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John Hancock
Half-length portrait of a man with a hint of a smile. His handsome features suggests that he is in his 30s, although he wears an off-white wig in the style of an English gentleman that makes him appear older. His dark suit has fancy embroidery.
Portrait by John Singleton Copley, c. 1770–72
1st and 3rd Governor of Massachusetts
In office
May 30, 1787 – October 8, 1793
Lieutenant Samuel Adams
Preceded by James Bowdoin
Succeeded by Samuel Adams
In office
October 25, 1780 – January 29, 1785
Lieutenant Thomas Cushing
Preceded by
Succeeded by James Bowdoin
4th and 13th President of the Continental Congress
In office
November 23, 1785 – June 5, 1786
Preceded by Richard Henry Lee
Succeeded by Nathaniel Gorham
In office
May 24, 1775 – October 31, 1777
Preceded by Peyton Randolph
Succeeded by Henry Laurens
Personal details
Born (1737-01-23)January 23, 1737
Braintree (now Quincy), Province of Massachusetts Bay
Died October 8, 1793(1793-10-08) (aged 56)
Hancock Manor, Boston, Massachusetts
Resting place Granary Burying Ground, Boston
Dorothy Quincy (m. 1775)
Alma mater Harvard University (Bachelors)
Net worth US$350,000 at the time of his death (approximately 1/714th of US GNP)
Signature John Hancock's stylish signature. The handwriting, which slants slightly to the right, is firm and legible. The final letter loops back to underline his name in a flourish.

John Hancock (January 23, 1737 [O.S. January 12, 1736] – October 8, 1793) was an American merchant, statesman, and prominent Patriot of the American Revolution. He served as president of the Second Continental Congress and was the first and third Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is remembered for his large and stylish signature on the United States Declaration of Independence, so much so that the term John Hancock has become a synonym in the United States for one's signature.

Early life and career

Coat of Arms of John Hancock
Coat of Arms of John Hancock

Before the American Revolution, Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the Thirteen Colonies, having inherited a profitable mercantile business from his uncle. He began his political career in Boston as a protégé of Samuel Adams, an influential local politician, though the two men later became estranged. Hancock used his wealth to support the colonial cause as tensions increased between colonists and Great Britain in the 1760s.

He became very popular in Massachusetts, especially after British officials seized his ship Liberty in 1768 and charged him with smuggling. Those charges were eventually dropped; he has often been described as a smuggler in historical accounts, but the accuracy of this characterization has been questioned.

Hancock was one of Boston's leaders during the crisis that led to the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775. He served more than two years in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and he was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence in his position as president of Congress. He returned to Massachusetts and was elected governor of the Commonwealth, serving in that role for most of his remaining years. He used his influence to ensure that Massachusetts had a treaty with the United States Constitution in 1788.

Hancock had several important jobs in Colonial America and the early United States of America. He was president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1774 and 1775. He used his money to support American independence. The British thought him a very dangerous man.

Hancock was president of the Continental Congress in 1774 and 1775. He wanted to lead the Continental Army. George Washington got the job instead. With 5,000 troops, he tried to free Rhode Island from the British. He was not successful.

Hancock led the convention that adopted the Massachusetts Constitution in 1780. He was first Governor of the state Massachusetts. He served nine terms. Hancock suffered from gout in his later life. He died in 1793.

Signing the Declaration

United States Declaration of Independence
United States Declaration of Independence

Hancock was president of Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed. He is primarily remembered by Americans for his large, flamboyant signature on the Declaration, so much so that "John Hancock" became, in the United States, an informal synonym for signature. According to legend, Hancock signed his name largely and clearly so that King George could read it without his spectacles, but the story is apocryphal and originated years later.

Contrary to popular mythology, there was no ceremonial signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1776. After Congress approved the wording of the text on July 4, the fair copy was sent to be printed. As president, Hancock may have signed the document that was sent to the printer John Dunlap, but this is uncertain because that document is lost, perhaps destroyed in the printing process. Dunlap produced the first published version of the Declaration, the widely distributed Dunlap broadside.

Hancock's name was printed, not signed, on the Dunlap broadside; his iconic signature appears on a different document—a sheet of parchment that was carefully handwritten sometime after July 19 and signed on August 2 by Hancock and those delegates present. Known as the engrossed copy, this is the famous document on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.


Hancock's memorial in Boston's Granary Burying Ground, dedicated in 1896

When he had resigned as governor in 1785, Hancock was again elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress, known as the Confederation Congress after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation in 1781. Congress had declined in importance after the Revolutionary War, and was frequently ignored by the states. Congress elected Hancock to serve as its president, but he never attended because of his poor health and because he was not interested. He sent Congress a letter of resignation in 1786.

As was the custom in an era where political ambition was viewed with suspicion, Hancock did not campaign or even publicly express interest in the office; he instead made his wishes known indirectly. Like everyone else, Hancock knew that George Washington was going to be elected as the first president, but Hancock may have been interested in being vice president, despite his poor health.

His health failing, Hancock spent his final few years as essentially a figurehead governor. With his wife at his side, he died in bed on October 8, 1793, at 56 years of age. By order of acting governor Samuel Adams, the day of Hancock's burial was a state holiday; the lavish funeral was perhaps the grandest given to an American up to that time.

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