Biography of John Hancock
John Hancock was born January 23 [O.S. January 12] 1737 in Braintree, Massachusetts, the son of Reverend John Hancock and Mary Hawke. Hancock was a Massachusetts merchant and patriot of the American Revolution. He served as President of the Second Continental Congress and was the first Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He is most famous for his signature on the United States Declaration of Independence.
In 1742, John Hancock's father died and John was adopted by his paternal uncle, Thomas Hancock who was a successful merchant and privateer. After John graduated from Boston Latin School in 1750, he enrolled in Harvard University and received a bachelors degree in 1754. After graduation, his father trained him for an eventual partnership. In 1763, a full partnership took place. After his uncle's illness, John took the leading role in the business. In August 1764, Thomas Hancock died and John inherited the business and become one of the wealthiest men in America.
In May 1768, Hancock was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. The house then elected him each year tot he Governor's Council, but the Governor rejected his appointments until 1771 when the Governor changed his mind. However, Hancock turned down the position and stated he was no longer interested in politics. In 1769, Hancock was elected speaker pro tem.
On May 24, 1775, John Hancock was elected President of the Second Continental Congress. The president's authority was limited to that of a presiding officer. Hancock served during 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. Hancock resigned from office on October 30, 1777. Hancock's vanity offended many members of Congress, particularly his fellow Massachusetts delegates, and when Congress voted to thank Hancock for his service, the other Massachusetts delegates voted against the resolution.
John Hancock is best known for his signature on the Declaration of Independence. It is a myth that his signature was large so King George could easily read it. The printer produced the first published version of the Declaration, the widely distributed Dunlap broadside, with Hancock's name the only congressman whose name appeared on it. Hancock's name was printed, not signed: his famous signature appears on a different documentâ€”a sheet of parchment that was engrossed (carefully handwritten) sometime after July 19 and signed on August 2 by Hancock and those delegates present. This is the copy of the Declaration of Independence on display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. His name appears large because he was the President of Congress.
In January 1776, Hancock 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 1780-1785 he was governor of Massachusetts. Hancock's skills as orator and moderator were much admired, but during the American Revolution he was most sought after for his ability to raise funds and supplies for American troops.
On June 16, 1785, Hancock was elected to the United States in Congress Assembled under the Articles of Confederation. He was unable to attend the sessions of Congress due to his illness. He was elected to President of Congress on November 23, 1785 by the delegates in hope to restore unity in the Confederation Government that was falling apart. However, he failed to attend any sessions and his Presidential duties were performed by the two chairmen, David Ramsay and Nathaniel Gorham. On May 29, 1786, Hancock resigned. He instead served as Governor of Massachusetts from 1787 until his death.
On October 8, 1793, John Hancock died in Quincy, Massachusetts. He was laid to rest in Old Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts.
John Hancock was married to Dorothy Quincy and had two children, neither of whom survived to adulthood.
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