Posts Tagged ‘John Hancock’

Pretty much everybody has heard of the Boston Massacre.  Even if one doesn’t know all the details, almost anyone can put enough facts together to get the gist of the story.  Way back in 2008, when Today’s History Lesson was newborn, my good friend Michael covered the Boston Massacre.  I don’t feel any real need to add to his very good synopsis, but let’s take a couple minutes and cover a related issue.

The Fifth Anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

March 5, 1775 was the date and the Old South Meeting House was the venue.  The gathering included, of course, Samuel Adams and John Hancock.  There were several men that spoke, including Hancock and Benjamin Church.  They were followed by Dr. Joseph Warren, wearing a white toga (reminiscent of the orators in the ancient Roman Senate).  He spoke of the Pilgrims leaving Europe, comparing it to Noah’s year in the ark, leaving a sin-stained world for a fresh, new existence.  He talked about Britain’s committment to its taxation of the Colonies.

But Warren’s most colorful language was spared for the memories of those killed on that fateful day five years earlier, and Ira Stoll records it in his biography of Samuel Adams.  “Take heed, ye orphan babes, lest, whilst your streaming eyes are fixed upon the ghastly corpse, your feet glide on the stones bespattered with your father’s brains. . . . We wildly stare about, and with amazement ask, who spread this ruin round us?  what wretch has dared deface the image of his God?  has haughty France, or cruel Spain, sent forth her myrmidons?  has the grim savage rused again from the far distant wilderness?  or does some fiend, fierce from the depth of hell, with all the rancorous malice, which the apostate damned can feel, twang her destructive bow, and hurl her deadly arrows at our breast?  no, none of these; but, how astonishing!  It is the hand of Britain that inflicts the wound.”

Warren’s goal of winding up those gathered was achieved.  But more than that, the British officers that were present (and seated towards the front) also got excited, but for entirely different reasons.  As he finished, Samuel Adams told those assembled to return the following year to again commemorate the bloody massacre.

And it was the word “bloody” that set the officers off.  A bit of a melee ensued, and some report that Adams was challenged to a duel.  Others report that Adams accepted.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and a second Boston Massacre was avoided…barely.

But there is little doubt that Colonists like Church, Adams, and Hancock left the Meeting House with big British targets on their backs.  And you could add Joseph Warren to the list as well.  He joined the Massachusetts militia, but his Revolution (and his life) ended just three months later when he was killed at Bunker Hill.

Recommended Reading: Samuel Adams: A Life

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Most of us know at least one fact about John Hancock – not the company that manages pensions and investments, though it’s named for him, but the actual guy – and that’s probably his enormous handwriting.  It was Hancock after all, who signed the Declaration of Independence with a Texas-sized signature, forcing the remaining signers to the fringes of the page.

Ok, that’s not strictly true, but if you’ve seen the Declaration, his signature is certainly the most prominent.

What you may not know is that John Hancock suffered from gout.  If you’re not familiar with it, gout is a particularly painful foot disorder generally caused by too much uric acid in the blood.  John Hancock, born in the mid-1730s, began suffering from it before his 40th birthday, about the time the push for independence was getting ramped up in the Colonies.

But some said that Hancock suffered from “political gout” as well.  This was the gout that always seemed to trouble the Declaration’s biggest signer whenever there were difficult political issues to solve.  Just such an instance may have been the time when Massachusetts was discussing ratification of the Constitution in January of 1788.

The delegates that met to discuss this most-important of issues numbered 355.  John Hancock was not among them, despite being the governor of Massachusetts.  His malady?…gout.  Many were suspicious.  In her book Miracle at Philadelphia, Catherine Bowen writes, “Notoriously avid of popularity, the Governor wished to time his appearance to that moment when the vote would be sure and the issue certain.”  Hancock had placed himself squarely against ratification, but knew the fight would be a close one among the delegates.  And apparently, the governor didn’t like being on the wrong side of a vote.  So the gout flared up.

Clearly John Hancock was correct in his assessment of the debate.  It was well-attended, out-growing the State House and finding its way into one of Boston’s larger churches.  And it was contentious.  Initially, those against ratification outnumbered those in favor, and they carried the loudest voices.  Rhetoric was much sharper than had been heard the previous summer in Philadelphia.

They spoke of their fear of standing armies.  They decried the weak position the Constitution took on banning slavery.  They worried about excessive taxation.  There was debate over the lack of religion in the document.  One detractor said he “shuddered at the idea that Roman Catholics, papists and pagans might be introduced into office, and that popery and the Inquisition may be established in America.”

And at the heart of it, they painted the Constitution as a rich-man’s document.  Amos Singletary, a simple farmer, spoke for most of the Antifederalists when he said, “These lawyers and men of learning, and moneyed men that talk so finely, and gloss over matters so smoothly, to make us poor illiterate people swallow down the pill, expect to get in Cogress themselves.  They expect to be managers of this Constitution, and get all the power and all the money into their own hands.”

But while those against ratification spoke the loudest, those in favor were better prepared, offered a more cogent defense, and worked to sway opposition.  In repsonse to Singletary there was Jonathan Smith, another farmer.  “Suppose you had a farm of fifty acres, and your title was disputed, and there was a farm of five thousand acres joined to you, that belonged to man of learning, and his title was involved in the same difficulty.  Would you not be glad to have him for your friend, rather than stand alone in your dispute?  Well, the case is the same.  These lawyers, these moneyed men, these men of learning, are all embarked in the same cause with us, and we must all swim or sink together.”

As January came to a close, it was clear that the Antifederalist cause was cracking.  And it fully cracked when Federalists offered up a “bill of rights”, addressing numerous Antifederalist concerns, to be recommended to Congress.  Even Samuel Adams, once against ratification and a voice as powerful as Hancock’s in Massachusetts, joined those in favor of adoption.

It was time to get John Hancock on board.  There was much bargaining with the Governor.  He was asked to present the bill of rights, called the “Conciliatory Proposition”, to the convention.  He was all but guaranteed victory in the next governor’s election.  He was told that if Virginia (Washington’s home state) refused to ratify, he would be the state’s nominee for President of the United States.  Madison wrote to Jefferson that Hancock was  “weak, ambitious, a courtier of popularity, given to low intrigue…”.  But right now, Madison needed Hancock…or rather, he needed Hancock’s support.

On January 30, 1788, John Hancock arrived at the convention in Boston.  He sported heavily bandaged feet and was carried to his chair, but the governor was present.  There would be another week’s worth of debate and more amendments to recommend to Congress.  But Federalists were now hopeful of carrying the day.

Recommended Reading: Miracle at Philadelphia

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He was a noted silversmith in Boston in the late 18th century, but it’s certainly not how he’s best known.  His name is mentioned in 21st-century kitchens every single day, but most cooks have no idea they’re doing so when they grab the saucepan from the drawer.  He was the father of a dozen children, but pretty much no one knows that, either.


When it comes to Paul Revere, we pretty much know him for one thing.  The Midnight Ride.  What else is there, right?  Well, other than the remaining 83 years of his life, not much.  His ride is the stuff of legends, not surprisingly, a number of legends surround that famous event…the precursor to the opening shots of the American Revolution.

British soldiers had been a (mostly unwelcome) fixture in Boston for years.  But in the wake of the Boston Tea Party, the Redcoats took up residence in greater numbers, both to keep the peace and to enforce the closure of Boston Harbor.  As Boston became more and more a powderkeg than a bustling harbor town, Paul Revere turned much of his silversmithing business over to his oldest son and served as a messenger, shuttling updates on the situation in Boston to others in the Colonies.

So Revere’s midnight ride, begun in the last hour of April 18, 1775, was nothing new.  It was what he had been doing for some time, though this time, the news was a little more urgent.  British regulars had begun moving across the Charles River.  Their destinations were two-fold, as were their objectives.  First, they headed for Lexington (10 miles west of Boston) to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were both considered important leaders in the Colonial resistance.  And realizing that meeting this objective would likely inflame the Colonists to take up arms, the British had as their second objective seizing the ammunition depot at Concord (5 miles further west of Lexington).

Paul Revere and William Dawes set out from the Old North Church.  And of course, as they departed, the famous pair of lanterns (“one if by land, two if by sea”) were held up in the steeple to warn Charlestown (just to the north) of the British movements.

Revere and Dawes would both reach Lexington in time to warn Adams and Hancock, but neither would reach Concord.  They were stopped at a roadblock were Paul was detained.  Dawes made his escape, but was soon thrown from his horse and didn’t complete his ride.

Paul Revere would survive the war and found the Revere Copper Company, which was renamed Copper and Brass, Inc.  And that company would begin producing Revere Ware Copper Clad Stainless Steel Cookware, which to this day sits in millions of cupboards.

But that doesn’t matter, because the British would continue on and engage the Colonists in both Lexington and Concord the next day (which I hope to cover tomorrow), and the American Revolution was on.  And Paul Revere’s name, stamped on a kitchen cooking utensil or not, would become synonymous with start of the fight for American independence.

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