At some point in our lives, each of us has been asked to put his “John Hancock” on a document or form, meaning to “sign here”. Trace the origin of this colloquial custom with this antique military document. Author of the most prominent signature appearing on the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock (d.1793) was one of the wealthiest and most popular of the USA’s “Founding Fathers”. A merchant and statesman from Massachusetts, he sat as President of the Continental Congress at the time of the DOI’s signing and then went on to serve as Governor of his home state, a position he held until his death. It is this latter role we are concerned with here.
Presented is a 1792 military appointment signed by Hancock and others. This document survives in partial form, with two segments measuring 7-1/2 x 8” and 15-1/2 x 4” respectively. The first section is graced with a 4” wide Hancock endorsement (“7”) that still shows boldly, 225 years after it was applied by means of quill pen. Printed at top is the legend “Commonwealth of Massachusetts” and the State Seal remains firmly affixed above Hancock’s signature. The reverse side of this segment bears a handwritten passage attesting that Jesse Davenport has sworn the necessary oaths required for his military commission and is signed by then Colonel Nathan Crane (d.1837), who later rose to the rank of General.
The second document section is countersigned by Massachusetts Secretary of the Commonwealth John Avery Jr. (d.1806), the first individual to hold said office. Accounting for approximately 60% of the document’s complete size, these two segments show age appropriate wear, but remain supple and appealing with bold printed and written passages. Full photo LOA from JSA.