Childhood & Early Life
John Hancock was born to a Congregational pastor in Massachusetts. He was named after his father, Rev. John Hancock, who died when the boy was only seven years old.
After the death of his father, his uncle Thomas Hancock, a rich childless merchant, and his wife adopted him. Thomas owned a highly successful business in Boston dealing in import-export of goods.
He studied at the Boston Latin School and graduated in 1750. After that he went to Harvard College and earned his Bachelor’s degree in 1754.
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He started working at his uncle’s business after completing his college education. At about the same time, the French and Indian War broke out.
His uncle had favorable political relations that enabled him to secure profitable contracts from the government during war time. Hancock gained a lot of first-hand experience and knowledge about running the business.
After staying in England during 1760-61 to establish relations with suppliers and customers in order to develop his business, he returned to Boston.
He became a full partner in his uncle’s business in 1763, and inherited the business and vast estates after the death of his uncle in 1764, becoming one of the richest men in the colonies.
The British parliament passed the Sugar Act in 1764 which caused resistance among the colonists. John Hancock, along with James Otis and Samuel Adams criticized the move.
He was chosen as one of Boston’s five selectmen in 1765. The same year the Stamp Act was passed, and he along with fellow businessmen protested against the Act by boycotting British goods.
In 1766, he was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. By this time, he had become a well known political figure in Boston.
The British passed the Townshend Acts in 1767 which placed several restrictions on import-export trade. The Acts outraged the merchants like Hancock who called for a boycott of British imports until the Acts were repealed.
Hancock’s sloop ‘Liberty’ was confiscated by British officials in 1768 on the suspicion that he was using it to transport smuggled goods. Several charges were pressed against him though they were later dropped. This incident provoked many to label him a smuggler though no proof to validate this claim existed.
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The Boston Massacre happened in March 1770 in which British soldiers killed five civilians. Hancock met Governor Thomas Hutchinson and Colonel William Dalrymple and talked them into withdrawing the troops from Boston.
When the British passed the Tea Act in 1773, the Bostonians’ resistance led to what became known as the ‘Boston Tea Party’. Even though he did not take part in the tea party, he publicly approved of it.
In 1774, he read a speech he had written in collaboration with Samuel Adams and others on the fourth annual Massacre Day oration. This speech was published and circulated widely which enhanced his image as a true son of America.
The Massachusetts Provincial Congress was formed in 1774 and Hancock was made its president. He also served on the Committee of Safety, and was selected as a delegate to attend the Second Continental Congress.
He was elected as the president of the Continental Congress in 1775. His social stature and multiple political roles made him a very influential patriotic figure who ran the risk of being captured by the British officials.
After the Declaration of Independence was approved on 4 July 1776, John Hancock, being the president of the Continental Congress, was the first one to sign the document on 2 August 1776. He is famous for the large and stylish signature he affixed on the Declaration.
Taking a leave of absence from the Congress in 1777, he returned to Boston where he was re-elected to the House of Representatives.
In 1780, he was appointed the Governor of Massachusetts. He was very popular in the state and easily won the re-elections by wide margins. He served in this position till 1785 when he resigned because of poor health.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Dorothy Quincy on 28 August 1775. The couple had two children, both of whom died in childhood.
As a wealthy merchant, he lived a lavish and often extravagant life.
He was greatly admired for his philanthropy and was known to donate generously to widows, orphans and other needy sections of the society.
His later years were marked by various health problems including gout. He died at the age of 56 in 1793.
He was criticized for leading a lavish and extravagant lifestyle.
Hancock, a town in Massachusetts, was named in his honour.
Some of his detractors had labeled him a smuggler though the accusation had no legal backing.