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John Hancock Edit Profile

politician and merchant

The orphaned son of an impecunious minister, he was adopted by his uncle, Thomas Hancock, the richest merchant in Boston. His uncle's death, when John was twenty-seven, made him the head of the House of Hancock and the possessor of one of the greatest fortunes in America.


He was elected to the Massachusetts General Court, the Provincial Congress, and the Continental Congress. He served two terms as president of the last-named body and affixed the most conspicuous signature to the Declaration of Independence. Although he commanded the Massachusetts militia during the Revolution, with the rank of major general, his hopes of leading his troops against the British in Rhode Island also failed to materialize.


In 1768, following a practice in which he and other New England merchants had often engaged, Hancock smuggled ashore from his sloop Liberty part of a large cargo of Madeira wine. The subsequent seizure of the Liberty by the Colonial authorities provoked riots and popular demonstrations in Boston. Hancock's role in the Liberty affair enhanced his local prestige and made him a symbol of the patriotic movement.