During his July 4th Bell-Ringing presentation on the steps of the Petaluma History Museum & Library, “William Howard Pepper” gave a brief review of the “Timetable to Independence,” as well as how Helen Putnam’s ringing of the Korbel Lumber Company bell in 1962 became a local tradition. During his remarks associated with signers of the Declaration, Mr. Pepper highlighted that “only John Hancock signed the Declaration” on July 4th (see below). Follow-up research found statements on various Internet sites that contradicted or altered what “Mr. Pepper” thought happened on July 4, 1776. For example :

In 1775, John Hancock was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress. As the presiding officer, he was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence (text). After signing the document in a clearly identifiable fashion, he said, “The British ministry can read that name without spectacles; let them double their reward.”
(Source … http://www.u-s-history.com/pages/h1230.html)

Hancock was president of Congress when the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed. He is primarily remembered by Americans for his large, flamboyant signature on the Declaration, so much so that “John Hancock” became, in the United States, an informal synonym for signature.[99] According to legend, Hancock signed his name largely and clearly so that King George could read it without his spectacles, but this fanciful story did not appear until many years later.[100] (Source … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hancock)

Contrary to popular mythology, there was no ceremonial signing of the Declaration on July 4, 1776.[101] After Congress approved the wording of the text on July 4, a copy was sent to be printed. As president, Hancock may have signed the document that was sent to the printer, but this is uncertain because that document is lost, perhaps destroyed in the printing process.[102] The printer produced the first published version of the Declaration, the widely distributed Dunlap broadside. Hancock, as President of Congress, was the only delegate whose name appeared on the broadside, although the name of Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, but not a delegate, was also on it. This meant that until a second broadside was issued six months later with all of the signers listed, Hancock was the only delegate whose name was publicly attached to the treasonous document.[103] Hancock sent a copy of the Dunlap broadside to George Washington, instructing him to have it read to the troops “in the way you shall think most proper”.[104] (Source … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Hancock)

The story, entirely unfounded, is that on signing the Declaration, Hancock commented, “The British ministry can read that name without spectacles; let them double their reward.” An alternate story, also unfounded has him saying, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!” He was the first to sign and he did so in an entirely blank space. (Source … http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/signers/hancock.htm)

I guess we can’t believe everything we read, even though it comes from respected sources. Stay tuned for more blogs related to our Declaration of Independence celebration, as we continue to follow “The Road to Independence, 1776”

June 7 – In Congress, Richard Henry Lee introduces a resolution, “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be, free and independent states.”

June 11 – A committee is selected to write a formal declaration of the reasons for independence. Members include Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston.

July 1 – Debate on Lee’s resolution begins in Congress.

July 2 – Twelve delegations vote to adopt Lee’s resolution. New York delegation abstains.

July 3 – The Declaration of Independence is read in Congress and debate begins on the document. Wording of the document is of special concern.

July 4 – The Declaration of Independence is adopted by twelve of the thirteen ]delegations. Again, New York abstains. On this date, only John Hancock signs the Declaration.

July 8 – In Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell rings signaling adoption by Congress of the Declaration.

July 15 – New York delegation votes to adopt the Declaration of Independence.

August 2 – In a formal signing ceremony, fifty members of the Second Continental Congress sign the Declaration of Independence.

Our next blog will focus on “The Story of John Hancock’s Signature.”