1976 13¢ Declaration of Independence
US #1691-94 was issued to commemorate Hancock’s signing of the Declaration of Independence.

On October 8, 1793, statesman, merchant, accused smuggler, and patriot John Hancock died at his home in Boston, Massachusetts.

Hancock was born on January 23, 1737 in Braintree, Massachusetts. As a child, he was a casual acquaintance of John Adams. After his father’s death in 1744, Hancock went to live with a wealthy aunt and uncle who exported rum, whale oil, and fish.

1978 Postal Card - Non-denom John Hancock
US #UX74 – Hancock First Day Postal Card

Hancock attended Harvard College and graduated in 1754. He then began working for his uncle as the French and Indian War began. During this time, Hancock learned a great deal about his uncle’s business, in which he would one day become a partner. As part of his work, Hancock spent a couple years in England establishing a relationship with customers and suppliers. By 1763, Hancock returned to America and was a full partner, filling in for his sick uncle. After his uncle died the following year, Hancock inherited the business and family home, Hancock Manor.

2016 47¢ Repeal of the Stamp Act
US #5064 was issued for the 250th anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act.

In 1764, the British Parliament passed a Sugar Act, replacing the earlier Molasses Act of 1733. The Sugar Act lowered the tax rate on molasses, but covered more products, and was much more strictly enforced. Many colonists were outraged that they were being taxed by a government where they weren’t represented. As a merchant, Hancock criticized the act for economic reasons. The following year he took a greater interest in politics and was elected one of Boston’s five selectmen (a governing board for the city). When Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765, Hancock initially supported it at as a loyal British subject, but soon changed his mind and joined in the boycott of British goods.

As a rising figure in local politics, Hancock was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in May 1766. Many credit Samuel Adams in Hancock’s political success.

1973 8¢ Postal Card - Samuel Adams
US #UX66 – Samuel Adams First Day Postal Card

In 1767, the British passed the Townshend Acts, establishing new duties on imports and strengthening the customs agency. The new acts infuriated both merchants and smugglers. On a few separate occasions, customs officials that suspected Hancock of smuggling goods on board his ships. The first time, he refused to allow them to go below the deck, a moment some considered to be one of the first acts of resistance against the British before the Revolution.

1976 18¢ Hancock, Thomson First Day Cover
US #1687d – First Day Cover with stamp picturing Hancock and Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress

In another incident, a riot broke out aboard Hancock’s ship leading customs officials to declare they were unsafe and demand British troops be sent to Boston. As a result, Hancock’s ship was confiscated and used by the British for anti-smuggling operations before being burned by angry colonists. Hancock was also brought up on charges, which were later inexplicably dropped. Because of these incidents, many historical texts have described him as a smuggler.

1978 10¢ Postal Card - John Hancock
US #UY30 – Hancock postal card issued in Quincy, Massachusetts

In the wake of Hancock’s trial, British troops were stationed in Boston. Tensions between the soldiers and citizens escalated, leading to the Boston Massacre, in which five civilians were killed. Hancock threatened that if the British troops weren’t removed, 10,000 armed colonists would march into Boston. While the British didn’t believe him, they didn’t want to risk their own men’s lives and removed them from the town. Hancock was hailed as a hero and almost unanimously reelected to the Massachusetts House.

1976 Declaration of Independence souvenir sheet of 5
US #1687 – The two 1976 Declaration of Independence issues and the 1869 Pictorial were all based on John Trumbull’s massive 1818 painting, which measures 12 feet by 18 feet. It hangs in the US Capitol in Washington, DC.  Click here for more about the painting.

After the British partially repealed the Townshend duties in 1770, tensions were slightly alleviated. However, the 1773 Tea Act once again outraged the colonists. Hancock attended the December 16 meeting that preceded the Boston Tea Party. Though he didn’t participate in it, or publicly praise it, he did tell those in attendance that night, “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes.”

1971 6¢ Postal Card - Paul Revere
US #UX58 – Paul Revere’s Ride First Day Postal Card

In 1774, Hancock was elected president of the Provincial Congress, which created the first companies of minutemen. At the end of the year, Hancock was elected as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. He was also reelected president of the Provincial Congress. Both roles gave him a considerable amount of influence, leading the British to consider arresting him. In fact, in April 1775, as the British made their way to seize military supplies at Concord, they may have also included orders to arrest Hancock and Samuel Adams. Part of Paul Revere’s famous midnight ride included delivering a warning to Hancock that the British were coming and might try to arrest him.

1978 10¢ Postal Card - John Hancock
US #UY29 – 1978 Hancock Postal Card

Hancock evaded British capture and attended the Continental Congress in May 1775. He was unanimously elected president of the Continental Congress. His role was somewhat undefined, but included a lot of correspondence. He wrote letters to colonial officials, raised funds for supplies and recruitment for the army. He also chaired the Marine Committee and helped establish a small fleet of frigates, including one named in his honor.

1869 24¢ Declaration of Independence
US #120 – Hancock is one of the 42 people pictured on this stamp!

Hancock also presided over the Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted. Although the declaration was approved on July 4, 1776, it wasn’t signed by all the delegates as is often believed. It was first sent out to a printer. But as president of the Congress, Hancock was the only delegate whose name appeared on the first printed version of the declaration. And it wasn’t until August 2 that he signed his now-famous large signature on the carefully handwritten version of the declaration.

1978 10¢ Postal Card - John Hancock
US #UX75 – 10¢ Hancock Postal Card

After more than two years in Congress, Hancock took a leave of absence in October 1777. He returned home to Boston where he was reelected to the House of Representatives. In addition to lending his own money to the war effort, Hancock also gave to the poor in Boston. The following year he briefly returned to Congress and joined in the signing of the Articles of Confederation, before returning to Boston. Having previously served as a colonel of the Boston cadets, Hancock had always longed for a military position, especially with the start of the Revolution. He was made a senior major general in the Massachusetts militia and given command of 6,000 men. Though the ensuing attack on the British garrison at Newport Rhode Island was a failure, Hancock was still a popular figure. He went on to become a charter member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

1977 13¢ Articles of Confederation
US #1726 – Commemorates the 200th anniversary of the drafting of the Articles of Confederation

In 1780, Hancock was elected governor of Massachusetts, winning over 90% of the vote. He remained in that role until resigning in 1785. Many suspect it was to avoid dealing with the unrest that resulted in Shay’s Rebellion. Following the uprising he was reelected governor every year until his death. In the meantime he was also part of the Massachusetts convention to ratify the Constitution. In 1789, Hancock was a candidate in the presidential election, though he only won four electoral votes.

After suffering health issues for many years, Hancock died in his home, Hancock Manor, on October 8, 1793. His long-time friend Samuel Adams was acting governor following his death and made the date of his burial a state holiday. His funeral was one of the most lavish up to that time.

FREE printable This Day in History album pages
Download a PDF of today’s article.
Get a binder or other supplies to create your This Day in History album.

Discover what else happened on This Day in History.

Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
3.7/5 - (3 votes)
Share this Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *