A website from the Massachusetts Historical Society; founded 1791.


John Hancock

12 January 1737 - 8 October 1793

John Hancock was born the son of a pastor in Braintree. When he was seven, he was sent to Boston to live with his uncle Thomas, a wealthy Boston merchant. Thomas Hancock died in 1764, and John inherited his estate and became one of the wealthiest men in Boston. In 1768, his sloop Liberty was caught smuggling Madeira wine. The incident made Hancock an instant martyr for colonial rights. In 1774, he was elected president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and served as a delegate to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The acceptance of these seats made Hancock a traitor to the Crown, and he was forced to find safety in his family's parsonage in Lexington with fellow Boston delegate, Samuel Adams. It was here that Paul Revere warned him of the approaching British troops on 18 April 1775. In May 1775, he was elected president of the Second Continental Congress, and his moderate political nature made him the perfect moderator during the heated debate over independence. In 1780, Hancock was elected the first governor of Massachusetts and held that seat for nine terms until his death in 1793.