Lot 258

Previous image preload Next image preload


John Hancock ALS, “General Howe is bent on coming here”, Troops, Martha Washington and Continental Congress in 1777, to his wife Dolly!

Outstanding Revolutionary War-dated ALS from John Hancock as President of the Continental Congress, four pages on two adjoining sheets, 8.5 x 13.5, March 10 and 11, 1777. Archival tape reinforcement to the central horizontal fold on the back of the last page. Expected mailing folds, light edgewear, scattered foxing, else in fine condition and boldly signed.

When Congress relocated to Baltimore in December 1775 under the threat of a British invasion in Philadelphia, Hancock's family, his wife Dolly, and their newborn daughter Lydia joined him. In late February 1776, Hancock returned to Philadelphia alone to fulfill his duties as President of the Continental Congress. In this heartfelt handwritten letter, he writes his first letter from Philadelphia to his wife Dolly, worrying over the health of their baby, planning Dolly and Lydia's trip to Philadelphia to join him, and relating news of the Congress and the war as well as the arrival of Martha Washington. Having begun the letter on March 10th at “10 o'Clock Even’g,” Hancock continues on March 11th, composing an emotional and poignant letter illuminating the sacrifices and pain of separation in the creation of the American experiment.

The letter, in full: “My Dear Dear Dolly: My Detention at the Ferry & the badness of the Roads prevented my arriving here untill Friday Evening. I put my things into Mr. Williams' house, and went in pursuit of Lodgings. Neither Mrs. Yard nor Lucy could accommodate me. I then went to Smith's and borrowed two Blankets & returned to my own house; soon after which Mrs. Smith sent me up a very handsome supper, with a Table cloth, Knives & forks, plates, salt, a print of Butter, Tea, double refined Sugar, a Bowl of Cream, a Loaf of Bread &c &c here I have remain'd and shall do so waiting your arrival. Indeed Mrs. Smith oblig'd me much. I however lead a doleful lonesome life. Tho on Saturday I dined at Dr. Shippins. He desires his Regds. he is as lonesome as I. On Saturday I sat down to dinner at the little table with Folger on a piece of Roast Beef with Potatoes. We drank your health with all our Baltimore friends. Last night Miss Lucy came to see me, & this morning while I was at Breakfast on Tea with a pewter tea-spoon, Mrs. Hard came in. She could not stay to Breakfast with me. I spend my evenings at home, snuff my candles with a pair of scissors, which Lucy seeing, sent me a pair of snuffers & dipping gravy out of the Dish with my pewter tea spoon, she sent me a large silver spoon and two silver tea spoons, that I am now quite rich—I shall make out as well as I can, but I assure you, my D’r Soul I long to have you here & I know you will be as expeditious as you can. When I part from you again it must be a very extraordinary occasion—I have sent everywhere to get a gold or silver rattle for the child with a coral to send but cannot get one. I will have one if possible on yr coming. I have sent a sash for her & two little papers of pins for you. If you do not want them you can give them away—However unsettled things may be I could not help sending for you as I cannot live in this way. We have an abundance of lies. The current report is that General Howe is bent on coming here, another report is that the Mercht's at New York are packing their goods & putting them on board ships & that the troops are going away, neither of which do I believe. We must, however, take our chances, this you may depend on, that you will be ever the object of my utmost care & attention—

I have been exceedingly busy, since I have been here, tho' have not yet made a Congress, are waiting for the South Carolina gentleman. If Capt. Hammond is arrived with any things from Boston, You will have them put in the Waggons and brought here. If she should not be arriv'd leave the Receipt with Mr. S. Purviance & desire him to receive the things and send them to me. The inclosed Letter give to Mr. Newhouse, one of the Waggoners, Send for him & let him know when you will be ready.

I hope you will be able to pack up all your things quickly & have them on the way & that you will soon follow, be careful in packing and do not leave anything behind. Let Harry see that everything is safely stored in the waggons. I send Mr. McCloskey, he will be very useful. I am confident Mr. & Mrs. Hilligas will assist you, pray my best Regds. to them. I have not had time to go to their house but intend it today & shall write Mr. Hilligas by the Post. Young Mr. Hillagas got here on Saturday, he is well, he delivered me your letter & one from his father. I was exceeding glad to hear from you and hope soon to receive another Letter. I know you will set off as soon as You can. endeavor to make good stages. You may easily lodge at Mr. Steles' at Bush the first night. It is a good house. However I must leave those matters to you as the Road must in great measure determine your Stages. I do not imagine there is any danger of small-pox on the Road. Wilmington is the most dangerous, but go on to Chester.

I want to get somebody clever to accompany you. I hope to send one to you, but if I should not be able, you must make out as well as you can.

11 March.

I will write by the Post tomorrow. I can't add as I am now call'd on. Take good care of Lydia, I hope no accident will happen. Inclos’d you have a few mem’o, as to pack'g &c which I submit to your perusal.

My best Regards to Mr & Mrs. Purviances, Capt Nicholson & Lady, Mr. Luce & family & indeed all friends. My love to Miss Katy, and tell her to Ransack the house & leave nothing behind. The Waggoners will attend you at all times. Remember me to all the family. May every blessing of an Indulgent providence attend you. I most sincerely wish you a good journey & hope I shall soon, very soon, have the happiness of seeing you—With the utmost affection & Love, my D’r Dolly, I am, yours forever.”

Hancock adds below: “Doctor Bond call'd on me, Desir'd his complements. He will inoculate the child as soon as it comes. Mrs. Washington got here on Saturday. I went to see her. She told me she Drank tea with you—Let Harry take the Continental Horse, Saddle & Bridle, that I left at Mr. Purviance's & tell Mr. Purviance to charge his keeping in his public credit. If Capt Hardy returns the Horse I lent him with the Saddle & Bridle he must also come. Get the heavy waggon off as soon as you can, that they may be here as early as possible as we shall much want the things after you get here. I have got your bundle safe with the Petticoat, Table Cloth, I have not sent it as I thought you would not want it.” 

This poignant letter illustrates the familial strain that the war and the business of ruling extracted from the founding fathers, as well as the fraught and dangerous environment of Revolutionary America. Although wary of the danger of smallpox, which continued to harass the Continental Army throughout the winter of 1777-1778, and indeed throughout the rest of the epidemic until 1782, Hancock’s chief worry remained his family. His daughter, Lydia Henchman Hancock, was born in November 1776 and named for Hancock's beloved aunt Lydia, who looked after both he and his wife Dorothy like a mother, and from whose husband, Thomas, John had inherited his business and his fortune. His line at the start of the 11th augured an eventual tragedy: “Take good care of Lydia. I hope that no accident will happen.” Lydia would not survive the summer in Philadelphia. On August 11th, Hancock wrote to carpenter David Evans ‘for a Mohagany [sic] Coffin 2 feet 6 inches long.’ Sadly, their son Johnny born a year later in 1778, would also tragically pass away at the age of nine after suffering a head injury while ice skating.

Around the turn of the century, the letter was published in at least three works and cited as in the possession of Mrs. William Wales, a descendant of Dorothy Quincy Hancock. By the time it was published as part of the Library of Congress Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789, the letter was characterized as unlocated. John Hancock letters to his beloved wife Dolly rarely appear at auction, with this representing one of the best that we have seen.

This item comes with a Certificate from John Reznikoff, a premier authenticator for both major 3rd party authentication services, PSA and JSA (James Spence Authentications), as well as numerous auction houses.


Accepted Forms of Payment:

American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Money Order / Cashiers Check, Paypal, Personal Check, Visa, Wire Transfer


Unless otherwise indicated, we do our own in-house worldwide shipping!

Applicable shipping and handling charges will be added to the invoice. We offer several shipping options, and remain one of the few auction houses who proudly provides professional in-house shipping as an option to our clients. All items will ship with signature required, and full insurance. Most items are sent via Federal Express, with P. O. Box addresses being sent through USPS. We insure through Berkley Asset Protection with rates of $.70 per $100 of value, among the lowest insurance rates in the industry. Our shipping department cameras document every package, both outgoing and incoming, for maximum security. In addition, we compare our shipping and handling rates against those of other auction houses, to ensure that our charges are among the lowest in the trade.

Upon winning your item(s), you will receive an invoice with our in-house shipping and handling fees included. ***We will ship to the address as it appears on your invoice. If any changes to the shipping address need to be made, you must inform us immediately.***

International shipments: In order to comply with our insurance provider, all international shipments will be sent via Fed Ex and customs paperwork will show a value of $1.00. International buyers should contact our office directly with any questions regarding this policy.

Third Party Shipping Option: If a third party shipper is preferred, the buyer is responsible for contacting them directly to make shipping arrangements. For your convenience, we have provided some recommended shippers. For your protection, we will require a signed release from you, confirming your authorization for us to release your lots to your specified third party Please copy and paste this following link into your browser: http://universityarchives.com/UserFiles/ShippingInfo.pdf. At that point, our responsibility and insurance coverage for your item(s) ceases. Items picked up by third party shippers are required to pay Connecticut sales tax. Items requiring third party shipping due to being oversized, fragile or bulky will be denoted in the item description.

Please see our full terms and conditions for names of suggested third party shippers.

After payment has been made in full, University Archives will ship your purchase within 10 business days following receipt of full payment for item.

Please remember that the buyer is responsible for all shipping costs from University Archives' offices in Wilton, CT to the buyer's door. Please see full Terms and Conditions of Sale.

February 1, 2023 11:00 AM EST
Wilton, CT, US

University Archives

You agree to pay a buyer's premium of up to 25% and any applicable taxes and shipping.

View full terms and conditions

Bid Increments
From: To: Increments:
$0 $99 $10
$100 $299 $20
$300 $499 $25
$500 $999 $50
$1,000 $1,999 $100
$2,000 $2,999 $200
$3,000 $4,999 $250
$5,000 $9,999 $500
$10,000 $19,999 $1,000
$20,000 $49,999 $2,500
$50,000 + $5,000