Lot 7
  • 7

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

Estimate
20,000 - 30,000 USD
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Description

  • Document signed ("John Hancock Presdt" with paraph), imploring the states to send ordnance and troops 
  • Paper, Ink
Manuscript document written in a neat clerical hand, 2 pages (12 5/8 x 8 in.; 320 x 203 mm) on a single sheet of paper, [Philadelphia], 19–21 November 1776, being a resolution for all states to store munitions in safe, convenient locations for use by Continental troops and militia, as well as a resolution for the recruitment of soldiers for the Continental Army in order to carry on the war, the latter signed by Hancock; some light staining and discoloration, repaired fold separations, the recto of the 19 November resolution silked. Matted, framed, and glazed together.

Provenance

The James S. Copley Library (Sotheby's New York, 15 October 2010, lot 606) — Profiles in History, 11 June 2015, lot 65

Literature

Journals of the Continental Congress 6: 966, 970–971

Catalogue Note

"Congress deem it necessary upon every principle of propriety to remind the several States how indispensible it is to the Common Safety that they pursue the most immediate & vigorous measures to furnish their respective quotas of troops for the new Army. …"

General Washington’s staggering defeat at the Battle of Long Island at the end of August 1776 resulted in the British occupying New York City less than three weeks later. The news for the Americans only got worse, as they had to retreat from White Plains on October 28, and Hessian mercenaries captured Fort Washington, in northern Manhattan on November 16. With the Redcoats in hot pursuit, the Continental Army retreated across New Jersey throughout December, eventually crossing the Delaware River into Pennsylvania for safety. Washington had split his troops (the other group commanded by General Charles Lee) in hopes of taking a stand before Philadelphia. With Washington’s command in jeopardy and the British headed towards the seat of Congress, that body issued this order on 19 November: 

"Resolved, That Letters be immediately sent to the Councils of Safety, Conventions or Legislatures of Pennsylvania, & the States to the Southward thereof, desiring them forthwith to lay up Magazines of military Stores, ammunition & Salt provisions in the safest & most convenient places in the said States respectively, for the use of such Continental Troops & Militia as it may be necessary to bring into the Field in the ensuing winter for the defence of these States.

"Congress deem it necessary upon every principle of propriety to remind the several States how indispensible it is to the Common Safety that they pursue the most immediate & vigorous measures to furnish their respective quotas of troops for the new Army, as the time of Service for which the present Army was enlisted is so near expiring that the Country may be left in a Condition in a great measure defenceless, unless quickly supplied by new levies."

The very next day, 20 November, the British took Fort Lee (with a great deal of matériel abandoned during the retreat to Hackensack), leaving the British again in navigational control of the strategic Hudson River and the American war effort further in shambles. Against this backdrop Hancock issued the urgent resolution of 21 November: "As the Necessity of obtaining an Army immediately to oppose the Designs of the Enemy is so evident & pressing as to render it proper to give all possible Facility to that Business —

"Resolved, that each State be at Liberty to direct the recruiting Officers to enlist their Men either for the War, or three years, upon the respective Bounties offered by Congress, without presenting enlisting Rolls for both Terms according to a former Resolution, keeping it always in View that in the opinion of Congress, the public Service will be best promoted by Inlistments for the War, if the recruiting Business is not retarded thereby." Original recruitments were for terms of one year, but Washington instinctively knew that it would take at least a full year to adequately train men to be soldiers. These rallying resolutions of the Continental Congress—together with Washington's desperate and inspired leadership—contributed to the Christmas-night crossing of the Delaware River, resulting in an American victory at Trenton, New Jersey, that reaffirmed Washington’s command, bolstered American morale, and spurred Continental reenlistments.

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