John Hancock

Today, we return to Revolutionary War days to talk about one of the distinguished patriots of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He isn’t Samuel or John Adams, although he was born in the same town and he was also one of the leaders in the revolt against the British government. He is the man whose signature comes first on The Declaration of Independence. Can you name him? He was John Hancock, born in 1937 in North Braintree now Quincy, Massachusetts.

John Hancock graduated from Harvard University and entered the shipping trade. He prospered, and in time became the head of Thomas Hancock and Company, a large mercantile company in Boston. Hancock took part in protests against the Stamp Act and was reported to have been one of the principals along with Samuel Adams in organizing The Boston Tea party. He may also have actually taken part in the dumping of a shipload of tea into the Bay with other American patriots dressed as Indians.

General Gage, the British Commander in Boston, issued a proclamation to the citizens of the Massachusetts colony warning them against further rebellious acts and promised amnesty to all of the colonists except Adams and John Hancock, whom he described as the ringleaders and chief troublemakers. Gage later ordered armed troops to Lexington and Concord to destroy American arms and supplies that were stored there and to capture John Hancock and Samuel Adams who were hiding in Concord. This action by General Gage brought about the famous midnight ride of Paul Revere and the battles of Lexington and Concord that started the Revolutionary War.

John Hancock was chosen a delegate to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He was elected President of that Congress and served in this capacity for two years. This was the most important Congress ever convened in the history of this country. It was the Congress that braved the armed and naval might of the British Empire and determined that the Colonies should be free and independent of old world domination. It was the congress that authorized the drawing of a declaration of independence that declared that all allegiance to the British crown was absolved and all political connections totally dissolved. This was also the Congress that called forth all of its organized militia and volunteer units to form an American army and named George Washington as its commander-in-chief. And finally, this was the Congress that to a man mutually pledged to support The Declaration of Independence with their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor.

John Hancock was the man who presided over this momentous Congress and guided the discussions, debates and deliberations. Not too much is known about him. He did not have the flair of great oratory like Patrick Henry, the commanding presence of George Washington, the tremendous intelligence and reasoning power of Benjamin Franklin or the general all around ability and intelligence of Thomas Jefferson. But some day, history will recognize the quiet unassuming way in which John Hancock so magnificently served his country. About the only thing most people remember about John Hancock is that he was the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, and he wrote his name in large flowing script, remarking that he wanted to be certain that King George could read his name without his spectacles.

John Hancock served nine terms as Governor of Massachusetts and later was again a delegate to the Continental Congress and elected its Presidents, but he was unable to serve on account of illness. His last public appearance was as the presiding officer of the Massachusetts convention called to ratify the Constitution of the United States. Hancock died at his home in Quincy at the age of 56, which is considered a rather young age. But he covered a lot of ground and accomplished much in his life. His statue does not stand in The Hall of Fame in Washington, but John Hancock ranks as one of the first citizens of Massachusetts as well as of the United States.

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