American History28 Feb 2010 12:27 am
In the United States, a signature is often colloquially called a “John Hancock,” after the first and most flamboyant signatory of the Declaration of Independence. According to legend, Hancock allegedly signed his name so largely and clearly so that King George could still see it without his glasses. Even thought killjoys debunked this tall tale long ago, it is a lot more fun (and completely harmless) to just go on pretending that it is true.
Despite enjoying widespread name recognition, John Hancock has suffered the strange fate of remaining an anonymous historical figure to most Americans. He was not only one of colonial America’s most ardent revolutionaries and philanthropists, but he also served as the governor of Massachusetts for nine-terms and was the president of the Continental Congress when the Declaration was signed. Born in Braintree, Massachusetts in 1737, he was orphaned by his biological parents and adopted by a wealthy merchant uncle who was childless. In 1763, his uncle died and John Hancock inherited what was said to be the greatest body of wealth in New England. He risked much of his fortune on the success of the revolution and took the risk of being hanged for treason by signing the Declaration (and so boldly too boot!).
Perhaps we know so little about John Hancock because his iconic signature says everything we really need (or want) to know about him: that he was bold, brave and thoroughly committed to the cause of an independent America. His bold signature set the standard for the rest of the Founding Fathers to follow.
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