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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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Mein Words about John Hancock

Loyalist John Mein wrote one of his “Sagittarius” essays in response to John Hancock’s 1774 oration on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

As I related yesterday, Hancock had seized Mein’s property in Boston on behalf of London creditors. In return, Mein took the opportunity to share nasty gossip about Boston’s leading merchant and his visit to London as a young man in 1760:
This great and honourable Master Hancock is very well known in London to many; indeed, unfortunately for them, too well known; for they would now esteem themselves happy, if they had never heard of him before this frantic Oration.

When he was in London about twelve years ago, he was the laughing-stock and the contempt of all his acquaintances: instead of attending and pushing his mercantile interest, visiting the different curiosities in and about Town, and forming reputable connections, as a young man of his great fortune ought to have done, he kept sneaking and lurking about the kitchen of his uncle’s correspondent, drank tea every day with the house-maid, and on Sundays escorted her to White Conduit House.

People unacquainted with Mr. Hancock’s natural condition thought, that his close attendance and attention arose from an amorous connection; but his old school-fellows and intimates knew, that though nature had bestowed upon him a human figure, she had denied him the powers of manhood. The girl was therefore in perfect safety, though unconscious of it. The sense of his incapacity could not however hinder him from thinking; perhaps the Fair Sex took possession of his head, and no doubt he loved them as well as he was able.

When he arrived in America, his uncle [Thomas Hancock], who knew his weakness and want of capacity, kept him at a distance form [sic] company; but as soon as he died, Flatterers, Rogues, and Knaves of all ages and all professions, flocked about him, as Vultures, Cormorants, and Carrion Crows flock about a dead Carcase. It is a melancholy consideration, that good natured folly shou’d be plundered and stript by such a nest of Villains as he associates with. His fortune has long been in the wane.
I suppose I should note that Hancock and his wife had two children.

Hancock was in London when George II died, and he hoped to stay to see the coronation of the new king. We know that from a letter he sent home.

In 1852 James Spear Loring wrote that Hancock actually did see that ceremony. Later authors added that the new monarch received the young merchant at court and presented him with a snuffbox bearing the royal portrait. But Hancock wasn’t yet prominent enough for such treatment. If he did bring such a snuffbox back from London, he’d bought it as a souvenir.

Furthermore, George III’s coronation was delayed for several months because of his royal wedding, and Hancock had to sail before then. Yet another disappointment.

TOMORROW: “Sagittarius” on Samuel Adams.

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