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John Hancock (1737-93) was one of the preeminent Founding Fathers, a president of the Continental Congress and later governor of Massachusetts. Hancock's substantial wealth afforded him a great deal of independence, allowing him to pursue an education and gain prominent status in Boston as a leader of colonial resistance to parliamentary policy. When British authorities targeted him for his activism, Bostonians and other New Englanders quickly rallied to his side and tensions heightened throughout the region. Hancock's name has become a synonym for "signature" thanks to his famously large flourish as the first signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Hancock's trade as a prominent Boston merchant predisposed him to oppose the Stamp Act of 1765. In 1768, British authorities seized his ship, the Liberty, for smuggling. Such a seizure was a rare occurrence at the time and was clearly an attempt to assert British authority over one of the colonies' most outspoken dissidents. A riot ensued, and several British Customs officials in Boston barely escaped with their lives. By the time Paul Revere made his famous midnight ride to warn the colonists of the British advance, Hancock was in hiding in Lexington along with fellow patriot Sam Adams (Royal Governor Thomas Gage had ordered both men's arrest). Hancock later risked his life by agreeing to become the only known signatory (besides Charles Thomson) of the Declaration of Independence, as all other signers kept their identities secret for months to avoid being charged with treason.

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