Re-enacting a signature event in Fairfield history: The Hancock-Quincy wedding
Published 5:14 am, Monday, August 25, 2014
Re-enactment of a wedding held 239 years to the day Saturday drew to the historic Burr Homestead a crowd of nearly 70 people, including descendants of the notable families involved in a "signature" Fairfield event.
John Anderson of East Bridgewater, Mass., a descendant of John Hancock, made the trip to Fairfield with his wife and children for the re-enacted wedding of Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence -- noted for his large, distinctive signature -- and Dorothy Quincy. Rebecca Switzer Sniadecki of Newtown, a Fairfield native and descendant of the Burr family, and Ann Cathcart and her mother Emma Cathcart of Fairfield, distant relatives of Aaron Burr, also attended.
"We're life-long residents and I think this is a wonderful part of Fairfield's history to have such a notable as John Hancock married here," said Mary Servilla, who attended the event at the Old Post Road mansion with her sister Kathy Servilla.
"I thought it was well done with costumes and good narration from the minister," said one man in the crowd.
Rip Littig of Fairfield portrayed Hancock and his real-life wife Jill Littig, whom he actually married on April 26, 1997, took the role of Quincy for the nuptials, which took place at the original Burr Mansion on Aug. 23, 1775. It was burned to the ground by British troops four years later during an assault on the town during the Revolution.
Hancock had a hand in rebuilding the mansion 11 years later. He supplied the Burr family with funding for construction on the condition that they model it after his mansion on Boston's Beacon Hill by installing windows and marble fireplaces that replicated his, according to Anderson and Sniadecki. The Hancock Mansion was demolished in 1863.
Chances are the original ceremony occurred inside the Burr Homestead, but Saturday's event was held outside to take advantage of the day's fine weather. Gray clouds gathered over head before the ceremony although there was never any real threat of rainfall and by its conclusion sunshine had returned.
The wedding was scheduled to start at 4 p.m. The couple was there, as were all the guests but the preacher was delayed. Walter D. Matis, program and volunteer coordinator for the Fairfield Museum and History Center, who portrayed the Rev. Andrew Elliott in Saturday's re-enactment -- stepping in at the last minute for the Rev. David Spollett, the pastor of First Church Congregational, had duties as a guide in the museum's scheduled walking tours earlier in the afternoon so he was 18 minutes late.
"Usually, it's the bride who's late," joked Roberta Garbarini, a museum docent.
Before officiating at the ceremony Matis provided background about the event for the audience. He started by explaining why the nuptials were held in Fairfield and not Boston where Hancock and Quincy lived. Quincy was still at home when "the shot heard 'round the world" was fired marking the start of the Revolutionary War.
Quincy was sent to stay with the Burr family in Fairfield, accompanied by Hancock's aunt Lydia.
"John and Dorothy cannot return home in August of 1775 because John is a wanted man (as a signer of the Declaration of Independence) and Boston is still under British control," Matis said. He also told the crowd that the romance between the two had continued for five years. Why they had not married earlier Matis could only explain by saying, "Hancock was a busy man. He was a member of the Continental Congress."
A woman in the crowd suggested Hancock's time was also spent "practicing his signature."
For the service, Matis used the passages he found from a 1694 Congregationalist ceremony from titled, "The Solemnization of Marriage." In keeping with 18th century Congregational weddings the ceremony was short and refreshments were the traditional cookies, lemonade and iced tea. Matis said cake and wedding rings were "19th century additions."
Jane Ferguson and Guy Perrotta came from New York City for the commemorative wedding, at which they reminisced about their own. When they married in April 2010 their reception was held at the Burr Homestead. "It was lovely, really lovely, elegant; a romantic setting for a wedding," said Ferguson, who is from England. "We told all our British guests, `Please try not to burn anything down.' "