Story type: Essay
Boston, Sept. 30, 1765
Since my last I have receiv’d your favour by Capt Hulme who is arriv’d here with the most disagreeable Commodity (say Stamps) that were imported into this Country & what if carry’d into Execution will entirely Stagnate Trade here, for it is universally determined here never to Submitt to it and the principal merchts here will by no means carry on Business under a Stamp, we are in the utmost Confusion here and shall be more so after the first of November & nothing but the repeal of the act will righten, the Consequence of its taking place here will be bad, & attended with many troubles, & I believe may say more fatal to you than us. I dread the Event.
—Extract From Hancock’s Letter-Book
Long years ago when society was young, learning was centered in one man in each community, and that man was the priest. It was the priest who was sent for in every emergency of life. He taught the young, prescribed for the sick, advised those who were in trouble, and when human help was vain and man had done his all, this priest knelt at the bedside of the dying and invoked a Power with whom it was believed he had influence.
The so-called learned professions are only another example of the Division of Labor. We usually say there are three learned professions: Theology, Medicine and Law. As to which is the greatest is a much-mooted question and has caused too many family feuds for me to attempt to decide it. And so I evade the issue and say there is a fourth profession, that is only allowed to be called so by grace, but which in my mind is greater than them all–the profession of Teacher. I can conceive of a condition of society so high and excellent that it has no use for either doctor, lawyer or preacher, but the teacher would still be needed. Ignorance and sin supply the three “learned professions” their excuse for being, but the teacher’s work is to develop the germ of wisdom that is in every soul.
And now each of these professions has divided up, like monads, into many heads. In medicine, we have as many specialists as there are organs of the body. The lawyer who advises you in a copyright or patent cause knows nothing about admiralty; and as they tell us a man who pleads his own case has a fool for a client, so does the insurance lawyer who is retained to foreclose a mortgage. In all prosperous city churches, the preacher who attracts the crowd in the morning allows a ‘prentice to preach to the young folks in the evening; he does not make pastoral calls; and the curate who reads the service at funerals is never called upon to perform a marriage ceremony except in a case of charity. Likewise the teacher’s profession has its specialists: the man who teaches Greek well can not write good English; the man who teaches composition is baffled and perplexed by long division; and the teacher who delights in trigonometry pooh-poohs a kindergartner.
Just where this evolutionary dividing and subdividing of social cells will land the race no man can say; but that a specialist is a dangerous man, is sure. He is a buzz-saw with which wise men never monkey. A surgeon who has operated for appendicitis five times successfully is above all to be avoided. I once knew a man with lung trouble who inadvertently strayed into an oculist’s and was looked over and sent away with an order on an optician. And should you through error stray into the office of a nose and throat specialist, and ask him to treat you for varicose veins, he would probably do so by nasal douche.
Even now a specialist in theology will lead us, if he can, a merry “ignis-fatuus” chase and land us in a morass. The only thing that saved the priest in days agone was the fact that he had so many duties to perform that he exercised all his mental muscles, and thus attained a degree of all-roundness which is not possible to the specialist. Even then there were not lacking men who found time to devote to specialties: Bishop Georgius Ambrosius, for instance, who in the Fifteenth Century produced a learned work proving that women have no souls. And a like book was written at Nashville, Tennessee, in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine, by the Reverend Hubert Parsons of the Methodist Episcopal Church (South), showing that negroes were in a like predicament. But a more notable instance of the danger of a specialty is the Reverend Cotton Mather, who investigated the subject of witchcraft and issued a modest brochure incorporating his views on the subject. He succeeded in convincing at least one man of its verity, and that man was himself, and thus immortality was given to the town of Salem, which, otherwise, would have no claim on us for remembrance, save that Hawthorne was once a clerk in its custom-house.
A very slight study of Colonial history will show any student that, for two centuries, the ministers in New England occupied very much the same position in society that the priest did during the Middle Ages. As the monks kept learning from dying off the face of the earth, so did the ministers of the New World preserve culture from passing into forgetfulness. Very seldom, indeed, were books to be found in a community except at the minister’s. And during the Seventeenth Century, and well into the Eighteenth, he combined in himself the offices of doctor, lawyer, preacher and teacher. Mr. Lowell has said: “I can not remember when there was not one or more students in my father’s household, and others still who came at regular intervals to recite. And this was the usual custom. It was the minister who fitted boys for college, and no youth was ever sent away to school until he had been drilled by the local clergyman.”
And it must further be noted that genealogical tables show that very nearly all of the eminent men of New England were sons of ministers, or of an ancestry where ministers’ names are seen at frequent intervals. As an intellectual and moral force, the minister has now but a rudiment of the power he once exercised. The tendency to specialize all art and all knowledge has to a degree shorn him of his strength. And to such an extent is this true, that within forty years it has passed into a common proverb that the sons of clergymen are rascals, whereas in Colonial days the highest recommendation a youth could carry was that he was the son of a minister.
The Reverend John Hancock, grandfather of John Hancock the patriot, was for more than half a century the minister of Lexington, Massachusetts. I say “the minister,” because there was only one: the keen competition of sect that establishes half a dozen preachers in a small community is a very modern innovation.
John Hancock, “Bishop of Lexington,” was a man of pronounced personality, as is plainly seen in his portrait in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They say he ruled the town with a rod of iron; and when the young men, who adorned the front steps of the meetinghouse during service, grew disorderly, he stopped in his prayer, and going outside soundly cuffed the ears of the first delinquent he could lay hands upon. In his clay there was a dash of facetiousness that saved him from excess, supplying a useful check to his zeal–for zeal uncurbed is very bad. He was a wise and beneficent dictator; and government under such a one can not be improved upon. His manner was gracious, frank and open, and such was the specific gravity of his nature that his words carried weight, and his wish was sufficient.
The house where this fine old autocrat lived and reigned is standing in Lexington now. When you walk out through Cambridge and Arlington on your way to Concord, following the road the British took on their way out to Concord, you will pass by it. It is a good place to stop and rest. You will know the place by the tablet in front, on which is the legend: “Here John Hancock and Samuel Adams were sleeping on the night of the Eighteenth of April, Seventeen Hundred Seventy-five, when aroused by Paul Revere.”
The Reverend Jonas Clark owned the house after the Reverend John Hancock, and the ministries of those two men, and their occupancy of the house, cover one hundred years and five years more. Here the thirteen children of Jonas Clark were born, and all lived to be old men and women. When you call there I hope you will be treated with the same gentle courtesy that I met. If you delay not your visit too long, you will see a fine, motherly woman, with white “sausage curls” and a high back-comb, wearing a check dress and felt slippers, and she will tell you that she is over eighty, and that when her mother was a little girl she once sat on Governor Hancock’s knee and he showed her the works in his watch.
And then as you go away you will think again of what the old lady has just told you, and as you look back for a parting glance at the house, standing firm and solemn in its rusty-gray dignity, you will doff your hat to it, and mayhap murmur: The days of man on earth–they are but as a passing shadow!
“Here John Hancock and Samuel Adams were sleeping when aroused by Paul Revere!” Merchant-prince and agitator, horse and rider–where are you now? And is your sleep disturbed by dreams of British redcoats or hissing flintlocks?
Phantom British warships may lie at their moorings, swinging wide on the unforgetting tide, lanterns may hang high in the belfry of the Old North Church tower, hurried knocks and calls of defiance and hoof-beats of fast-galloping steed may echo and echo again, borne on the night-wind of the dim Past, but you heed them not!
* * * * *
The Reverend John Hancock of Lexington had two sons. John Hancock (Number Two) became pastor of the church of the North Precinct of the town of Braintree, which afterwards was to be the town of Quincy.
The nearest neighbor to the village preacher was John Adams, shoemaker and farmer. Each Sunday in the amen corner of the Reverend John Hancock’s meetinghouse was mustered the well washed and combed brood of Mr. and Mrs. Adams. Now, this John Adams had a son whom the Reverend John Hancock baptized, also named John, two years older than John, the son of the preacher. And young John Adams and John Hancock (Number Three) used to fish and swim together, and go nutting, and set traps for squirrels, and help each other in fractions. And then they would climb trees, and wrestle, and sometimes fight. In the fights, they say, John Hancock used to get the better of his antagonist, but as an exploiter of fractions John Adams was more than his equal.
The parents of John Adams were industrious and savin’–the little farm prospered, for Boston supplied a goodly market, and weekly trips were made there in a one-horse cart, often piloted by young John, with the minister’s boy for ballast. The Adams family had ambitions for their son John–he was to go to Harvard and be educated, and be a minister and preach at Braintree, or Weymouth, or perhaps even Boston!
In the meantime the Reverend John Hancock had died, and the widowed mother was not able to give her boy a college education–times were hard.
But the lad’s uncle, Thomas Hancock, a prosperous merchant of Boston, took quite an interest in young John. And it occurred to him to adopt the fatherless boy, legally, as his own. The mother demurred, but after some months decided that it was best so, for when twenty-one he would be her boy just as much and as truly as if his uncle had not adopted him. And so the rich uncle took him, and rigged him out with a deal finer clothing than he had ever before worn, and sent him to the Latin School and afterward over to Cambridge, with silver jingling in his pocket.
Prosperity is a severe handicap to youth; not very many grown men can stand it; but beyond a needless display of velvet coats and frilled shirts, the young man stood the test, and got through Harvard. In point of scholarship he did not stand so high as John Adams; and between the lads there grew a small but well-defined gulf, as is but natural between homespun and broadcloth. Still the gulf was not impassable, for over it friendly favors were occasionally passed.
John Hancock’s mother wanted him to be a preacher, but Uncle Thomas would not listen to it–the youth must be taught to be a merchant, so he could be the ready helper and then the successor of his foster-father.
Graduating at the early age of seventeen, John Hancock at once went to work in his uncle’s counting-house in Boston. He was a fine, tall fellow with dash and spirit, and seemed to show considerable aptitude for the work. The business prospered, and Uncle Thomas was very proud of his handsome ward, who was quite in demand at parties and balls and in a general social way, while the uncle could not dance a minuet to save him.
Not needing the young man very badly around the store, the uncle sent him to Europe to complete his education by travel. He went with the retiring Governor Pownal, whose taste for social enjoyment was very much in accord with his own. In England, he attended the funeral of George the Second, and saw the coronation of George the Third, little thinking the while that he would some day make violent efforts to snatch from that crown its brightest jewel.
When young Hancock was twenty-seven, the uncle died, and left to him his entire fortune of three hundred fifty thousand dollars. It made him one of the very richest men in the Colony–for at that time there was not a man in Massachusetts worth half a million dollars.
The jingling silver in his pocket when sent to Harvard had severely tested his moral fiber, but this great fortune came near smothering all his native commonsense. If a man makes his money himself, he stands a certain chance of growing as the pile grows.
There is little doubt as to the soundness of Emerson’s epigram, that what you put into his chest you take out of the man. More than this, when a man gradually accumulates wealth, it attracts little attention, so the mob that follows the newly rich never really gets on to the scent. And besides that, the man who makes his own fortune always stands ready to repel boarders.
There may be young men of twenty-seven who are men grown, and no doubt every man of twenty-seven is very sure that he is one of these; but the thought that man is mortal never occurs to either men or women until they are past thirty. The blood is warm, conquest lies before, and to seize the world by the tail and snap its head off seems both easy and desirable.
The promoters, the flatterers and friends until then unknown flocked to Hancock and condoled with him on the death of his uncle. Some wanted small loans to tide over temporary emergencies, others had business ventures in hand whereby John Hancock could double his wealth very shortly. Still others spoke of wealth being a trust, and to use money to help your fellow-men, and thus to secure the gratitude of many, was the proper thing.
The unselfishness of the latter suggestion appealed to Hancock. To be the friend of humanity, to assist others–this is the highest ambition to which a man can aspire! And, of course, if one is pointed out on the street as the good Mr. Hancock it can not be helped. It is the penalty of well-doing.
So in order to give work to many and to promote the interests of Boston, a thriving city of fifteen thousand inhabitants, for all good men wish to build up the place in which they live, John Hancock was induced to embark in shipbuilding. He also owned several ships of his own which traded with London and the West Indies, and was part owner of others. But he publicly explained that he did not care to make money for himself–his desire was to give employment to the worthy poor and to enhance the good of Boston.
The aristocratic company of militia, known as the Governor’s Guard, had been fitted out with new uniforms and arms by the generous Hancock, and he had been chosen commanding officer, with rank of Colonel. He drilled with the crack company and studied the manual much more diligently than he ever had his Bible.
Hancock lived in the mansion, inherited from his uncle, on Beacon Street, facing the Common. There was a chariot and six horses for state occasions, much fine furniture from over the sea, elegant clothes that the Puritans called “gaudy apparel,” and at the dinners the wine flowed freely, and cards, dancing and music filled many a night.
The Puritan neighbors were shocked, and held up their hands in horror to think that the son of a minister should so affront the staid and sober customs of his ancestors. Still others said, “Why, that’s what a rich man should do–spend his money, of course; Hancock is the benefactor of his kind; just see how many people he employs!”
The town was all agog, and Hancock was easily Boston’s first citizen, but in his time of prosperity he did not forget his old friends. He sent for them to come and make merry with him; and among the first in his good offices was John Adams, the rising young lawyer of Braintree.
John Adams had found clients scarce, and those he had, poor pay, but when he became the trusted legal adviser of John Hancock, things took a turn and prosperity came that way. The wine and cards and dinners hadn’t much attraction for him, but still there were no conscientious scruples in the way. He patted John Hancock on the back, assured him that he was the people, looked after his interests loyally, and extracted goodly fees for services performed.
At the home of Adams at Braintree, Hancock had met a quiet, taciturn individual by the name of Samuel Adams. This man he had long known in a casual way, but had never been able really to make his acquaintance. He was fifteen years older than Hancock, and by his quiet dignity and self-possession made quite an impression on the young man.
So, now that prosperity had smiled, Hancock invited him to his house, but the quiet man was an ascetic and neither played cards, drank wine nor danced, and so declined with thanks.
But not long after, he requested a small loan from the merchant-prince, and asked it as though it were his right, and so he got it. His manner was in such opposition to the flatterers and those who crawled, and whined, and begged, that Hancock was pleased with the man. Samuel Adams had declined Hancock’s social favors, and yet, in asking for a loan, showed his friendliness.
Samuel Adams was a politician, and had long taken an active part in the town meetings. In fact, to get a measure through, it was well to have Samuel Adams at your side. He was clear-headed, astute, and knew the human heart. Yet he talked but little, and the convivial ways of the small politician were far from him; but in the fine art that can manage men and never let them know they are managed he was a past-master. Tucked in his sleeve, no doubt, was a degree of pride in his power, but the stoic quality in his nature never allowed him to break into laughter when he considered how he led men by the nose.
In Boston and its vicinity, Samuel Adams was not highly regarded, and outside of Boston, at forty years of age, he was positively unknown. The neighbors regarded him as a harmless fanatic, sane on most subjects, but possessed of a buzzing bee in his bonnet to the effect that the Colonies should be separated from their protector, England. Samuel Adams neglected his business and kept up a fusillade of articles in the newspapers, on various political subjects, and men who do this are regarded everywhere as “queer.” A professional newspaper-writer never takes his calling seriously–it is business. He writes to please his employer, or if he owns the paper himself, he still writes to please his employer, that is to say, the public. Journalism, thy name is pander!
The man who comes up the stairway furtively, with a manuscript he wants printed, is in dead earnest; and he has excited the ridicule, wrath or pity of editors for three hundred years. Such a one was Samuel Adams. His wife did her own work, and the grocer with bills in his hand often grew red in the face and knocked in vain.
And yet the keen intellect of Samuel Adams was not a thing to smile at. Any one who stood before him, face to face, felt the power of the man, and acknowledged it then and there, as we always do when we stand in the presence of a strong individuality. And this inward acknowledgment of worth was instinctively made by John Hancock, the biggest man in all Boston town.
John Hancock, through his genial, glowing personality, and his lavish spending of money, was very popular. He was being fed on flattery, and the more a man gets of flattery, once the taste is acquired, the more he craves. It is like the mad thirst for liquor, or the Romeike habit.
John Hancock was getting attention, and he wanted more. He had been chosen selectman to fill the place that his uncle had occupied, and when Samuel Adams incidentally dropped a remark that good men were needed in the General Court, John Hancock agreed with him. He was named for the office and with Samuel Adams’ help was easily elected.
Not long after this, the sloop “Liberty” was seized by the government officials for violation of the revenue laws. The craft was owned by John Hancock and had surreptitiously landed a cargo of wine without paying duty.
When the ship of Boston’s chief citizen was seized by the bumptious, gilt-braided British officials, there was a merry uproar. All the men in the shipyards quit work, and the Calkers’ Club, of which Samuel Adams was secretary, passed hot resolutions and revolutionary preambles and eulogies of John Hancock, who was doing so much for Boston.
In fact, there was a riot, and three regiments of British troops were ordered to Boston.
And this was the very first step on the part of England to enforce her authority, by arms, in America.
The troops were in the town to preserve order, but the mob would not disperse. Upon the soldiers, they heaped every indignity and insult. They dared them to shoot, and with clubs and stones drove the soldiers before them. At last the troops made a stand and in order to save themselves from absolute rout fired a volley. Five men fell dead–and the mob dispersed.
This was the so-called Boston massacre.
Pinkerton guards would blush at bagging so small a game with a volley. They have done better again and again at Pittsburgh, Pottsville and Chicago.
The riot was quelled, and out of the scrimmage various suits were instigated by the Crown against John Hancock, in the Court of Admiralty. The claims against him amounted to over three hundred thousand dollars, and the charge was that he had long been evading the revenue laws. John Adams was his attorney, with Samuel Adams as counsel, and vigorous efforts for prosecution and defense were being made.
If the Crown were successful the suits would confiscate the entire Hancock estate–matters were getting in a serious way. Witnesses were summoned, but the trial was staved off from time to time.
Hancock had refused to follow Samuel Adams’ lead in the controversy with Governor Hutchinson as to the right to convene the General Court. The report was that John Hancock was growing lukewarm and siding with the Tories. A year had passed since the massacre had occurred, and the agitators proposed to commemorate the day.
Colonel Hancock had appeared in many prominent parts, but never as an orator.
“Why not show the town what you can do!” some one said.
So John Hancock was invited to deliver the oration. He did so to an immense concourse. The address was read from the written page. It overflowed with wisdom and patriotism; and the earnestness and eloquence of the well-rounded periods was the talk of the town.
The knowing ones went around corners and roared with laughter, but Samuel Adams said not a word. The charge was everywhere made by the captious and bickering that the speech was written by another, and that, moreover, John Hancock had not even a very firm hold on its import. It was the one speech of his life. Anyway, it so angered General Gage that he removed Colonel Hancock from his command of the cadets.
An order was out for Hancock’s arrest, and he and Samuel Adams were in hiding.
The British troops marched out to Lexington to capture them, but Paul Revere was two hours ahead, and when the redcoats arrived the birds had flown.
Then came the expulsion of the British, the closing of all courts, the Admiralty included. The merchant-prince breathed easier, and that was the last of the Crown versus John Hancock.
* * * * *
Throughout the months that had gone before, when the Hancock mansion was gay with floral decorations, and servants in livery stood at the door with silver trays, and the dancing-hall was bright with mirth and music, Samuel Adams had quietly been working his Bureau of Correspondence to the end that the thirteen Colonies of America should come together in convention. Chief mover of the plan, and the one man in Massachusetts who was giving all his time to it, he dictated whom Massachusetts should send as delegates. This delegation, as we know, included John Hancock, John Adams and Samuel Adams himself.
From the danger of Lexington, Hancock and Adams made their way to Philadelphia to attend the Second Congress.
At that time the rich men of New England were hurriedly making their way into the English fold. Some thought that the mother country had been harsh, but still, England had only acted within her right, and she was well able to back up this authority. She had regiment upon regiment of trained fighting men, warships, and money to build more. The Colonies had no army, no ships, no capital.
Only those who have nothing to lose can afford to resist lawful authority–back into the fold they went, penitent and under their breath cursing the bull-headed men who insisted on plunging the country into red war.
Out in the cold world stood John Hancock, alone, save for Bowdoin, among the aristocrats of New England. The British would confiscate his property, his splendid house–all would be gone!
“It will all be gone, anyway,” calmly suggested Samuel Adams. “You know those suits against you in the Admiralty Court?”
“And if we can unite these thirteen Colonies an army can be raised, and we can separate ourselves entire, in which case there will be glory for somebody.”
John Hancock, the rich, the ambitious, the pleasure-loving, had burned his bridges. He was in the hands of Samuel Adams, and his infamy was one with this man who was a professional agitator, and who had nothing to lose.
General Gage had made an offer of pardon to all–all, save two men: Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Back into the fold tumbled the Tories, but against John Hancock the gates were barred. John Adams, Attorney of the Hancock estate, rubbed his chin, and decided to stand by the ship–sink or swim, survive or perish.
Down in his heart Samuel Adams grimly smiled, but on his cold, pale face there was no sign.
The British held Boston secure, and in the splendid mansion of Hancock lived the rebel, Lord Percy, England’s pet. The furniture, plate and keeping of the place were quite to his liking.
Hancock’s ambitions grew as the days went by. The fight was on. His property was in the hands of the British, and a price was upon his head. He, too, now had nothing to lose. If England could be whipped he would get his property back, and the honors of victory would be his, beside.
Ambition grew apace; he studied the Manual of Arms as never before, and made himself familiar with the lives of Caesar and Alexander. At Harvard, he had read the Anabasis on compulsion, but now he read it with zest.
The Second Congress was a Congress of action; the first had been one merely of conference. A presiding officer was required, and Samuel Adams quietly pushed his man to the front. He let it be known that Hancock was the richest man in New England, perhaps in America, and a power in every emergency.
John Hancock was given the office of presiding officer, the place of honor.
The thought never occurred to him that the man on the floor is the man who acts, and the individual in the chair is only a referee, an onlooker of the contest. When a man is chosen to preside he is safely out of the way, and no one knew this better than that clear-headed man, wise as a serpent, Samuel Adams.
Hancock was intent on being chosen Commander of the Continental Army. The war was in Massachusetts, her principal port closed, all business at a standstill. Hancock was a soldier, and was, moreover, the chief citizen of Massachusetts–the command should go to him. Samuel Adams knew this could never be.
To hold the Southern Colonies and give the cause a show of reason before the world, an aristocrat with something to lose, and without a personal grievance, must be chosen, and the man must be from the South. To get Hancock in a position where his mouth would be stopped, he was placed in the chair. It was a master move.
Colonel George Washington was already a hero; he had fought valiantly for England. His hands were clean; while Hancock was openly called a smuggler. Washington was nominated by John Adams. The motion was seconded by Samuel Adams. Hancock turned first red and then deathly pale. He grasped the arms of his chair with both hands, and–put the question.
It was unanimous.
Hancock’s fame seems to rest on the fact that he was presiding officer of the Congress that passed the Declaration of Independence, and therefore its first signer, and, without consideration for cost of ink and paper, wrote his name in poster letters. When you look upon the Declaration the first thing you see is the signature of John Hancock, and you recall his remark, “I guess King George can read that without spectacles.” The whole action was melodramatic, and although a bold signature has ever been said to betoken a bold heart, it has yet to be demonstrated that boys who whistle going through the woods are indifferent to danger. “Conscious weakness takes strong attitudes,” says Delsarte. The strength of Hancock’s signature was an affectation quite in keeping with his habit of riding about Boston in a coach-and-six, with outriders in uniform, and servants in livery.
When Hancock wrote to Washington asking for an appointment in the army, the wise and farseeing chief replied with gentle words of praise concerning Colonel Hancock’s record, and wound up by saying that he regretted there was no place at his disposal worthy of Colonel Hancock’s qualifications. Well did he know that Hancock was not quite patriot enough to fill a lowly rank.
The part that Hancock played in the eight years of war was inconspicuous. However, there was little spirit of revenge in his character: he sometimes scolded, but he did not hate. He never allowed personal animosities to make him waver in his loyalty to independence. In fact, with a price upon his head, but one course was open for him.
Just before Washington was inaugurated President, he visited Boston, and a curious struggle took place between him and Hancock, who was Governor. It was all a question of etiquette–which should make the first call. Each side played a waiting game, and at last Hancock’s gout came in as an excellent excuse and the country was saved.
In one of his letters, Hancock says, “The entire Genteel portion of the town was invited to my House, while on the sidewalk I had a cask of Madeira for the Common People.” His repeated re-election as Governor proves his popularity. Through lavish expenditure, his fortune was much reduced, and for many years he was sorely pressed for funds, his means being tied up in unproductive ways.
His last triumph, as Governor, was to send a special message to the Legislature, informing that body that “a company of Aliens and Foreigners have entered the State, and the Metropolis of Government, and under advertisements insulting to all Good Men and Ladies have been pleased to invite them to attend certain Stage-Plays, Interludes and Theatrical Entertainments under the Style and Appellation of Moral Lectures…. All of which must be put a stop to to once and the Rogues and Varlots punished.”
A few days after this, “the Aliens and Foreigners” gave a presentation of Sheridan’s “School for Scandal.” In the midst of the performance the sheriff and a posse made a rush upon the stage and bagged all the offenders.
When their trial came on, the next day, the “varlots and vagroms” had secured high legal talent to defend them, one of which counsel was Harrison Gray Otis. The actors were discharged on the slim technicality that the warrants of arrest had not been properly verified.
However, the theater was closed, but the “Common People” made such an unseemly howl about “rights” and all that, that the Legislature made haste to repeal the law which provided that play-actors should be flogged.
Hancock defaulted in his stewardship as Treasurer of Harvard College, and only escaped arrest for embezzlement through the fact that he was Governor of the State, and no process could be served upon him. After his death his estate paid nine years’ simple interest on his deficit, and ten years thereafter, the principal was paid.
His widow married Captain Scott, who was long in Hancock’s employ as master of a brig; and we find the worthy captain proudly exclaiming, “I have embarked on the sea of Matrimony, and am now at the helm of the Hancock mansion!”
No biography of Governor Hancock has ever been written. The record of his life flutters only in newspaper paragraphs, letters, and chance mention in various diaries.
Hancock did not live to see John Adams President. Worn by worry, and grown old before his time, he died at the early age of fifty-six, of a combination of gout and that unplebeian complaint we now term Bright’s Disease.
Thirty-three years after, hale old John Adams down at Quincy spoke of him as “a clever fellow, a bit spoiled by a legacy, whom I used to know in my younger days.”
He left no descendants, and his heirs were too intent on being in at the death to care for his memory. They neither preserved the data of his life, nor over his grave placed a headstone. The monument that now marks his resting-place was recently erected by the State of Massachusetts. He was buried in the Old Granary Burying-Ground, on Tremont Street, and only a step from his grave sleeps his friend Samuel Adams.
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