- 1664-1854 (inclusive)
Conditions Governing Access
44 linear feet (27 volumes, 34 boxes)
A detailed inventory of the Hancock family collection is available for use in the de Gaspé Beaubien Reading Room, Baker Library. The inventory provides an item-by-item list of the documents included in the collection.
Between 1746 and 1758, Hancock and another partner, Boston merchant and slave trader Charles Apthorp (1698-1758), secured contracts to supply British forces during King George's War and the French and Indian War; they furnished ordnance, lumber, food, medicines, and ships, which transported soldiers as well expelled Acadians in the mid-1750s. Apthorp died in 1758, and five years later Thomas Hancock, having no children of his own, established his nephew John as his partner. Thomas Hancock died in 1764, leaving behind an estate estimated at £70,000, one of the largest in the colonies at that time.
John Hancock inherited the bulk of his uncle's estate at the age of twenty-seven. John's father was a clergyman, the Reverend John Hancock (1702-1744; Harvard AB 1719) of Braintree. After his father's death in 1744, John's mother, Mary Thaxter Hancock, agreed to send him to live with his uncle and aunt, Thomas and Lydia Hancock, in Lexington. He graduated Harvard College in 1754, and subsequently joined his uncle in business. In 1760, John was sent to London for nearly a year to learn the English end of trade, meeting with Hancock's agents and associates there. Upon his return to Boston, John Hancock found his uncle in poor health, and he took on an increasingly larger role in the business.
After Thomas Hancock's death, John became more and more involved in the cause of American liberty. He was a Boston selectman from 1765 to 1774 and a member of the colony's General Court from 1766 to 1774. In 1774 the General Court was absorbed into the Provincial Congress, and John Hancock was elected president. He was appointed as a Massachusetts delegate to the Second Continental Congress, and in May 1775 he was elected its president. In August 1775 he married Dorothy Quincy (they had two children; neither survived to maturity.) He left the Congress in 1778.
John Hancock's service during the Revolution and as later as first governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (1780-1785, 1787-1793), along with his other political involvements, shifted his focus away from his business, and he relied increasingly on subordinates. Hancock intended to return to trade full-time once he retired from public life, but soon after became ill and died in 1793 at the age of fifty-six.
John Hancock's younger brother, Ebenezer Hancock (1741-1819), remained with his mother and her new husband after his father's death. He graduated from Harvard College in 1760. In 1764, upon his uncle Thomas Hancock's death, he received £666 and three thousand acres of land in Maine. Hancock set up a retail store in partnership with Edward Blanchard, but the business failed by 1768. With the help of his brother, Ebenezer was set up in a new hardware shop. John Hancock's political connections helped secure Ebenezer a position as Deputy Paymaster General for the Eastern Department during the Revolution. He inherited a third of John Hancock's estate in 1793, including the Beacon Hill mansion known as Hancock House.
John Hancock's nephews, named Thomas and John Hancock, went into business in 1793, following their uncle's death. The brothers dealt mainly in coastwise shipping of cotton, tobacco, fish, and dry goods, and owned a general store. John Hancock (1774-1859) appears to have operated both in partnership with his brother and on his own, trading commodities including cotton, tobacco, coffee, flour, potash, and gunpowder with merchants in New England, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and Baltimore, as well as in Great Britain, Europe, and the West Indies. He owned ships and at least one store on Long Wharf. Hancock also acted as an agent for Boston gunpowder sales of E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company before and during the War of 1812.
- Series I. Thomas Hancock papers, 1664-1795 (bulk 1717-1765)
- Series II. John Hancock (1737-1793) papers, 1749-1814 (bulk 1760-1795)
- Series III. Ebenezer Hancock papers, 1739-1831 (bulk 1757-1815)
- Series IV. Thomas & John Hancock (nephews of John Hancock) papers, 1763-1835 (bulk 1794-1816)
- Series V. John Hancock (1774-1859) papers, 1793-1854 (bulk 1795-1814)
- Series VI. Blanchard & Hancock records, 1763-1791 (bulk 1764-1768)
- Series VII. Daniel Henchman papers, 1718-1795 (bulk 1781-1763)
- Series VIII. Peter Faneuil papers, 1716-1796 (bulk 1716-1739)
- Series IX. Miscellaneous papers, 1731-1809
By: Lisa DeCesare and Brooke Fox
Additional preservation and description were supported by the Colonial North America at Harvard Library Project in 2017. A review of boxes 22, 33, and 34 concluded a number of folders were mislabeled; the location of the folders is unchanged, but the new folder titles were integrated in the finding aid into Series I. Thomas Hancock, and Series II. John Hancock.
- Account books.
- Administration of estates -- Massachusetts.
- Annapolis Royal (N.S.) -– History -- French and Indian War, 1754-1763.
- Bills of sale.
- Book industries and trade -– Massachusetts -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Booksellers and bookselling -– Massachusetts -- Boston.
- Boston (Mass.) -- Commerce.
- Chignecto Isthmus (N.B. and N.S.) -- History -- French and Indian War, 1754-1763.
- Coastwise shipping -- 18th century.
- Coastwise shipping -- 19th century.
- Commission merchants -- 18th century.
- Cotton trade -- United States -- 18th century.
- Cotton trade -- United States -- 19th century.
- Embargo, 1807-1809.
- First Coalition, War of the, 1792-1797.
- Fish trade -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Gunpowder industry -- United States -- 18th century.
- Gunpowder industry -- United States -- 19th century.
- International trade.
- Legal instruments.
- Letter books.
- Logs (records).
- Louisbourg (N.S.) – History -- French and Indian War, 1754-1763.
- Marine insurance.
- Merchants -– Massachusetts -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Military supplies.
- Negotiable instruments.
- Potash industry and trade -- 18th century.
- Privateering -- 18th century.
- Retail trade -– Massachusetts -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Second Coalition, War of the, 1798-1801.
- Ship's papers.
- Shipping -– 18th century.
- Slave trade -- United States -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Slavery -- United States -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Smuggling -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Tea trade -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Textile industry.
- Tobacco industry -- United States -- 19th century.
- United States -- History -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- United States -- History -- Revolution, 1775-1783.
- United States -- History -- War of 1812.
- United States -- Politics and government -- 1775-1783.
- United States –- History -- French and Indian War, 1754-1763.
- West Indies -- Commerce.
- Whale oil.
- Wharves -- Massachusetts.
- Wholesale trade -– Massachusetts -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Women -- Employment -- Colonial period, ca. 1600-1775.
- Women merchants -- 18th century.
- Hancock Family. Hancock Family Papers, 1664-1854 (inclusive): A Finding Aid
- Baker Library
- EAD ID
Part of the Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School, Harvard University Repository
Baker Library Special Collections holds unique resources that focus on the evolution of business and industry, as well as the records of the Harvard Business School, documenting the institution's development over the last century. These rich and varied collections support research in a diverse range of fields such as business, economic, social and cultural history as well as the history of science and technology.
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