Lot 6
  • 6

John Hancock, Signer of the Declaration from Massachusetts, as President of the Continental Congress

18,000 - 25,000 USD
32,500 USD
bidding is closed


  • Document signed ("John Hancock" with paraph), being "Instructions to the Commanders of Private Ships of Vessels of War, which shall have Commissions or Letters of Marque and Reprisals, authorizing them to make Captures of British Vessels and Cargoes"
  • Paper, Ink
Printed broadside on paper (8 1/4 x 13 1/2 in.; 210 x 343 mm, sight), [Philadelphia: printed by John Dunlap,] 3 April 1776, signed by Hancock between 3 April 1776 and October 1777; signature very slightly faded, some careful reinforcement to lower fold separations and restoration to half-inch portion of lower right corner. Matted, framed, and glazed with an engraved portrait of Hancock.


Evans 15137

Catalogue Note

PRESIDENT HANCOCK AUTHORIZES AND INSTRUCTS PRIVATEERS TO CAPTURE BRITISH VESSELS AND CARGOES: "You may, by Force of Arms, attack, subdue, and take all Ships and other Vessels belonging to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain, on the High Seas ... You may, by Force of Arms, attack, subdue, and take all Ships and other Vessels whatsoever carrying Soldiers, Arms, Gun-powder, Ammunition, Provisions, or any other contraband Goods, to any of the British Armies or Ships of War employed against these Colonies. … If you, or any of your Officers or Crew shall, in cold Blood, kill or maim, or, by Torture or otherwise, cruelly, inhumanly, and contrary to common Usage and the Practice of civilized Nations in War, treat any Person or Persons surprized in the Ship or Vessel you shall take, the Offender shall be severely punished."

In The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789, historian Robert Middelkauff writes that as Congress "began the move toward declaring independence in 1776, it also moved toward a full-scale naval war," apportioning funds, establishing a naval committee (later a marine committee), and framing regulations (pp. 525–29). This congressional resolve, passed on 23 March 1776, allowed the United States to rely on privateers to oppose the British navy while its own naval force was in its nascent period.

Although Boatner’s Encyclopedia of the American Revolution dismisses the privateers as "little more than licensed pirates who contributed little to the American cause—since prizes were sold to the highest bidder, often in Europe," the National Park Service maintains that privateers made a significant contribution to the American war effort. Congress granted some 1,700 Letters of Marque during the Revolution, and "Nearly 800 vessels were commissioned as privateers and are credited with capturing or destroying about 600 British ships" (http://www.nps.gov/revwar/about_the_revolution/privateers.html).