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John Hancock
by [?]

And then as you go away you will think again of what the old lady has just told you, and as you look back for a parting glance at the house, standing firm and solemn in its rusty-gray dignity, you will doff your hat to it, and mayhap murmur: The days of man on earth–they are but as a passing shadow!

“Here John Hancock and Samuel Adams were sleeping when aroused by Paul Revere!” Merchant-prince and agitator, horse and rider–where are you now? And is your sleep disturbed by dreams of British redcoats or hissing flintlocks?

Phantom British warships may lie at their moorings, swinging wide on the unforgetting tide, lanterns may hang high in the belfry of the Old North Church tower, hurried knocks and calls of defiance and hoof-beats of fast-galloping steed may echo and echo again, borne on the night-wind of the dim Past, but you heed them not!

* * * * *

The Reverend John Hancock of Lexington had two sons. John Hancock (Number Two) became pastor of the church of the North Precinct of the town of Braintree, which afterwards was to be the town of Quincy.

The nearest neighbor to the village preacher was John Adams, shoemaker and farmer. Each Sunday in the amen corner of the Reverend John Hancock’s meetinghouse was mustered the well washed and combed brood of Mr. and Mrs. Adams. Now, this John Adams had a son whom the Reverend John Hancock baptized, also named John, two years older than John, the son of the preacher. And young John Adams and John Hancock (Number Three) used to fish and swim together, and go nutting, and set traps for squirrels, and help each other in fractions. And then they would climb trees, and wrestle, and sometimes fight. In the fights, they say, John Hancock used to get the better of his antagonist, but as an exploiter of fractions John Adams was more than his equal.

The parents of John Adams were industrious and savin’–the little farm prospered, for Boston supplied a goodly market, and weekly trips were made there in a one-horse cart, often piloted by young John, with the minister’s boy for ballast. The Adams family had ambitions for their son John–he was to go to Harvard and be educated, and be a minister and preach at Braintree, or Weymouth, or perhaps even Boston!

In the meantime the Reverend John Hancock had died, and the widowed mother was not able to give her boy a college education–times were hard.

But the lad’s uncle, Thomas Hancock, a prosperous merchant of Boston, took quite an interest in young John. And it occurred to him to adopt the fatherless boy, legally, as his own. The mother demurred, but after some months decided that it was best so, for when twenty-one he would be her boy just as much and as truly as if his uncle had not adopted him. And so the rich uncle took him, and rigged him out with a deal finer clothing than he had ever before worn, and sent him to the Latin School and afterward over to Cambridge, with silver jingling in his pocket.

Prosperity is a severe handicap to youth; not very many grown men can stand it; but beyond a needless display of velvet coats and frilled shirts, the young man stood the test, and got through Harvard. In point of scholarship he did not stand so high as John Adams; and between the lads there grew a small but well-defined gulf, as is but natural between homespun and broadcloth. Still the gulf was not impassable, for over it friendly favors were occasionally passed.

John Hancock’s mother wanted him to be a preacher, but Uncle Thomas would not listen to it–the youth must be taught to be a merchant, so he could be the ready helper and then the successor of his foster-father.