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Our nation had many great people who have changed our nation’s fate throughout the history. These people may not be remembered but have changed our nation’s direction. People like John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, John Adams, George Washington, and etc. were remembered. But a person like John Hancock, about 1/300 of the population of Unites States of America knows about him. Even though he is not remembered, John Hancock is one of the most extraordinary people who have change the fate of our nation.
John Hancock was born on January 23, 1727 in Braintree, Mass. He is the son of John Hancock and Mary Hawke. John Hancock (father) was a Harvard graduate and minister. They lived in a part of town which eventually became the city known as Quincy, Mass. where John Hancock became the childhood friend of John Adams. In 1742, Hancock’s father died and he was adopted by his uncle, Thomas Hancock. Thomas Hancock lived in Hancock Manor in Boston where he had no children and he was a successful privateer and a merchant. John enrolled in Harvard University, received a bachelors degree, after graduating form Boston Latin School in 1750. After graduating from Harvard he worked for his uncle and he was trained for eventually partnership. From 1760 to 1761, he lived in England. He was building relationship with customers and suppliers of his uncle’s shipbuilding business. In January 1763, Thomas Hancock made John his full partner of his business. Since his uncle was sick, he took over the business. A year later, in August, Thomas Hancock dies of illness. He took full control of the business and became one of the wealthiest in America. At first John Hancock did well. His ship sailed across the Atlantic Ocean with good for the people of London. His ships sailed back with god to sell the colonies. Many colonies needed and bought the goods made in England, the mother country. John Hancock made a lot of money. He was generous, too. He gave food and firewood to the poor in the winter. He also gave a lot of money to the churches of Boston. Many people liked John Hancock because he was a kind man. (Lee, 3-11)
In 1765 the news was bad. England had enacted the Stamp Act, imposing taxes on Americans in 55 different ways. Americans, who had always managed their money in their own assemblies, considered, the act was unconstitutional.
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John Hancock was King George’s #1 on the Dangerous List. His head was wanted for 500 pounds. On May 1768, one of Hancock's ships, the Liberty, arrived in Boston with a load of Madeira, a fortified wine made in the Madeira Islands of Portugal, which is prized equally for drinking and cooking; the latter use including the dessert plum in Madeira. The custom officers did not inspect the ship until the next morning, when they found the ship was less than one-quarter full. The agents claimed that no wine had been unloaded during the night. The next month, while the warship HMS Romney was in port, one of the custom officers now said that he had been forcibly held on the Liberty and was threatened with death if he told about it. The government seized the ship. A mob gathered at the homes of the custom officers, smashing their windows and threatening to attack the custom officers if they returned. Hancock was able to obtain the release of the Liberty until the case came up in court. Otis and Adams accused Hancock of capitulating to the government, in response to which Hancock canceled his deal to recover the ship. In August, the charges against Hancock were dropped, but his ship was ordered forfeited. In November, after British troops had arrived, Hancock was again arrested for smuggling on the Liberty. After three months, with no evidence or eyewitness testimony to his guilt being presented, he was acquitted. In February 1769, the events associated with the Liberty caused Parliament to order the Massachusetts Governor to apply the Treasons Act 1534, ordering those suspected of treason to be brought to England. The ship was armed and roamed the coast looking for smugglers. Liberty's searches and seizures infuriated merchants in Newport and they sent a mob to burn the ship to the waterline. (Unger 12-27)
John was 38 years old by now and was engaged to Dorothy (Dolly) Quincy, the youngest and prettiest of the five Quincy girls. They were to be married in the spring. The north parlor of the Quincy home was ready, its wall newly papered for the occasion with a design of blue cupids shooting blue arrows at red flowers. But John didn’t get to the Quincy home that spring. On April 19, the English troops, marching to Concord to look for Americans arms, stopped of at Lexington for a battle and so the war started. John, who was hiding at Lexington, had all he could to keep one step ahead of English army. But even when he did reach safety, he couldn’t go to the room of blue cupids. Instead he went to Philadelphia. John was one of the delegated from Massachusetts to the Continental Congress, meeting of representatives from all the Colonies to decide what to do about England. (Hancock, website)
On March 5, 1774, the fourth anniversary of the Boston Massacre, he gave a speech strongly condemning the British. In that same year, he was elected as that president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and presided over its Committee of Safety. Under Hancock, Massachusetts was able to raise bands of "minutemen", soldiers who pledged to be ready for battle on short notice, and his boycott of tea imported by the British East India Company eventually led to the Boston Tea Party. In April 1775 as the British intent became apparent, Hancock and Samuel Adams slipped away from Boston to elude capture, staying in the Hancock-Clarke House in Lexington, Massachusetts (which can still be seen to this day). There Paul Revere supposedly roused them about midnight before the British troops arrived at dawn for the Battle of Lexington and Concord, but Prescott was the one who actually informed Hancock and Adams. At this time, General Thomas Gage ordered Hancock and Adams arrested for treason. Following the battle a proclamation was issued granting a general pardon to all who would demonstrate loyalty to the crown, with the exceptions of Hancock and Adams. On May 24, 1775, he was elected the third President of the Second Continental Congress, succeeding Peyton Randolph. From October 27, 1775 to July 1, 1776, his title was "President of the United Colonies". From July 2, 1776 to October 29, 1777, the title was "President of the Continental Congress of the United States of America". He would serve through some of the darkest days of the Revolutionary War including Washington's defeats in New York and New Jersey as well as Great Britain's occupation of Philadelphia until resigning his office in York, Pennsylvania on October 30, 1777. He was succeeded by Henry Laurens. In the first month of his presidency, on June 19, 1775, Hancock commissioned George Washington commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. In all spring of 1777, the members of Congress had been arguing about whether American should declare heir independence. Some said “No, not yet” while some said “Yes, now.” But not until late on the rainy afternoon of July 2 did they agree that yes, Americans should declare. It took two more days to agree on exactly how the Declaration Of Independence (prepared by Thomas Jefferson) should be worded and another month for final copy to be drafted on parchment for the members to sign. John Hancock signed first. He flipped back his lace cuffs, dipped his quill pen in the silver inkstand on the desk, and he wrote large. He was, after all, making history. If American won the war, he would be honored as the first Signed. But if America lost, then he would be the first to be hanged for treason. After he signed, according to the popular legend, he said “There, George the Third can read that without his spectacles. Now he can double his reward for my head.” Hancock was the only one to sign the Declaration of Independence on the fourth; the other 55 delegates signed on August 2nd (see also "Lee Resolution" that declared independence on July 2nd). He also requested Washington have the Declaration read to the Continental Army. For much of the war, John lived in comfort. He and Dolly were married in the summer of 1775. In January 1776, he was appointed commander in chief and major general of the Massachusetts militia. In July 1778, he led 6,000 of his militia in a failed attack on the British at Newport, Rhode Island. From 1781-1785 he was the governor of Massachusetts. But he resigned him self. (Lee, 17-47)
John Hancock died October 8, 1793. It was a sad day for everybody. The funeral was held six days later. At noon 20,000 people gathered on the Common to march four abreast in a procession a mile and a half long to the burying ground. He is still remembered by the signature only, but still no one knows him for sure. He is one of the extraordinary people who had changed the fate of our country.
"John Hancock." Virtualology. 2000. Evisum Inc. 16 Mar. 2008
Unger, Harlow. John Hancock: Merchant King and American Patriot. Wiley, 2000. 3-47.
Fritz, Jean. Will You Sign Here John Hancock? New York: Coward-McCann Inc., 1976. 3-68.
Lee, Susan, and John Lee. Heroes of the Revolution: John Hancock. Chicago: Regensteiner Enterprises, Inc, 1974. 3-36.