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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 

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15 Relatively Brilliant Albert Einstein Quotes
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getty images

In addition to being one of the world's greatest thinkers, Albert Einstein was also quite the philosopher. On what would be the renowned theoretical physicist's 139 birthday, here are 15 of his most relatively brilliant quotes.


"I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious."

— In a letter to Carl Seelig, 1952; Einstein Archives 39-013


"To punish me for my contempt of authority, Fate has made me an authority myself."

— Aphorism for a friend, 1930; Einstein Archives 36-598 


"There is separation of colored people from white people in the United States. That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it." 

— From a lecture at Lincoln University, 1946 


"You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war. The very prevention of war requires more faith, courage and resolution than are needed to prepare for war." 

— In a letter to Congressman Robert Hale, 1946; later published in Einstein on Peace, 1988 


"I look upon myself as a man. Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind." 

— To The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929 


"The cult of individual personalities is always, in my view, unjustified. To be sure, nature distributes her gifts variously among her children. But there are plenty of the well-endowed ones too, thank God, and I am firmly convinced that most of them live quiet, unregarded lives. It strikes me as unfair, and even in bad taste, to select a few of them for boundless admiration, attributing superhuman powers of mind and character to them. This has been my fate, and the contrast between the popular estimate of my powers and achievements and the reality is simply grotesque." 

— From The World As I See It, 1949 


"I am doing just fine, considering that I have triumphantly survived Nazism and two wives."

— In a letter to Jakob Ehrat, 1952; Einstein Archives 59-554 


"School failed me, and I failed the school. It bored me. The teachers behaved like Feldwebel (sergeants). I wanted to learn what I wanted to know, but they wanted me to learn for the exam. What I hated most was the competitive system there, and especially sports. Because of this, I wasn't worth anything, and several times they suggested I leave. This was a Catholic School in Munich. I felt that my thirst for knowledge was being strangled by my teachers; grades were their only measurement. How can a teacher understand youth with such a system?"

— In a conversation with William Hermanns, later published in Einstein and the Poet: In Search of the Cosmic Man, 1983


"If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music ... I cannot tell if I would have done any creative work of importance in music, but I do know that I get most joy in life out of my violin."

— To The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929


"What is the meaning of human life, or of organic life altogether? To answer this question at all implies a religion. Is there any sense then, you ask, in putting it? I answer, the man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life." 

— From The World As I See It, 1949


"The only way to escape the corruptible effect of praise is to go on working."

— Via an article in Smithsonian magazine, 1979 


"Reading after a certain age diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking, just as the man who spends too much time in the theater is tempted to be content with living vicariously instead of living his own life."

— To The Saturday Evening Post, October 1929


"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed. This insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms— this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong in the ranks of devoutly religious men." 

— From Living Philosophies, 1931


“If I were to start taking care of my grooming, I would no longer be my own self.”

— From a letter to Elsa Löwenthal, 1913 


“I am truly a ‘lone traveler’ and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart. In the face of all this, I have never lost a sense of distance and the need for solitude.”

— From The World As I See It, 1949

Paco Junquera, Getty Images
The Incredible Adventures of Gabriel García Márquez
Paco Junquera, Getty Images
Paco Junquera, Getty Images

Gabriel García Márquez (the subject of today's Google Doodle) was born 91 years ago—on March 6, 1927—and grew up in Aracataca, Colombia, a hardscrabble banana town that was barely a stop on the railway. His father, an undereducated telegraph operator, had fallen in love with a girl beyond his status—the daughter of Colonel Nicolás Márquez Mejía. Her family vigorously opposed their union, but that only strengthened the couple's resolve to marry. They maintained a secret relationship, communicating by telegraph and passed notes and stealing moments together at Mass. In 1926, after a priest lobbied the family on their behalf, the pair finally married. They had their first child, Gabriel, in 1927. Only a few months later, they left him to live with his grandparents while they moved to the port city of Barranquilla to open a pharmacy.

As a boy, he was simply "Gabito"—a shy child who blinked compulsively when he was nervous. He struggled to learn how to read and developed a habit of drawing his stories rather than writing them down. But he was the apple of his grandfather's eye. Whatever disdain the Colonel once had for his daughter's marriage, it had been softened by Gabito's birth. As García Márquez described it, his grandfather "took [him] to the circus and the cinema and was [his] umbilical cord with history and reality."


His grandmother, the indomitable Tranquilina Iguarán Cotes, made an equally strong impression, "always telling fables, family legends, and organizing our life according to the messages she received in her dreams." García Márquez credits her with his "supernatural view of reality." This was a woman who went blind in her old age, but successfully convinced her doctor that she could still see. When he examined her, she described in detail all of the objects in her room, convincing him that her vision had returned. In truth, she'd simply memorized the contents of the room.

When García Márquez was 10 years old, his grandfather died, so Gabito and his two siblings went to live with their parents in Barranquilla. It was a difficult time for the boy, having only known his parents as infrequent visitors.

Things grew more tense as his mother continued to have children (she bore a total of 11), and his father relocated the family to the town of Sucre. Eventually, Gabito ended up back in Barranquilla, where he was enrolled at a prestigious Jesuit secondary school. García Márquez was a brilliant scholarship student, known to wear his father's old suits and recite long works of poetry from memory.

His education continued outside the classroom, as well. At age 13, he was introduced to the world of women when he lost his virginity to a prostitute. (She later informed him that his younger brother was a frequent visitor to her bed.) Two years later, he began an affair with an older married woman, who came up with an ingenious system for getting him to do his schoolwork: Failing grades meant no sex. He graduated with honors and went on to win a scholarship to a prestigious college outside of Bogotá.

Not surprisingly, the seeds of García Márquez's later novels were all planted in his youth. His grandfather, grandmother, parents, siblings, assorted aunts and uncles—even the prostitute—all make appearances in his work. His hometown of Aracataca would famously become the Macondo of One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) and Leaf Storm (1955), and his parents' troubled courtship was thinly veiled as the centerpiece of Love in the Time of Cholera (1985).


In 1947, 20-year-old García Márquez decided to abandon law school and pursue writing. Much to his father's dismay, he dropped out and became a reporter for El Heraldo, a liberal newspaper in Barranquilla. This was during the days of La Violencia, a period of bloody civil unrest that threatened to tear Colombia apart. With daily reports of rape, murder, and the government's oppressive sanctions on the press, it was a challenging time to be a journalist. Earning just three pesos a story, García Márquez often went hungry.

He was also writing a novel. In his spare moments, García Márquez tapped out the manuscript for Leaf Storm. It took seven years to find a publisher, but the book finally came out in 1955. Although it garnered good reviews, the novel never sold well. That same year, García Márquez serialized the true account of Colombian sailors who'd been shipwrecked. The news story directly contradicted a government report of the incident and revealed that corruption in the navy had led to the sailors' deaths. García Márquez became so unpopular with the government that the newspaper sent him abroad for his own safety.

He spent the next several years desperately poor in Europe, living mostly in Rome and Paris and briefly in communist Eastern Europe. While overseas, he wrote No One Writes to the Colonel (1961) and In Evil Hour (1962), had a torrid affair with a Spanish actress, and continued to starve. When he finally returned to Colombia, he married his longtime love, Mercedes Barcha Pardo. García Márquez had first proposed to her when he was 18 and she was only 13. After more than a decade of courtship, most of which had been spent writing letters to one another, she consented to marry him.

García Márquez continued to work as a journalist, first in Havana at the start of the Cuban Revolution and then in New York. From there, he, his wife, and his infant son traveled by bus to Mexico. The trip opened his eyes to the American South and the homeland of William Faulkner, one of García Márquez's greatest influences. (Some literary scholars have suggested that García Márquez lifted much of his style and lyricism from Faulkner.) It also inspired him to begin his breakthrough book, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

On June 26, 1961, Gabriel's family arrived at a railway station in Mexico City with their last $20 and "nothing in their future." García Márquez started writing, and in just 18 months, he'd completed the novel that would change his life. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, he used all of the storytelling techniques he'd picked up as a reporter. As he would later tell The New York Times, the "tricks you need to transform something which appears fantastic, unbelievable into something plausible, credible, those I learned from journalism. The key is to tell it straight. It is done by reporters and by country folk."

Although the writing came quickly, it was not easy. To support his family, García Márquez sold his car, his hair dryer, and anything else that would bring in some cash. When it came time to send off the manuscript to his publishers in Buenos Aires, he could only afford to mail half of it.

Half was enough. With One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez exploded onto the literary scene. While still living in Mexico, he quickly emerged as Latin America's most beloved writer and was affectionately nicknamed "Gabo." In Colombia, he became a symbol of national pride. The book would go on to sell more than 35 million copies and be translated into at least 35 languages.


Despite the fanciful nature of his work, García Márquez's novels are firmly grounded in the politics of Latin America. He addresses guerrilla warfare, drug trafficking, the failures of communism, the evils of capitalism, and the dangerous meddling of the CIA. After the publication of One Hundred Years of Solitude, the author began to use his status to get more involved in politics. He started publicly castigating the United States for using the "war on drugs" to intrude in Latin American affairs. And beginning in the 1970s, he acted as an intermediary between the Colombian government and leftist guerrillas.

García Márquez also found himself in high-powered company. While reporting on the Cuban Revolution, he became friends with Fidel Castro, and over the years, their relationship deepened. Fidel cooked him spaghetti dinners. García Márquez, in turn, described the Cuban president as a "king" and a great literary man. He even showed Castro an early manuscript for Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981) so that Castro could point out flaws in the plot. The close relationship led critics to call the author Castro's "literary hatchet man." However, García Márquez's influence wasn't enough to stop the Cuban government from convicting and executing one of his friends for treason in 1989.

In a 1982 article in The New York Times, the author explained that, as a Latin American writer, it was his duty to be politically active. "The problems of our societies are mainly political, and the commitment of a writer is with the reality of all of society, not just with a small part of it," he explained. "If not, he is as bad as the politicians who disregard a large part of our reality. That is why authors, painters, writers in Latin America get politically involved."

García Márquez's works continued to be politically charged. In 1996, he published News of a Kidnapping, a journalistic account of 10 people abducted by Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, and the convoluted machinations involved in rescuing them. The same year, he wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times recounting the Elian Gonzalez situation, in which his sympathies were clearly aligned with Cuba: "The real shipwreck of Elian did not take place on the high seas, but when he set foot on American soil."

To a certain extent, García Márquez's political activism was also about cultivating his own legend. In the mid-1970s, the author famously claimed that he wouldn't publish anything again until Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was no longer in power. Gabo's friends agreed that the declaration was made for a "calculated effect." Moreover, García Márquez didn't even stick to it. He published Love in the Time of Cholera not long after that.


In the 1990s, García Márquez had a cancerous tumor removed from one of his lungs and lived through a bout of lymphatic cancer. Then, in July 1999, rumors of his impending death grew after someone took a sentimental poem about dying and attached García Márquez's name to it. The poem quickly turned into a hoax e-mail that circulated the world and unleashed a hailstorm of headlines. It also touched a raw nerve. As García Márquez got older, his output slowed. Readers waited since 2002 for him to produce the second part of his memoirs. His novel Memories of My Melancholy Whores was published in 2004 to critical and commercial success. But at just 115 pages, audiences were left craving more. Even the controversies García Márquez has stirred up later were disappointing. In 2004, the author was banned from the International Congress of the Spanish Language for allegedly suggesting that they should scrap their focus on spelling, which he called "that terror visited on human beings from the cradle onwards."

In his 2008 biography of García Márquez, Gerald Martin revealed that the author had been suffering from progressive memory loss—no doubt a serious problem for a man who called himself a "professional rememberer." Martin wrote, "It seemed clear to me that he could no longer write books."

And then there are García Márquez's own statements. In 2006, he told the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia, "I have stopped writing. Last year was the first in my life in which I haven't written even a line." When the Colombian paper El Tiempo called the 82-year-old author in the spring of 2009 to ask if the rumor of his retirement was true, García Márquez replied, "Not only is it not true, but the only thing I do is write." He concluded by saying, "I'll know when the cakes I am baking are ready."

García Márquez died of pneumonia on April 17, 2014, at the age of 87.


Many of the scenes in Gabriel García Márquez's novels come straight out of his own strange life. Here are a few examples.

The Little Girl Who Eats Dirt
When he was 3 years old, García Márquez's little sister Margarita moved in with Gabito and his grandparents. She refused to speak or eat, and the family wondered how she didn't starve. It wasn't long before they discovered the answer—she'd been sustaining herself on dirt from the garden and the whitewash off the walls. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the orphan character Rebeca does the same thing when she moves in with the Buendia family. She eventually gets better, just like Margarita did, once she "surrendered to family life."

Death by Gold Cyanide
At the beginning of Love in the Time of Cholera, the aged Dr. Juvenal Urbino is called to the scene of a suicide. The victim is a crippled war veteran who has killed himself using gold cyanide vapors. García Márquez witnessed a similar death firsthand. As a child, his grandfather brought him to meet "the Belgian," a World War I veteran who'd lost the use of his legs. The image of the man—his crutches laid neatly next to his cot and his Great Dane lying dead next to him—was recreated in detail in the novel's opening scene.

The Banana Plantation Massacre
One of the more shocking passages in One Hundred Years of Solitude describes the massacre of 3,000 men, women, and children during a workers' strike at the Macondo banana plantation. There was, in fact, such a plantation near García Márquez's childhood home in Aracataca, and he grew up hearing about a massacre that supposedly happened when he was an infant. No one seemed sure how many people died (1,000 or 3,000), but the official government record, which was suspect for several reasons, showed only nine deaths. In the novel, the government denies the event altogether.

The Solace of Little Gold Fish
The Colonel, García Márquez's beloved grandfather, was also trained in metallurgy and spent many years as a jeweler, crafting small gold fish that became a symbol of his family. Those same fish, crafted by Colonel Aureliano Buendia, make a memorable appearance in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

The Mark of Ash Wednesday
One of García Márquez's most vivid childhood memories was one Ash Wednesday when the illegitimate sons of his grandfather visited his family with crosses of ash still on their foreheads. This visceral image inspired the 17 illegitimate sons of Colonel Aureliano Buendia and their mysterious assassinations. Each of them died after being identified by the permanent mark of the cross on their foreheads.

A version of this article originally appeared in mental_floss Magazine in 2009.


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