John Hancock was born near the village of Quincy (once called Braintree), Massachusetts, January 23rd, 1737. He was born to the Reverend John Hancock who was a preacher, like his father before him. His mother’s name was Mary Hawke Thaxter of nearby Hingham. Johns father was a congregationalist minister like Abigail Adam’s father had been. His father passed away when he was still yet a young child of 7 years old. Thomas Hancock, his paternal uncle adopted him. Thomas was a merchant in the city of Boston, Mass. and began his business in the book trade and expanded into importing and exporting goods. Because of the amount of wealth Thomas had accrued from his business, John was formally schooled and sent to Harvard College where he graduated when he was 17 years of age. After college, he returned home to work as an accountant for his Uncle Thomas. His abilities proved to be excellent, and in 1760 his uncle sent him to England for a business matter. While in England, John witnessed the funeral of King George the II and the coronation ceremonies of King George the III. It was not long after he returned to America that his uncle died. John had been left a large amount of money and assets. He would soon set aside his business and commercial pursuits to enter into the political arena in colonial America. Burning in John’s heart was a rebellion against England’s rule long before it manifest itself later in life. He would take sides with those who exhibited American Patriotism, in doing so he brought himself to the forefront of a liberty movement. His endeavors were soon seen by his fellow citizens of Boston and he was elected to selectman, an office that was very admirable in those days.
In 1766, he was chosen by the citizens of Boston to be their representative in the Boston Provincial Assembly. In this office his fiery spirit would soon gather around him the likes of Samuel Adams (John Adam’s cousin), James Otis and Thomas Cushing, who served alongside John. England’s tyranny was soon to get worse than it had already been. When Parliament adopted these obnoxious measures of the Stamp Act, Mr. Hancock was one of the first to spread the rebellion against it and the first to propose not allowing British ships into Boston Harbor known as the non-importation measures. These measures would spread to the other colonies also. Across the colonies, open resistance became the scent in the air every where you went. Hancock became a strong leader and Hancock’s name figures conspicuously in the commotions that prompted the Boston Massacre. His name was also synonymous with the Boston Tea Riot, which placed a target on his back. He openly offended the Royalty of England continually. John Hancock was bold in his disdain for English rule over the colonies. In March of 1774, he would give a rebellious and fire-breathing speech on the one year anniversary of the Boston Massacre, he spoke at length of the indignation he and other patriots had for the Crown of Great Britain.
As his political brand’s stock was rising and his following was growing, he was elected to be a member of the executive council of Mass. in 1767, but this act of the people was sore displeasing to the Royal Governor of Mass. that Hancock was denied the office. He was again elected a second time and rejected again. All the denials of office produced was a galvanized following for John. The people fell in love with him, his popularity increased exponentially. For reasons never given, finally the Governor conceded the office and Hancock was allowed to serve his constituency.
In 1773, he was married to Miss Quincy, a relative of Adams’ by which he had one child. The child died while very young and like George Washington, John has no children that carried on his name.
In, 1774, the Boston Provincial Assembly unanimously elected Hancock to be their president and in the same year he was chosen to be a delegate to the Continental Congress; and was reelected the next year. Peyton Randolph left the presidential chair of that body in the summer of 1775. John was elected to be president of Congress to fill his seat. He was vigilant and tenacious in his service to his countrymen in that office. On the 4th of July, 1776 the Declaration would be signed by him, he would be the only signatory in its first reading because he was president of Congress. Imagine that for moment, transport yourself to that event, signing your own death warrant, risking everything for freedoms prize. The first signer of our most sacred document as a people, absolutely sobering.
At one point, there had been a general pardon given by King George to the colonists for their rabble rousing and open rebellion. There were only two colonists that were not part of that pardon, John Hancock, and Sam Adams. They were excluded from George’s forgiveness and listed as arch rebels of the Crown, which was a certain death sentence. On the night before the battle of Lexington, Adams and Hancock were staying in that town over night. In the night, Governor Gage had sent an armed party to arrest both of them for treason but they narrowly escaped arrest. As they escaped out of one door, the Governor’s men had entered through another and Hancock and Adams disappeared into the night.
He resigned his position as president of Congress in 1777, because of poor health (gout). He had expected to retire to domestic life and enjoy his years. But his service was still needed, he was tapped to return to Massachusetts to write that commonwealth’s Constitution. He was elected to that new states Governorship. He was elected every year for five years straight to be the Governor of Mass. Two of the years he declined the position, but again served the last year, until his death on October 8th, 1793.
He was elected to serve, while Governor, to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention to adopt or vote down the Federal Constitution written by contemporary, James Madison, but his poor health kept him from doing so until the last week of the convention. He voted for the adoption for the U.S. Constitution, and by his influence, many followed his lead. He was beloved by his countrymen and his cause of liberty lives on in our hearts and minds.
John Hancock, yet another National Treasure.
Robert E. Stage Jr.
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