About John Hancock


John Hancock was one of the wealthiest men in the colonies before joining the revolutionary cause. Hancock is best known as an American Revolutionary leader and the first signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. He was an ardent revolutionary, philanthropist, President of Congress and nine times Governor of Massachusetts.

Harvard educated, he was a rich aristocrat who enjoyed English culture and fashion and owe his fortune to British trade. An unlikely revolutionary, but how did he become one of the most ardent supporters of American independence?

John Hancock inherited his wealth from his uncle, Thomas Hancock. Thomas Hancock founded and owned the House of Hancock, a trading company that imported goods from Britain and exported American goods to Britain. After John’s father died in 1744 he was sent to live with his uncle and wife who did not have children and treated John as their own child. John was a natural businessman and expanded his uncle’s wealth.

Portrait of John Hancock by John Singleton Copley  c. 1770–72

Hancock’s political career started in the mid 1760’s as a protégé of Samuel Adams. Using his influence in society and wealth he supported the boycott of British goods during the Stamp Act and the non-importation agreement during  Townshend Acts. He was also known as a smuggler who gained political popularity when his sloop, Liberty, was seized by customs officials. His first public office was as a Selectman of Boston.

He was an active member of the Sons of Liberty, however he did not publicly supported violence. As the moderator at the Boston Town meeting during the Tea Act crisis he approved of the citizen’s actions telling them “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes”. Although he did not take part in the Boston Tea Party, he supported the crowd’s actions.

During the Revolutionary War Hancock used his wealth to support the independence cause by financing arms and ammunition to the militia.

From 1765 until the end of his life he was committed to public office. The held the following government positions:

1765: Boston Town counsel selectman.

1765: Massachusetts representative to the Stamp Act Congress.

1766-1772: Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives.

1772-1774: Member of the Massachusetts General Court.

1773: Treasurer of Harvard College.

1774: President of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress

1775-1778: Member of the Second Continental Congress. President from May 1775 to October 1777 and first signer of the Declaration of Independence.

1776: Firs Major General of the Massachusetts Militia.

1780: Member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention. Ratified the Massachusetts Constitution.

1780-1785: Governor of the State of Massachusetts.

1787-1793: Governor of the State of Massachusetts.

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