Hancock, John (1737–1793), a United States patriot and statesman. His bold signature was the first to be affixed to the Declaration of Independence—the term "John Hancock” is still a popular expression for a signature. Hancock, the wealthiest of the New England patriots, had great influence because of his prestige and his financial support of the revolution.
Hancock was born in Braintree (in a section now in Quincy), Massachusetts, the son of a minister. After the death of his father he was adopted by an uncle, Thomas Hancock, a wealthy merchant. Young Hancock graduated from Harvard and inherited his uncle's business.
In 1768 Hancock's ship Liberty was seized for smuggling wine into the colony without payment of custom duties. Riots against the colonial government were staged to protest against the seizure, and Hancock became a popular hero for trying to circumvent British trade restrictions.
Hancock was a member of the Massachusetts colonial legislature, 1766–72, and was its president, 1774–75. The expedition that General Thomas Gage sent to Lexington and Concord in April, 1775, had as one of its objectives the capture of Hancock and Samuel Adams. The two patriots escaped because of the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
Hancock was a member of the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1780. As its president, 1775–77, he was the first to sign the Declaration. A major general of the Massachusetts militia, Hancock commanded an expedition into Rhode Island in 1778. In 1780 he was a member of the Massachusetts constitutional convention, and became the state's first governor, serving 1780–85. In 1788 Hancock was president of the Massachusetts convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution. He was again governor from 1787 until his death in 1793.