Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

10 Facts For John Hancock's Birthday

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

You won’t find his likeness anywhere on American currency. Instead, we’ve given this founding father a linguistic tribute—thanks to one revolutionary document, his very name is now a synonym for signature. Join us as we celebrate this great New England statesman on his birthday.

1. HE WAS ADOPTED BY HIS UNCLE WHEN HE WAS 7.

Born in Braintree, Massachusetts on January 23, 1737 (according to the Gregorian calendar), Hancock was named after his father, the Reverend John Hancock. A Puritan minister, the elder John lived in a manse provided by the congregation he served with his wife, Mary Hawke Thaxter, and their three children; little John was the second. When the Reverend died in 1744, the family found itself homeless, their house promised to his replacement. Mary was moving the family to live with the children’s paternal grandfather, but John wound up under the care of his childless paternal uncle, Thomas Hancock. A powerful Boston merchant, Thomas and his wife, Lydia, handled Mary’s financial needs from afar while raising John as their own son and eventual heir.

2. HE ATTENDED THE CORONATION OF KING GEORGE III.

In 1760, Thomas sent his young protégé to England on a sensitive business trip, where Hancock became a witness to history (though certainly not for the last time). King George II was buried on November 13; among those present at his funeral was 23-year-old Hancock. In a letter to Thomas, the traveler expressed a deep desire to attend another royal event—King George III’s coronation. “I can’t yet determine whether I shall stay to see it,” he wrote, “but rather think I shall, as it is the grandest thing I shall ever meet with.”

Hancock is said to have not only watched the ceremony, but to have been briefly introduced, afterward, to his new monarch—who would one day put a 500-pound bounty on the New Englander.

3. REPORTEDLY, HE WAS A BOSTON TEA PARTY CHEERLEADER.

Hancock himself didn’t take part in the protest, in which Boston natives snuck aboard three British ships on December 16, 1773 and threw 342 chests of East India Company tea overboard—but he was one of the most vocal supporters of the party. George Robert Twelves Hewes, one of the tea-snatchers who illegally boarded the vessels, said that the last thing he recalled of the meeting that preceeded the tea party was Hancock’s shout of “Let every man do what is right in his own eyes.” But some historians think that Hancock’s motives weren’t exactly virtuous; Hancock supposedly made part of his fortune smuggling in Dutch tea, and the Tea Act meant that East India Company tea would be cheaper than the stuff he smuggled in.

4. HANCOCK DESPERATELY WANTED TO FIGHT IN THE BATTLE OF LEXINGTON.

On April 18, 1775, Hancock and fellow revolutionary Samuel Adams were lodging in Lexington, Massachusetts at the former home of Hancock’s grandfather. Little did they know that the shot heard ‘round the world would go off in just a few short hours. On the orders of the British government, General Thomas Gage led 700 red-coated troops to seize a nearby colonial militia’s weapon stockpile—and some believed that he also planned on arresting Adams and Hancock in the process.

Famously, a silversmith named Paul Revere rode out to Lexington that night, warning locals as he went. Revere arrived late at night and was able to give Hancock and Adams the warning, after which he continued to Concord. But on the way he was temporarily detained by the Brits, and after being released, he went back to make sure that Hancock and Adams had indeed escaped.

But to Revere's surprise, Hancock hadn't left. Instead, he loudly insisted on staying put and fighting alongside the militiamen. “If I had my musket,” he said, “I would never turn my back on these troops.” Eventually, Revere and Adams convinced him to flee, arguing that the British would score a huge moral victory by jailing such an influential patriot. This wasn’t an easy sell. As eyewitness Dorothy Quincy—Hancock’s fiancée—noted, “it was not until break of day that Mr. H. could be persuaded.”

5. HIS IS, BY FAR, THE BIGGEST SIGNATURE ON THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.

At the time, Hancock was acting President of the Second Continental Congress. As such, he was first to sign Thomas Jefferson’s monumental declaration in July 1776. The first printed copies bear only Hancock’s signature and that of Secretary Charles Thompson. These typeset documents were mailed out to the colonies before an identical, handwritten version was created. Eventually, this copy—now on display at the National Archive—acquired 56 signatures, most of which were jotted down on August 2.

You’ll notice immediately that Hancock’s signature dwarfs the competition. The vast majority take up somewhere between one and 2.5 square inches. At a whopping 6.1 square inches, however, Hancock’s signature is the biggest by far. Why did he upstage everyone else? Historians aren’t sure.

Nevertheless, we can at least dispel one common myth about the subject. Popular rumor holds that when Hancock left his extra-large signature, he defiantly shouted “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!” But there’s no confirmed record of him ever actually saying this.

6. HE WAS THE FIRST ELECTED GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS.

Hancock won the Bay State’s highest office in 1780, claiming more than 90 percent of the vote. He went on to earn five one-year terms before unexpectedly resigning in 1785. Following Shay’s Rebellion, Hancock re-entered the ring, winning yet another gubernatorial race. This time, he held the job he until died in 1793 at age 56.

7. IN 1789, HANCOCK WAS A PRESIDENTIAL “ALSO RAN.”

American politics will probably never see another landslide of this magnitude. In the nation’s first presidential election, beloved war hero George Washington prevailed with a showing for the ages. By constitutional law, each elector was granted two votes. Every single participant cast at least one of these for the General. At day’s end, Washington secured 69 total votes. By comparison, second-place-finisher John Adams nabbed a meager 34. Nobody else even broke single digits—John Jay took home nine, Robert Harrison and John Rutledge each received six, Hancock claimed four, George Clinton netted three, and two apiece went to Samuel Huntington and John Milton. As for the remaining three votes, they were divvied up between as many candidates.

8. HE AND SAMUEL ADAMS HAD A HUGE FALLING OUT.

Early on, Adams, a politician and brewer, saw Hancock as an impressive protégé. Here was a powerful, ambitious fellow upon whom several hundred families were dependent for their livelihoods. In 1766, Adams used his influence to help win the businessman a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. There, Hancock quickly established himself as one of Britain’s most vocal detractors in the colony.

When the hated Stamp Act was repealed on March 20, 1766, Hancock received much of the credit. In short order, Adams and his supporters—whom he called the “Sons of Liberty”—rushed en masse to their hero’s home. Elated, Hancock surprised the crowd with 125 gallons of free Madeira wine.

Sadly, the once warm Adams-Hancock partnership soon chilled. After George Washington was appointed commander-in-chief of the continental army in 1775, Hancock—who had longed for the job—suspected that Adams had helped tip the scales against him. At the time, Hancock was acting as President of the Second Continental Congress. Upon stepping down from that post, Adams and the rest of the Massachusetts delegation infuriated him by voting against a resolution that would thank Hancock for his service. Things soured still further once Hancock became governor of his home state—and Adams routinely backed his opponents.

Nevertheless, the estranged pair did come together to endorse the new U.S. Constitution in 1787. Furthermore, when Hancock died, it was Lieutenant Governor Adams who took over the gubernatorial position. By order of his friend-turned-foe, the day of Hancock’s burial was solemnly observed as a state holiday.

9. HE WAGED A DECADES-LONG WAR WITH GOUT.

Hancock developed the illness when he was 36. As years went by, his limbs were severely handicapped by the condition—when President Washington visited the Bay State in 1789, the 53-year-old governor had to be carried out to greet him.

10. BOSTON’S TALLEST TOWER WAS NAMED IN HIS HONOR.

This 60-story, glass-sided structure also happens to be the tallest building in all of New England. The establishment was created by John Hancock Financial Services—a company named after the legendary patriot. Built in 1976, the establishment had been officially called “John Hancock Tower” until the company's lease ran out last July. Since then, it’s been re-branded as 200 Clarendon, though many Bostonians persist in using the older name. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Fox Photos, Getty Images
arrow
entertainment
4 Fascinating Facts About John Wayne
Fox Photos, Getty Images
Fox Photos, Getty Images

Most people know John Wayne, who would have been 111 years old today, for his cowboy persona. But there was much more to the Duke than that famous swagger. Here are a few facts about Duke that might surprise you.

1. A BODY SURFING ACCIDENT CHANGED HIS CAREER. 

John Wayne, surfer? Yep—and if he hadn’t spent a lot of time doing it, he may never have become the legend he did. Like many USC students, Wayne (then known as Marion Morrison) spent a good deal of his extracurricular time in the ocean. After he sustained a serious shoulder injury while bodysurfing, Morrison lost his place on the football team. He also lost the football scholarship that had landed him a spot at USC in the first place. Unable to pay his fraternity for room and board, Morrison quit school and, with the help of his former football coach, found a job as the prop guy at Fox Studios in 1927. It didn’t take long for someone to realize that Morrison belonged in front of a camera; he had his first leading role in The Big Trail in 1930.

2. HE TOOK HIS NICKNAME FROM HIS BELOVED FAMILY POOCH. 

Marion Morrison had never been fond of his feminine-sounding name. He was often given a hard time about it growing up, so to combat that, he gave himself a nickname: Duke. It was his dog’s name. Morrison was so fond of his family’s Airedale Terrier when he was younger that the family took to calling the dog “Big Duke” and Marion “Little Duke,” which he quite liked. But when he was starting his Hollywood career, movie execs decided that “Duke Morrison” sounded like a stuntman, not a leading man. The head of Fox Studios was a fan of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne, so Morrison’s new surname was quickly settled. After testing out various first names for compatibility, the group decided that “John” had a nice symmetry to it, and so John Wayne was born. Still, the man himself always preferred his original nickname. “The guy you see on the screen isn’t really me,” he once said. “I’m Duke Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne.”

3. HE WAS A CHESS FANATIC. 

Anyone who knew John Wayne personally knew what an avid chess player he was. He often brought a miniature board with him so he could play between scenes on set.

When Wayne accompanied his third wife, Pilar Pallete, while she played in amateur tennis tournaments, officials would stock a trailer with booze and a chess set for him. The star would hang a sign outside of the trailer that said, “Do you want to play chess with John Wayne?” and then happily spend the day drinking and trouncing his fans—for Wayne wasn’t just a fan of chess, he was good at chess. It’s said that Jimmy Grant, Wayne’s favorite screenwriter, played chess with the Duke for more than 20 years without ever winning a single match.

Other famous chess partners included Marlene Dietrich, Rock Hudson, and Robert Mitchum. During their match, Mitchum reportedly caught him cheating. Wayne's reply: "I was wondering when you were going to say something. Set 'em up, we'll play again."

4. HE COINED THE TERM "THE BIG C."

If you say you know someone battling “The Big C” these days, everyone immediately knows what you’re referring to. But no one called it that before Wayne came up with the term, evidently trying to make it less scary. Worried that Hollywood would stop hiring him if they knew how sick he was with lung cancer in the early 1960s, Wayne called a press conference in his living room shortly after an operation that removed a rib and half of one lung. “They told me to withhold my cancer operation from the public because it would hurt my image,” he told reporters. “Isn’t there a good image in John Wayne beating cancer? Sure, I licked the Big C.”

Wayne's daughter, Aissa Wayne, later said that the 1964 press conference was the one and only time she heard her father call it “cancer,” even when he developed cancer again, this time in his stomach, 15 years later. Sadly, Wayne lost his second battle with the Big C and died on June 11, 1979 at the age of 72.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
arrow
music
10 Crazy Facts About Willie Nelson
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Willie Nelson is one of the world’s most accomplished musicians—and not just in the country music world. Nelson’s talents transcend genre, and go far beyond music. Here are 10 things you might not know about the legendary outlaw country singer, who turns 85 years old today.

1. HE WROTE HIS FIRST SONG AT THE AGE OF SEVEN.

While other kids were still struggling to keep inside the lines of their coloring books, Nelson was composing music. He recalled the experience of his songwriting debut to Rolling Stone in 2004: “Back when we used to take music lessons from our grandmother, we'd go through lessons, and if we'd get the lesson right that day she'd take a gold star—a little star, about the size of your finger, with glue on one side—and she'd stick it on the sheet of music, which meant you'd done well. So I wrote this song with the line ‘They took a gold star away from me when you left me for another, long ago.’ I'd never been left by anybody, so it was kind of funny.”

2. HE USED TO BE A BIBLE SALESMAN.

Before he became a full-time musician in the mid-1950s, Nelson worked as a cotton picker (a gig he began as a child, working alongside his grandmother), disc jockey, and a Bible salesman.

3. HE RAN INTO A BURNING HOUSE (TO SAVE HIS POT).

While living in Nashville, Nelson arrived home one evening to discover that his house was burning to the ground. “By the time I got there, it was burning real good,” he told People in 1980. “But I had this pound of Colombian grass inside. I wasn't being brave running in there to get my dope—I was trying to keep the firemen from finding it and turning me over to the police.” One-hundred tapes of yet-to-be-recorded songs weren't as lucky as Nelson's stash; they were lost in the fire.

4. HE RETIRED IN 1972.

In 1972, Nelson paid $14,000 to buy out his contract so that he could retire to Austin, Texas. But his withdrawal from the music business didn’t last long. Especially considering how vibrant the music scene was happening all around him in Austin. Within a year, he was back on the charts with the album Shotgun Willie. By the mid-1970s he scored some of his biggest hits with a trio of albums: Red Headed Stranger, The Sound in Your Mind, and The Troublemaker.

5. HE HAS BEEN PLAYING THE SAME GUITAR FOR NEARLY 50 YEARS.

Nelson has been playing Trigger, his beloved guitar (which he named after Roy Rogers’ horse), since 1969. “I’ve got to take good care of Trigger,” Nelson told Uncut Magazine in 2014. “He’s had a couple of problems. We’ve had to go in and do some work on the inside, build up the woodwork in there a little bit over the years. But Trigger’s holding up pretty good.”

6. HE RECORDED THE IRS TAPES TO PAY OFF HIS TAX DEBT.

In 1990, the IRS raided Nelson’s house and seized his assets (everything except Trigger) for non-payment of taxes. The $32 million bill, one of the largest in IRS history, was eventually negotiated down and settled in a creative way: Nelson would record a new album with the IRS receiving at least 15 cents of every dollar made. The result was the limited-edition The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories, which sold for $19.95 on cassette or CD and was purchased by dialing 1-800-IRS-TAPE.

7. HE WROTE “ON THE ROAD AGAIN” ON A BARF BAG.

Nelson’s 1980 hit, “On The Road Again,” was written aboard an airplane—on a barf bag. “I was on an aeroplane with Sydney Pollack and Jerry Schatzberg, who was the director of the movie Honeysuckle Rose,” Nelson told Uncut in 2014. “They were looking for songs for the movie and they started asking me if I had any ideas. I said, ‘I don’t know, what do you want the song to say?’ I think Sydney said, ‘Can it be something about being on the road?’ It just started to click in my head. I said, ‘You mean like, ‘On the road again, I can’t wait to get on the road again?’ They said, ‘That’s great. What’s the melody?’ I said, ‘I don’t know yet.’”

8. HE PERFORMED "UP AGAINST THE WALL, REDNECK MOTHER” WITH ROSALYNN CARTER.

Former President Jimmy Carter has never made a secret of his admiration of Willie Nelson. And the two have shared a long friendship. On September 13, 1980, Nelson performed for Carter and guests at the White House—which included a duet of Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Up Against the Wall, Redneck Mother” with then-First Lady Rosalynn Carter. (On various occasions, Nelson has recounted how he later made his way onto the roof of the White House and smoked a joint.) In 2012, the former President got his own chance to share the stage with the legendary musician when the two performed “Amazing Grace” together in Atlanta.

9. HE OWNS A BIODIESEL FIRM.

Nelson is much more than a musician—he’s a noted activist and entrepreneur, too. In 2004 he launched his own biodiesel firm, BioWillie Biodiesel.

10. HE’S A POT-REPRENEUR.

Nelson has hardly made a secret of regular marijuana use, or his support for its legalization. (His rap sheet of pot-related arrests certainly backs up those claims.) As more and more states are legalizing the once-outlawed weed, Nelson has put his expertise on the topic to good use, and launched his very own brand of pot: Willie’s Reserve.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios