HANCOCK, John (1737-1793), Signer (Massachusetts). Bound volume of 168 printed bills of lading, preliminary blank boldly inscribed "Bill of Lading Book." 21 BILLS ACCOMPLISHED BY JOHN HANCOCK AND SIGNED ("John Hancock"); 72 bills accomplished and signed by John Hancock as the firm's clerk (signed "Thomas Hancock," or "Thomas Hancock & Co."); and 63 additional bills accomplished by a clerk (probably William Palfrey) and signed by him ("John Hancock") on behalf of the firm. Boston, various dates, 20 October 1761 to 17 May 1774.
Bound volume of 168 printed bills of lading accomplished and signed (excepting 12 at the back, left unused). Preliminary leaf, first three bills and final bill loose, marginal defects to 5 bills at front and end, but the rest in good condition, several with wax seals preserved. Bound in original sheep, covers detached, worn. A full set of photocopies, with careful notes identifying the handwriting of each bill is available for study).
UNIQUE DOCUMENTATION OF JOHN HANCOCK'S RISE FROM CLERK TO MASTER OF THE HOUSE OF HANCOCK. The history of the mercantile firm of Hancock is richly documented in this extensive series of bills of lading. They span thirteen eventful years, the last phases of the French and Indian War, the Stamp Act crisis, the Boston Tea Party and the Intolerable Acts (which finally rang the death knell of the Hancock firm). This volume--probably containing the last bills of lading issued by the firm before its dissolution--provides new insight into the flourishing and eventual waning of this highly influential American business establishment. The firm's founder, Thomas Hancock (1724-1764), rose from as indentured apprentice to become "one of America's richest, most powerful merchants," sole owner of "a conglomerate that included retailing, wholesaling, importing, warehousing, ship and wharf ownership, investment banking and real estate investing" (H.G. Unger, John Hancock, New York, p.16). Upon his graduation from Harvard in 1755, the 18-year old John Hancock was taken into the firm by his childless uncle, who had already determined to pass on the business to him. The nephew "labored long and hard to master the lessons in his uncle's ledgers and letter books" (Unger, p.50), employing the elegant cursive handwriting he cultivated at Boston Latin School and at Harvard.
The specially printed forms are meticulously filled out, specifying the vessel on which the shipment is be carried, the ship's master, where it was moored, where bound, and detailing the items being transported. The text states that the cargo is "to be deliver'd in...good order...the danger of the Seas only excepted." The consignor has signed at bottom, certifying the contract with Hancock. On each bill, the name of the shipper is prominently entered at the upper right. In the first group of bills, John Hancock has neatly entered his uncle's name as shipper. After a stint in London as the firm's British representative, John was formally taken into partnership by his uncle (announced on 1 January 1763); this is reflected in the next group of bills that list the shipper as "Thomas Hancock & Co." (from 11 May to 16 July 1764). On 1 August 1764, Thomas Hancock died of apoplexy; by his will John Hancock inherited the flourishing house of Hancock. This change is reflected in the bill of lading dated 19 October 1764, the first to list "John Hancock" as shipper.
The bills record a wide range of commodities being shipped including "White sperm oyl," whale bone, assorted foodstuffs ("Fifteen Hogsheads of Beans," "pease," Indian corn, rice, pork, flour, firkins of butter, etc.), building materials ("two inch plank," "stone lime," saws and tools, nails, white lead, turpentine) and military goods including powder and shot. The goods are specified for delivery to various firms and individuals, mostly in London, a few in New York, and some (in the wake of the recent war with France), to British forts and settlements in Nova Scotia (Louisbourg, "Fort Cumberland, Chignecto" and Halifax).
In the case of one large shipment of tools and cordage to Nova Scotia (24 November 1763) it is specified that the shipment is "From Auth[ority] of the Hon. Board of Ordnance." An example of a nearly identical bill of lading is illustrated in the standard work on the firm, W.T. Baxter, The House of Hancock: Business in Boston, 1724-1775, New York, 1965, p.137. Most other surviving records of the House of Hancock are at Harvard University.
Provenance: Charles Walker of Cambridge, Mass. (1862-1900) - The present owners, by descent.