The Roanoke Colony. Bigfoot. Area 51. These are some of the greatest mysteries in the United States. I think one more needs to be added to the list. Why and when did it become acceptable to refer to a signature as a БJohn HenryБ instead of a БJohn Hancock? Б
I was alerted of this cultural mystery when someone came into my office and asked for my, БJohn Henry. Б I thought about correcting him with, БYou mean my John Hancock? Б but I elected not to because I didnБt want to be a jerk. For those that donБt know, John Hancock was the first person to sign the Declaration of Independence. In either an act of defiance of the King or just because he was making a jerk move, Hancock signed his signature extra-large, making it more noticeable than all other signatures on the document. Throughout time, people would ask for oneБs БJohn HancockБ instead of signature, because for a lack of a better reason, we are a society that likes to flaunt our knowledge whenever possible. While I didnБt correct the guy in the moment, it didnБt stop me from taking to Facebook to make fun of the situation. That prompted several great comments like, БMaybe he thinks you are a folk hero and good at laying railroad tracks,Б БMaybe he wanted a hammer, not your signature,Б and БItБs HERBIE Hancock. Б Then my dad chimed in and said that he actually uses the term БJohn Henry. Б When I asked him why not БJohn Hancock,Б he said there are different variations that are correct. My dad is a West Point graduate and knows more about American History than anyone I know.
So now, IБm intrigued. I did some research online and was surprised by the results. While a lot of sites had my thought that БJohn HancockБ was the only acceptable slang, In the West, a half century and more later, the phrase became altered to БJohn Henry,Б and nobody knows quite why. Suffice it that, in the words of Ramon AdamsБs excellent collection of cowboy jargon, БWestern WordsБ: БJohn Henry is what the cowboy calls his signature. He never signs a document, he puts his БJohn HenryБ to it! Б Incidentally, there seems to be no connection between the John Henry of cowboy slang and the fabulous John Henry of railroad lore, who was so powerful that he could outdrive a steam drill with his hammer and steel, This legend has been traced to the drilling of the Chesapeake and Ohio Big Tunnel through West Virginia in the 1870s substantially later than the first use of John Henry by cowpokes of the Old West. That answers the question about the general time frame БJohn HenryБ began being used in place of БJohn Hancock,Б but there is still no known reason why. Are we just supposed to accept that Cowboys changed it up for some reason? Was it because someone didnБt know the correct phrase and it just caught on? Was there another real БJohn HenryБ that had a notable signature? There needs to be a research paper, a book, or some type of study on this. Hopefully you, or some history buff you know, will have an answer to this question.
Please spread this blog post out, because honestly, IБm not sure my life will be complete until I know the answer to this! I NEED ANSWERS! Bear Down and Keep the Faith! Бs historic autograph on the Declaration of Independence is so well known that it is often used as a noun synonymous to БsignatureБ. What can it tell us about the owner? Among other things it reveals his status in society of that time. In the eighteenth century much importance was given to elegant scripts and sophisticated handwriting. It was said that Бa good hand was the sign of a good manБ. Not surprisingly the National Handwriting Day is celebrated on January 23rd which is also John HancockБs birthday. Symbolically the most famous signature in American history is linked with the Declaration of Independence, the most cherished symbol of liberty. But why did John Hancock sign his name proportionally larger than the rest of the delegates? The popular legend states that he signed his name bigger than everyone elseБs so that the Бfat old King could read it without his spectaclesБ. The fact is that as the he was the first person to sign the document and because he was the leader of Congress his signature was centered below the text. According to the it was customary that other delegates began to sign at the right below the text in geographical order according to the states they represent. The northernmost state, New Hampshire began and ended with Georgia, the southernmost. Another myth reinforced by theб which is now located in the United States Capitol rotundaб is that the declaration was signed by all delegates on July 4, 1776.
The fact is that signing started August 2 and was not completed until late November. Perhaps the delay was due to the fact that putting their names on the document the delegates essentially signed their death warrants. There was no greater treason than declaring independence from the King. The fact that this did not deter Hancock from putting the biggest signature on the document testifies to his bravery and his unshaken belief that the independence will prevail. Modern techniques applied to analysis of John HancockБs handwriting can reveal few more interesting details. The ornate elements at the end and especially underneath the name indicate the desire to draw attention to himself and to make a big impression. This would be consistent with what we know about HancockБs personality. Even his best friend Samuel Adams was known to be critical of Hancock conspicuous lifestyle. б Looking carefully at the signature one may notice another interesting point Б the handwriting baseline is not horizontal, instead the letters tend to rise toward end of the line. This pattern is also evident in other samples of HancockБs handwriting. This may suggest a flair for the dramatics as if the person is trying to raise his intonation in theatrical manner. Regardless of whether you believe these suppositions or not БJohn HancockБ remains one of the most recognized autographs in the word.