J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, May 06, 2013

“I mean King Hancock.”

As I noted last month, a largely reliable British officer, Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, reported that some of the provincial troops shouted, “King Hancock forever!” on 19 Apr 1775. John Hancock went on to become president of the Continental Congress, thus the highest elected official of the United Colonies. Thus, if anyone was in position to be King of the new independent country, Hancock was.

Which brings me to an item in the 3 Sept 1777 Pennsylvania Journal. That Patriot newspaper published this account of fighting in upstate New York from Abraham Ninham, a leader of the Stockbridge Indians serving in the Continental Army. When it starts, Ninham and his men have captured some British soldiers:
On our way to our encampment, we thought we would take in with us as many Tories as we could find; and in order to find them out, we gave our prisoners their guns, taking out the flints. When we came near a house, we told our prisoners, “you must keep before us, and if you see any men you must cock your guns and present them at them, and demand who they are for, the King or country.”

They did so, and the Tories answered they were for the King, or they should have moved off long ago. They seemed to be glad to see the regulars, and told them, “You are our brothers.”

I knew one of the Tories as soon as I came in sight of him; I therefore put my hat over my face for fear the fellow should know me till the red coats had done their duty. After he had in a most strong manner declared he was for the King, I asked him further, “Will you be true to the King, and fight for him till you die?”

“O yes,” said the Tory.

Upon this he discovered his error, knew me, and immediately said, “What King do you mean? I mean King Hancock.”

“Ah,” said I; “we have found you out; we don’t know kings in America yet; you must go along with us.”
According to this anecdote (which isn’t necessarily accurate), a Loyalist thought that praising “King Hancock” would help him pass as a Patriot, but—ho ho!—the joke was on him. In becoming independent, the United States had adopted republican values and now disdained all kings.

COMING UP: “King Hancock” in verse.

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