navigation bar Houghton Mifflin Social Studies United States History: Early Years
Biographies Unit Biographies

John Hancock 1737–1793
Boston Merchant and Political Leader

John Hancock was a Boston merchant who became a leader of the Patriot cause in the tense years leading up to the Revolution. Hancock was well known in Boston. He was an elected official and one of the town's richest men. Hancock angered British officials by speaking out against the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts. He worked with other Patriot leaders to plan for the defense of Massachusetts. It was said that he secretly gave money to the Patriot militia.

In 1774, the British charged Hancock with treason. Fearing for his safety, he left Boston for Lexington. British troops hoped to capture him there on the morning of April 19, 1775. He escaped, however, thanks to a warning from Paul Revere. He was soon on his way to Philadelphia to attend the Second Continental Congress.

Hancock was elected president of the Congress, and was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. In 1780, Hancock was elected the first governor of Massachusetts. He was reelected many times.

Comprehension Check

Why did the British charge John Hancock with treason?

Critical Thinking

What word would you use to describe John Hancock? Explain your answer.