The Hancock 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. In 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.
In the winter of 1777/78, George Washington and his army were 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.