John Hancock (1737-1793) was leader in the American Revolution and the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence, probably in July 1776. He signed his name in large and bold strokes in order that the King of England could see it. His famous signature is referred to today whenever people say that they have "written their John Hancock," meaning they had signed their names.
Hancock was born in Braintree (now Quincy), Massachusetts. His father was a minister who died when John was a young boy. John was adopted by his uncle, Thomas Hancock, one of the wealthiest merchants in Boston. He joined his uncle in business after he graduated from Harvard College in 1754. Upon his uncle's death in 1764, John inherited the company.
John became known as a revolutionary after an incident in 1768 known as the Liberty Affair. One of John's vessels, the Liberty, arrived in the Boston Harbor to unload a shipment of wine and to take on new cargo. British customs officials seized the Liberty and charged Hancock with disobeying regulation. This action angered the citizens of Boston, and mobs rioted. The British government sent soldiers to bring order to the area. The Liberty Affair was one of the events that led to the Revolutionary War.
Hancock was elected to the Massachusetts General Court (the lower house of the colonial legislature) in 1769. In 1774 the General Court became the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and Hancock served as president in 1774 and 1775.
Tensions between the Americans and the British grew, and Hancock used his influence and wealth in the independence movement. The British regarded him as one of the most dangerous revolutionaries. John Hancock and Samuel Adams, another Revolutionary leader from Massachusetts, came close to being arrested by the British in 1775 but escaped when a fellow patriot named Paul Revere took his famous ride in order to give them warning and aid in their escape.
Hancock was president of the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1777. Because of his position of president, he had the honor of being the first to sign the Declaration of Independence when it was adopted by Congress. Hancock wanted to lead the Continental Army in the fight for independence during the Revolutionary War and was disappointed when Congress chose George Washington. Hancock, however, had the opportunity to serve in the military when he led about 5,000 soldiers from Massachusetts in an unsuccessful attempt to free Rhode Island from British control.
Hancock was president of the convention that adopted the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780. He also became the first person to serve as governor under the new charter. He served nine terms as governor, from 1780 to 1785, and again from 1787 until his death at age 55 on October 8, 1793.
Facts for this post came from an article by William Morgan Fowler, Jr. in World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 9, pp 38-39.
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