provided important access and passage to a key highway between Salem and Greenwich.
It’s partially because of this bridge and the access it provided that The Hancock House became the site of a Revolutionary War massacre in March 1778.
In the 18th century, Salem County was largely inhabited by English Quakers who were opposed to violence and armed conflicts. Yet, many supported the cause of the Continental Army and the Freedom it represented.
In the winter of 1777, George Washington and his army were encamped at Valley Forge, PA. The British occupied Philadelphia. Both armies were desperate for supplies and often went on foraging expeditions for food, cattle and horses. However, the British soldiers were met with great resistance from Salem County militia and local patriots. After having been repulsed by the militia at other key transport areas, the British were angry and frustrated with the people of Salem County and their support of the Continental Army.
This frustration and anger came to a boiling point in March 1778 and The Hancock House became the site of an all out massacre. The British troops received the following mandate: “Go – spare no one- put all to death – give no quarters.”
During this time, local militia men were regularly encamped at The Hancock House – protecting Hancock’s Bridge and the access it provided to the homesteads and supplies in Salem County. Since all had been quite for a while, the night before the massacre, many of the militia men returned home to their families for some rest and recuperation. About 15 militia men stayed behind.
In the early morning hours of March 21, 1778, British Troops carried out the orders to spare no one. Sneaking in quietly, from behind and the side, with local Tories (British Loyalists) acting as guides, ~300 British Troops attacked The Hancock House. The Troops used only bayonets – not a shot was fired. 10 Colonial militia men were killed and five were wounded – including Judge William Hancock. Judge Hancock died several days later. There is little doubt that the number of casualties would have been significantly higher had the British came upon the full number of militia men usually protecting and guarding the bridge.
By all accounts, this was a viscous and brutal massacre. It is believed that some of the killing occurred inside The Hancock House and the rest outside on the grounds – near the Hancock Bridge.
Pulling up to The Hancock House – I could feel the scars on the land and the home from this brutal, bloody attack. Even more powerful – the witness tree that still stands today.
My husband and I were lucky enough to catch The Hancock House on a slow day and we had the tour all to ourselves. The historian on site was very friendly and knowledgeable and walked us through the entire home and property.
A big portion of the home is still original and it has been staged with antiques to look as it would when John Hancock lived with his family in the home. The furniture is all found period antiques – with one exception. This amazing cabinet is original to the home and remains in amazing shape today.
After the initial overwhelming energy, I felt peaceful and interested in the layout and history of the home. We toured the first and second floors and I captured some very cool pictures that represent the history of The Hancock House.
The peaceful energy changed quickly once I put one foot on the narrow, winding staircase to the attic.
As I carefully (very carefully) climbed these twisty, narrow steps, I began to feel uneasy (and not just because I was afraid of falling to my death in a dark, narrow, creepy staircase). Entering the attic – I could feel a very discernable line that I did not want to cross towards the far end of the attic. I then caught a glimpse of movement – as if a dress went swooshing past from my right to my left. This drew my eyes over to the far-left side of the attic. The tour guide saw my attention shift and pointed out some small arrows on the floor. Apparently, this area of the attic has historic bloodstains.
While history can not specifically place any of the militia men in the attic of the Handcock House, it makes sense that some of the wounded men were brought to the attic bedrooms to rest. Are these bloodstains and are they related to this historic Revolutionary War massacre? We may never know beyond a shadow of a doubt – but it certainly feels right.
The woman Spirit I had caught a glimpse of decided to show herself to me now. I was grateful that the Historian was occupied talking to my husband about renovations and that I wasn’t making my way back down the treacherous steps when she showed up – because my reaction was priceless. I think I may have left my clothes and shoes behind when I jumped out of my skin.
I hate (and love) when Spirits do that!
After encountering this woman Spirit – who I feel is Sarah Hancock – I began to sense a male in the home. Although he remained elusive to me, I can’t help but wondering if this male Spirit was John Hancock? Or maybe one of the militia men that was so brutally slaughtered on that fateful night?
The Hancock House is open for tours, donations only. The Friends of The Hancock House non-profit also hosts various events that benefit this historical home – including a haunted candlelight tour this October where they will talk all about the history as well as any paranormal encounters that have been experienced.