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Holiday Heroes
John Hancock (1737–1793)

Biography | Timeline of Hancock’s Life | Fascinating Facts About Him

by Judy Luo

johnhancock_paintingYou may not know much about this Founding Father, but John Hancock played a major role in the American Revolution.

John Hancock was born in 1737 to a wealthy family that lived near Boston, Massachusetts. He had a happy childhood with his brother, sister, mother, and father (who was a Puritan minister). He often played and studied with his best friend, John Adams, who later became the second president of the United States.

His father died when John was 7, and his mother did not have enough money to keep the family together. John went to live with his uncle and aunt, Thomas and Lydia Hancock. They raised him like he was their own son.

While in college at Harvard, John was known for being a good student and was popular with classmates. He even got into trouble sometimes for coming tardy to class because he had been out late with friends.

When his uncle died, John took over his uncle’s shipping and real estate business, Thomas Hancock & Company. At age 27, Hancock had to manage this large company, but it made him the richest man in Massachusetts.

Even though Hancock became rich and powerful quickly, he did not forget his friends and community. He frequently donated money to churches, schools, and poor people in Boston. Hancock’s generosity made him popular among Bostonians, and he loved getting their attention. A natural leader, he soon became a politician.

Hancock first caught people’s political attention in the 1760s by protesting the Sugar Act and Stamp Act, two British attempts to tax the American colonies. He joined a group called the Sons of Liberty to protest against the British.

His political career began 1766 when he was elected to the Boston Assembly. In the next three decades, Hancock climbed the political ladder. He became president of the Congress of Massachusetts in 1773 and then president of the Continental Congress in 1775.

With his wealth, power, and popularity, Hancock made a great impact during the American Revolution. He is most famous for his large, stylish signature on the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

The Continental Congress produced the most important documents of the American Revolution. As its president, Hancock had to preside over the debates among the delegates.

Hancock proved his bravery and drive during the Revolutionary War. He opposed the British even after they offered a huge reward to anyone who captured him. He rose to the rank of major general in the Massachusetts militia. Hancock worked tirelessly to secure money and supplies for American soldiers, often working six days a week to manage all the paperwork. His leadership helped establish the America we know today.

After the war, Hancock returned to Massachusetts. He was elected its first governor in 1780. He was re-elected 11 times and served until his death in 1793. Hancock was so committed to his government that he continued as governor even while grieving the death of his 9-year-old son, George Washington Hancock. John Hancock dedicated his life to his friends, family, and country.

Biography | Timeline of Hancock’s Life | Fascinating Facts About Him

Timeline of John Hancock’s Life


Jan. 23

John Hancock is born. (According to the calendar of the time, he was born on Jan. 12, but the old calendar was changed.)


His father dies.


John graduates from Harvard College.


Hancock takes over Thomas Hancock & Company.


He is elected to the Boston Assembly.


He is elected president of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts.


Hancock is elected to the Continental Congress.


He is elected president of the Continental Congress.


He marries Dorothy Quincy.


He is elected governor of Massachusetts and is re-elected until he dies in office.


He runs for the office of U.S. vice president but loses,


John Hancock dies.

 Biography | Timeline of Hancock’s Life | Fascinating Facts About Him

Fascinating Facts About John Hancock

         While at Harvard, he was known to dress in fancy clothes with wild colors and lace.

         He was known for throwing large, lavish extravagant parties to honor guests and celebrate momentous events. His opponents criticized his vanity and lavishness.

         He was mentored early in his political life by Samuel Adams, the cousin of John Adams who became a leader of the Sons of Liberty revolutionary group.

         He admired George Washington so much that he named his son George Washington Hancock.

         Both of his children with Dorothy died young, so he had no heirs.

         He witnessed the coronation of George III while on a business trip in England. Later, however, he was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, which criticized George III and called for full separation Great Britain.

         In 1768, customs officials impounded Hancock’s ship Liberty in Boston Harbor. The ship carried a cargo of wine. When entering the harbor, the captain and crew of the ship did not pay the proper duties on the cargo. In fact, they imprisoned the customs inspector who boarded their ship. When they landed the Liberty at Hancock’s wharf, customs officials boarded the ship, and a commotion began. A crowd of onlookers became unruly and eventually dragged the boat of one customs official to the Boston Common where they set it on fire. Some in the crowd beat the officers, too, causing them to flee.

         Hancock was formally charged with smuggling in the 1760s. He was acquitted, however, thanks to the efforts of his defense lawyer and childhood friend, John Adams.

         John’s signature on the Declaration of Independence is so famous that the term “John Hancock” is now used interchangeably with “signature.”

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