Henchman: 1. A loyal and trusted follower or subordinate. 2. A person who supports a political figure chiefly out of self-seeking interests. 3. A member of a criminal gang.
Boston’s streets generally have obvious names. The Puritans, hardworking pragmatists, named their streets after what was on them. Spring Lane is where the Great Spring was located. You find the Court House on Court Street. Water Street ran down to the water. Soldiers marched down to the battery on Batterymarch Street. No mysteries there.
We also have streets with family names ranging from the familiar (Revere, Adams, Franklin) to the more obscure (Wigglesworth, Derne). Indian names pop up as well (Mattakeeset, Chickatawbut), although there seem to be more of those outside the city than in.
Mysterious Henchman Street
And then we have the mysterious. Henchman Street in the city’s North End comes to mind. A short street, Henchman runs up and down hill, connecting Charter Street (up) and Commercial Street (down). It’s notable for providing a good view of the Old North Church’s steeple for people passing (slowly) on Commercial Street.
Some people have speculated on the ominous-sounding name and wondered whether there’s a connection to dark doings in the smuggling tunnels that once ran through the North End down to the harbor. They wonder, “Who was this henchman and for whom did he hench?”
A Narrow Cartway
The truth was out there and it turns out that Henchman Street is neither mysterious nor ominous. It was laid out from 1674-75 as a 10-foot cartway by one Daniel Henchman. Named Declination Alley—meaning sloping or bending down—in 1699, it became Henchman Street in 1708.
Thus, our search for the origin of Henchman Streets turns out to be as short as the street itself. Yet another question remains: Who was Daniel Henchman? After all, not just anyone can lay out their own street.
An Upstanding Citizen
It turns out no mystery attaches to the man, either. Daniel Henchman was not a Thomas Gruchy or John Quelch. He was, indeed, an upstanding citizen. Born in 1623, Daniel Henchman was the son of Richard Henchman (or Hinchman) of Nottinghamshire and Anna Newberry of London, England.
After coming to the new world, he became a schoolmaster for five years (1666-71). He also took command of Boston’s Artillery Company. As commander of Boston’s First Company of Infantry during King Philip’s war against the indigenous peoples of Massachusetts, Daniel Henchman built a garrison called Fort Leverett in Pocasset.
His infantry company later served in Mendon, Rehoboth, Mount Hope and in the Narragansett and Nipmuck countries.
In 1672, Capt. Henchman received leave to “wharf before his land” on commercial Street near the ferry. This probably provided the impetus for creating the cartway, so he could move merchandise to and from the wharf.
Preserving the Records
On October 7, 1674, the court ordered the Militia to be divided into companies of one hundred each. Eight companies were formed in Boston, captained by Major Thomas Clarke, Thomas Savage, Thomas Clark II, John Richards, James Olliver, Daniel Henchman, William Hudson and John Hull.
Capt. Henchman introduced a motion to preserve the records of the militia, including the names of the captains, and donated a book for the purpose. The transcript was completed in 1750.
He became one of the signers of the First Indian Land Deed in Worcester on July 13 1674 in the Middlesex Registry of Deeds.
In 1675, the Massachusetts General Court authorized a committee to establish a settlement at Quinsigamond, where Capt. Henchman received a 25-acre house lot. After the war, he became responsible for managing settlement of the community that would become Worcester, MA.
In 1684, Capt. Henchman represented Worcester at the Massachusetts General Court. Note: Worcester also has a Henchman Street.
An Unknown Grave
Daniel Henchman, then a dealer in military goods, died on October 15, 1685 without a will. His estate totaled £1381. It included property in Boston as well as many books, some in Latin and some on geometry, “by which it is inferred that he was a man of learning.”
His remains were buried on the original 25-acre property known as Henchman Farm. This land was located “east of John Wing’s Mills on the southerly part of Lincoln Street, formerly the Country Road.” His grave is unknown and unmarked.
The street name endures, however. You can take Henchman Street up to the Old North Church or down to Commercial Street. Along the way, think about the man who taught children, fought in a war, and helped to found the city of Worcester, Massachusetts.