John Hancock: July 1776, A Signed Resolution of the Continental Congress

Deprive the enemy of needed supplies, Hancock urges, just 15 days after the Declaration of Independence

Remove them from the control of those “actuated by motives of interest or disaffected to the cause of this country”; Our first letter of Hancock from July 1776 in all our decades in this field

On June 7, 1776, a proposal to declare the American colonies an independent nation was submitted to...

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John Hancock: July 1776, A Signed Resolution of the Continental Congress

Deprive the enemy of needed supplies, Hancock urges, just 15 days after the Declaration of Independence

Remove them from the control of those “actuated by motives of interest or disaffected to the cause of this country”; Our first letter of Hancock from July 1776 in all our decades in this field

On June 7, 1776, a proposal to declare the American colonies an independent nation was submitted to the Second Continental  Congress by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia. Congress responded by appointing a committee to draft the Declaration of Independence. The committee consisted of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Robert R. Livingston, and Roger  Sherman.  The final document it produced was drafted by Jefferson and contained important revisions suggested by Franklin. Congress approved American independence on July 2, 1776, and the Declaration of Independence was agreed to two days later on July 4. John Hancock, President of Congress, was the only person to sign it on July 4. Working that very night from a document with only Hancock’s signature, John Dunlap, official printer to Congress, produced the first printed version of the Declaration of Independence in his Philadelphia shop. The next day Hancock dispatched the first of Dunlap’s printed broadsides to the legislatures of New Jersey and Delaware. Three days later, on July 8, the Declaration of Independence was read publicly in the yard of the State House (now Independence Hall) in Philadelphia, and the Liberty Bell was rung, proclaiming “liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof.” American independence was now a fact, but sustaining it would be the challenge.

On June 21, 1776, the Provincial Congress of New Jersey determined to form a new government to replace the one that had operated under royal authority, and the day after it appointed a delegation to the Continental Congress with full powers to vote for independence. Hancock quickly forwarded the waiting New Jersey Congress a copy of the Declaration of Independence as soon as it came back from the printer. On July 18, New Jersey adopted the Declaration, stating momentously that the members would “support the freedom and independence of the said States with our lives and fortunes, and the whole force of New Jersey.”

But even as the political aspect of the conflict peaked, the military aspect of the war was only about to begin in earnest. The British had identified New York City as their strategic prime target. It had a large harbor from which the vastly superior British navy could easily command the area, and also be a base to conquer the middle colonies to the south and west. The terminus of the Hudson River into that harbor would provide the British with a route north to connect with British forces in Canada, and thereby potentially separate New England from the other colonies. Moreover, many Loyalists lived in the City which made it a friendly host for British troops.

On June 28, 1776, even as independence was being debated in Congress, General George Washington noted that “we have certain Advice” about the British troops heading in the direction of New York City. His men had counted the staggering number of 130 ships, and they carried British General Sir William Howe and many thousands of British regulars. This was the largest British expeditionary force in history prior to World War I.  Because of this dire situation, Washington requested that Massachusetts “not lose a moments time in sending forward the Militia of your Province.” On July 2, the day independence was adopted, the British sailed through the Narrows, the tidal strait separating Staten Island from Long Island, with fifty British ships anchoring on Staten Island on July 3. That day, the day before the ratification of the Declaration of Independence, British landed troops unopposed on Staten Island. Other British craft were now ranging throughout New York and New Jersey waters. Washington’s army listened to a reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 9 as the British continued landing.

One prime task for the Americans was to keep the British from getting the supplies they would vitally need for such a large force. To further that goal, on July 17, 1776, Congress passed a resolution: “Resolved, that it be earnestly recommended to the Convention of New Jersey to cause all the stock on the seacoast, which they shall apprehend to be in danger of falling into the hands of the enemy to be immediately removed and driven back into the country to a place of safety.” Hancock quickly forwarded that resolution to New Jersey.

Resolution and letter signed as President of Congress, Philadelphia, July 19, 1776, addressed in Hancock’s hand to the Convention of New Jersey, the body of the letter entirely in the hand of Congress Secretary Charles Thomson. After writing out the resolution at top, Hancock’s letter states: “Gentlemen, the Congress being informed that there is a large quantity of stock on the seacoast of your Colony which are much exposed to the incursions of the enemy, and that many of the proprietors of them actuated by motives of interest or disaffected to the cause of this country, would be glad to dispose of them to the enemy. I am ordered to forward to you the above Resolution and earnestly recommend it to you to cause the stock to be removed back into the country into a place of safety.” It is fascinating to note that that Hancock here uses the term “colony” rather than “state”, showing how old ways of thinking can be hard to change.

This is a great rarity. A search of public sale records shows only one other Hancock signed Congress Resolution from July 1776 having reached that market in the past two decades, and we ourselves have never carried one before.

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