RARE OFFICIAL 1776 MILITARY COMMISSION BOLDLY SIGNED BY JOHN HANCOCK, FIRST SIGNER OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, DURING THE EARLY DAYS OF THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR, FOR JOHN NICE, A CAPTAIN FROM PENNSYLVANIA AND PHILADELPHIA REVOLUTIONARY HERO
HANCOCK, John. Document signed. [Philadelphia]: March 14, 1776. Folio, original leaf of ivory laid paper (12-1/4 by 8-1/2 inches) printed, completed in manuscript in a secretarial hand; matted, entire piece measures 19 by 15-1/4 inches. $16,500.
Exceedingly rare 1776 official congressional military commission appointing 21-year-old John Nice, Gentleman from Pennsylvania, as a captain, signed by Hancock. In 1776 Hancock, as President of the Second Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence, reportedly penning his name large so King George III could read it without glasses. As Founding Father, Hancock was “a key figure in securing independence and creating the republic.” Twice governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in 1788 he was named President of the Constitutional Convention debating the U.S. Constitution—urging its ratification in what many historians consider “Hancock’s finest moment.”
This rare official document of the Second Continental Congress is signed by John Hancock and dated March 14, 1776 (during the Siege of Boston). The document reads, in full, with the portions completed in manuscript in italics: "In Congress. The Delegates of the United Colonies of New-Hampshire, Massachusetts-Bay, Rhode-Island, Connecticut, New-York, New-Jersey, Pennsylvania, and the Counties of Newcastle, Kent, and Sussex on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North-Carolina, and South-Carolina, to John Nice, Gent'n. We reposing especial trust and confidence in your patriotism, valor, conduct and fidelity, DO by these presents constitute and appoint you to be a Captain in a Regiment from the State of Pennsylvania— in the army of the United Colonies, raised for the defence of American Liberty, and for repelling every hostile invasion thereof. You are therefore carefully and diligently to discharge the duty of a Captain— by doing and performing all manner of things thereunto belonging. And we do strictly charge and require all officers and soldiers under your command, to be obedient to your orders, as a Captain—. And you are to observe and follow such orders and directions from time to time as you shall receive from this or a future Congress of the United Colonies, or Committee of Congress, for that purpose appointed, or Commander in Chief for the time being of the army of the United Colonies, or any other your superior officer, according to the rules and discipline of war, in pursuance of the trust reposed in you. This commission to continue in force until revoked by this or a future Congress. Dated this fourteenth day of March, Anno Dom, One Thousand Seven Hundred Seventy Six. By Order of the Congress, John Hancock President. Attest. Chas Thomson Secy." With his bold signature, Hancock grants John Nice a commission as a Captain in a Pennsylvania regiment.
Hancock is most famous as the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence, yet as a Founding Father he was central to the American Revolution from its very beginning, and also played a pivotal role in ratification of the U.S. Constitution—"undoubtedly the most original contribution of the United States to the history and technique of human liberty" (Morison, 316). In 1768 it was the seizure of Hancock's sloop Liberty that led to an uprising against the British and cast him as "a martyr to the patriot cause. In recognition of his role as a leader of the resistance, in March 1774 Hancock was asked to deliver the annual Massacre Day oration… He delivered a stirring oration reminding his listeners of the terrible thing done by British soldiers on that day. The speech, coming so soon after the Boston Tea Party, created a great stir in the town." Not long afterward, when Britain passed a series of laws punishing Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party, Hancock was elected president of the newly formed Provincial Congress and in December was named a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. He was in Lexington in April 1775 with Samuel Adams "when Paul Revere arrived to warn them of the approach of British troops. Hancock and Adams escaped, and within a few days of the events at Lexington and Concord they were en route to Philadelphia to attend the Continental Congress," where Hancock was elected President. After the Declaration was approved by the delegates, Hancock's signature appeared on the printed rough copies that were submitted to state assemblies, conventions and relevant committees, and after the Declaration was engrossed on parchment, on August 2nd Hancock became the first to boldly sign the official Declaration, reportedly penning his name large so that King George III could read it without his glasses.
When, in 1780, Massachusetts approved a state constitution, Hancock was elected the first governor of the commonwealth, serving until his surprising resignation due to ill health in 1785. After the disastrous outbreak of Shays' Rebellion, Hancock ran for the governorship again and easily won a second term in 1787, serving until 1793 and leading Massachusetts "at a time when a national movement was under way to replace the Articles of Confederation with a new constitution. This movement resulted in the convening of the Constitutional Convention in May 1787. When as governor Hancock received the proposed federal Constitution for ratification, he summoned a joint session of the Massachusetts House and Senate and laid the document before it" (ANB). Hancock was promptly named President of the Constitutional Convention in January 1788—at a time when Federalist and Anti-Federalist divisions over ratification of the federal Constitution seemed to threaten America's revolutionary cause. In truth, "the entire future of the United States was at stake" (Maier, 17). Amidst heated debate, Hancock made a speech that ultimately sealed approval of the U.S. Constitution. "The question now before you," he said to the delegates, "is such as no nation on earth, without the limits of America, have ever had the privilege of deciding upon… we must all rise or fall together." At his urging Massachusetts became the sixth state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Historians agree: "without Hancock's support it seems unlikely that ratification would have occurred. This was Hancock's finest moment, for without the support of Massachusetts the entire constitutional effort might have failed." Hancock was "a key figure in securing independence and creating the republic… and he played a critical role in promoting harmony among the founding fathers at important moments in the revolutionary era" (ANB).
The recipient of this commission, John Nice, might aptly be described one of many well-heeled young colonists who found his circumstances further enhanced by the Revolution. A mere 18 years old when he joined the colonial army, Nice received this commission to captain at age 21. The promotion placed Nice in charge of the Pennsylvania Musketry Battalion, commanded by Samuel Atlee. However, just a few months later, at the Battle of Long Island, Captain Nice was taken prisoner by Scottish Highlander troops and was not released until a prisoner exchange four months later. While for an infantryman such imprisonment might have been a death sentence, Nice was held in Manhattan due to his rank and was let go with a (soon broken) loyalty oath. Upon his release, Nice once again secured a captain's commission with the newly formed Thirteenth Pennsylvania Line (which had absorbed his old battalion). Nice fought at Germantown and Brandywine, before being reassigned to the Sixth Pennsylvania Line. The Sixth fought in New York and New Jersey and was eventually sent to Virginia to reinforce the troops at Yorktown. The regiment was ultimately disbanded in 1783. Nice, who was born in Germantown, Pennsylvania and is buried in its Hood Cemetery, gives his surname to Philadelphia's Nicetown section. With contemporary ink recipient notation on verso.
Expected toning, early fold marks and expert reinforcement to folds on verso. An extremely rare and near-fine signed Revolutionary commission.