As the presiding officer of the Continental Congress of 1775, John Hancock was the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence. This conferred upon his wife, Dorothy Quincy, the honor of being the wife of the first “signer.”
Dorothy Quincy was the youngest of ten children of Judge Edmund Quincy. She was born May 10, 1747 and grew up in a wealthy New England home.
Her mother carefully raised Dororthy through her early life. Cultured and agreeable, she attracted many admirers. Yet she remained a bright, unspoiled lady.
The Quincy household had many visitors. John Adams, a rising young lawyer of Boston at the time, was a frequent caller. In his diary, we find that several times he “had gone over to the house of Justice Quincy and had a talk with him.”
John Hancock, the handsome young merchant who had just inherited great wealth from his uncle, Thomas Hancock, was a welcome visitor at the Quincy home. The son of a highly respected minister and the grandson of another, young Hancock, graduated from Harvard College at the age of seventeen. In 1750, the young man went to England to take charge of the business’s London end. Here he listened to the debates of Parliament, saw the funeral of George II and the coronation of George III, and in many ways, come to have a good general knowledge of the English people and their way of thinking. He returned to America after learning of his uncle’s death, who left him his estate.
At the age of twenty-seven, John Hancock found himself one of Massachusetts’s wealthiest men. He began devoting himself more and more to public affairs. His first public office was as selectman of Boston’s town, in which position he served for years. In 1766, he was elected to the General Assembly, along with his colleagues Samuel Adams, James Otis, and Thomas Cushing. Hancock was public-spirited, generous, and always ready to go to the aid of a friend. His popularity grew with everyone except the Governor. He held Hancock and Adams responsible for the increasing spirit of opposition to King and Parliament’s acts.
Consequently, when Hancock was elected Speaker of the Assembly of 1757, the Governor vetoed the choice. Shortly before this, Governor Barnard offered Hancock a commission as Lieutenant in the militia. Hancock, knowing that it was an attempt to bribe him, tore up the commission in the presence of many prominent citizens. At the opening of the Assembly’s next session, Hancock was again elected Speaker. It was also vetoed. Then he was elected a member of the Executive Council, and that was rejected by the Governor. This only endeared Hancock to the people. Preceding Lexington’s Battle, the British Government watched Hancock and Adams closely. They were regarded as dangerous men. In 1774, the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts unanimously elected John Hancock as its President.
Courtship of John Hancock and Dorothy Quincy
During this time, John Hancock was courting the daughter of Judge Quincy. Her father was an earnest patriot. Their home was the gathering place for such men as Samuel and John Adams, Dr. Joseph Warren, James Otis, and others of their rebellious group. John Hancock seemed very much of a hero in the eyes of the young woman. She was as enthusiastic a patriot John Hancock and entered into their plans and consultations.
At this time, John Hancock lived with his aunt, Lydia Hancock. For safety, Hancock moved Lexington. When Judge Quincy was called away from home on business, Lydia Hancock invited Mistress Dorothy to pay a visit. That is how Dorothy Quincy came to be present at the Battle of Lexington.
The Battle of Lexington
The Boston authorities arrested Hancock and Adams at Hancock’s home in Lexington. Hancock and Adams were delegates to the Continental Congress. Through their spies, the authorities learned that Hancock and Adams stored a large quantity of ammunition and other supplies. On April 18, General Gage ordered the march to Concord. Dr. Joseph Warren sent Paul Revere on the midnight ride that made him immortal. Revere galloped up to the house where eight men guarded it. The sergeant halted him with the order not “to make so much noise.”
“Noise!” exclaimed the excited Revere. “You’ll have noise enough before long. The regulars are coming out!”
A window on the second floor was raised, and a voice came down: “What is it, courier Revere? We are not afraid of you.” It was John Hancock himself, and Revere delivered his message.
“Ring the bell!” ordered Hancock, and the bell soon began pealing and continued all night. By daybreak, one hundred and fifty men had mustered for the defense. John Hancock, with gun and sword, prepared to go out and fight with the minutemen, but Adams checked him:
“That is not our business; we belong to the cabinet.” Hancock was loath to accept this, but finally saw the wisdom of Adams’s decision and went to the woods behind the house where they could watch events’ progress.
“I Am Not Under Your Authority Yet!”
Dorothy Quincy and Aunt Lydia remained in the house. They were eyewitnesses of the first battle of the Revolution. Dorothy watched the battle from her bedroom window. She noted in her journal: “Two men are being brought into the house. One, whose head has been grazed by a ball, insisted that he was dead, but the other, who was shot through the arm, behaved better.”
Hancock and Dorothy had a disagreement after the Battle of Lexington, just before he started for the Pennsylvania capital. The lady announced her intention of returning to her father’s home in Boston. Hancock, who realized the unsafe condition of the city, refused to allow this. “No, madam,” he said, “you shall not return as long as a British bayonet remains in Boston.”
“Recollect, Mr. Hancock,” she replied with vehemence, “I am not under your authority yet. I shall go to my father’s tomorrow.”
The next day, however, Aunt Lydia calmed Dorothy down. It was several months before she saw Boston again. When she went back, it was as John Hancock’s wife.
A few days after the Battle of Lexington, Dorothy and Lydia Hancock went to Fairfield, Conn. There John Hancock married Dorothy Quincy on August 23, 1775, by the Rev. Andrew Elliott. They left at once for Philadelphia, by way of New York, arriving on September 5.
Hancock was very much in love with his wife. Although he was busy with many duties, he wrote to her often with affection and respect.
John Hancock’s position during the Revolution brought many calls upon both his hospitality. After the Revolution, they entertained many prominence people, like La Fayette, Count D’Estaing, the French Admiral, Prince Edward of England, and many others.
Two children were born to John and Dorothy: a daughter who died in infancy, and a son who died in the ninth year of his age. John Hancock died in 1793. Several years later, Mrs. Hancock married Captain Scott, who was a friend of her husband. Captain Scott died in 1809, after which Dorothy lived in Boston until her death.