Wednesday, November 22nd, 2017

Who signed what when where and how


Brian Fraley goes to and finds the real story behind John Hancock’s signature.

It is indeed one of the quirks of history that John Hancock — one of colonial America’s most ardent revolutionaries and greatest philanthropists, a nine-term governor of Massachusetts, president of the Continental Congress, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence — is so little-known to Americans. Sure, we know his name because of his bold signature on the Declaration of Independence, but we don’t know much about Hancock the man, and we don’t generally rank him among the pantheon of America’s founding fathers as we do men such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin.

Perhaps because we know so little about Hancock the man, we’ve invented legends about him to explain how his name came to be front and center on the Declaration of Independence, the largest and clearest signature on the document, smack in the middle of the top row. It was an act of defiance, we’ve decided — a bold stroke by a bold man who challenged the British to come and get him, and who by so doing instilled confidence and courage in the colonial delegates who followed his lead and affixed their names to the Declaration as well, even though they risked being hanged for treason by doing so.

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