Fine Books and Manuscripts / HANCOCK WRITES TO HIS WIFE FROM THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS. HANCOCK, JOHN. 1736-1793. Autograph Letter Signed (John Hancock) to his wife Dolly from the Continental Congress,
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HANCOCK WRITES TO HIS WIFE FROM THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS.
Provenance: Dorothy Quincy Hancock (1747-1830); by descent.
LITERATURE: Crawford, Old Boston Days and Ways, Boston, 1909, pp 236-241.
A VERY PERSONAL AND DETAILED LETTER FROM JOHN HANCOCK TO HIS WIFE DOLLY FROM THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS IN PHILADELPHIA, MENTIONING THEIR DAUGHTER LYDIA. When Congress relocated to Baltimore in December 1775 under threat of British invasion in Philadelphia, Hancock's family, his wife Dolly and their newborn daughter Lydia joined him. In late February 1776 Hancock returned to Philadelphia alone to fulfill his duties as President of the Continental Congress. In this heartfelt letter, he writes his first letter from Philadelphia to his wife Dolly, worrying over the health of their baby, planning Dolly and Lydia's trip to Philadelphia to join him, and relating news of the Congress and the war as well as the arrival of Martha Washington. Having begun the letter on March 10th, Hancock continues on March 11th, composing an emotional and poignant letter illuminating the sacrifices and pain of separation in the creation of the American experiment.
Lydia Henchman Hancock was born in November, 1776 and named for Hancock's beloved aunt Lydia, who looked after both he and his wife Dorothy like a mother, and from whose husband, Thomas, John had inherited his business and his fortune. He writes here "I have sent everywhere to get a gold or silver rattle for the child with a coral to send but cannot get one. I will have one if possible on yr coming. I have sent a sash for her & two little papers of pins for you." And when he continues, he notes "Take good care of Lydia. I hope that no accident will happen," and that Dr. Bond will inoculate the child upon arrival in Philadelphia. Hancock's concern turns out to be prescient, as Lydia would not survive the summer in Philadelphia. On August 11th, Hancock wrote to carpenter David Evans "for a Mohagany [sic] Coffin 2 feet 6 inches long." Sadly, their son Johnny born a year later in 1778, would also tragically pass away at the age of 9 in a hockey accident.
"We have an abundance of lies," Hancock reports regarding the state of the war. "The current report is that General Howe is bent on coming here, another report is that the Mercht's at New York are packing their goods & putting them on board ships & that the troops are going away, neither of which do I believe. We must, however, take our chances...." However, the uncertainty cannot keep him from sending for his wife and child, "... this you may depend on, that you will be ever the object of my utmost care & attention."
He also notes the presence of the danger of small-pox, which continued to harass the Continental Army throughout the winter of 1777-1778, and indeed throughout the rest of the epidemic until 1782. He notes that while the danger during travel is small, "Wilmington is the most dangerous, but perhaps you can order your stage so as not to stop at Wilmington but to go onto Chester."
This poignant letter illustrates the familial strain that the war and the business of ruling extracted from the founding fathers, as well as the fraught and dangerous environment of Revolutionary America. Around the turn of the century, the letter was published in at least three works, and cited as in the possession of Mrs. William Wales (a descendant of Dorothy Quincy Hancock). By the time it was published as part of the Library of Congress Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, the letter was characterized as unlocated. John Hancock letters to his beloved wife Dolly rarely appear at auction, and this is one of the best of them we've seen.