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With the British Headed His Way, John Hancock Implores the States to Send Supplies and Troops to the Flagging War Effort
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“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…”

Washington’s 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, Hancock stresses the urgent need for troops and supplies.

JOHN HANCOCK. Manuscript Document Signed (“John Hancock”) as President of the Continental Congress, 2 pages, 8 x 12½ in., “In Congress” [Philadelphia], November 19 & 21, 1776.

Inventory #23790       Price: $35,000


                        In Congress Nov. 19, 1776

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.

By order of Congress –

                        In Congress Nov. 21, 1776

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.

                        By Order of Congress

                        John Hancock Presdt.

Historic Background

Between these two Congressional resolutions, Lord Cornwallis captured Fort Lee, New Jersey, (November 20, 1776) leaving the British a large store of gunpowder and munitions (as well as the fort’s women and children). Combined with the fall of Fort Washington four days earlier, the American war effort was in shambles and the British had regained navigational control of the strategic Hudson River. With Washington’s troops lacking food and supplies, disease, desertion, and expiring tours of duty had thinned the ranks. Here, Hancock and the Congress recognize the dire situation and attempt to shore up the war effort. With American troops dispirited and in full retreat, men were reluctant to leave their farms and businesses to join the army for any time at all, and very very few were willing to sign up for the uncertain duration of the war.

Ultimately, Washington and his ragtag army retreated across the Delaware River to the safety of Pennsylvania. Thinking the campaign season over for the winter, the British removed to winter quarters in Trenton and Manhattan. In a desperate attempt to hold his army together, retain his command, and give the Americans the victory they so badly needed, Washington planned a surprise assault on Trenton, New Jersey. An American double agent informed Washington that Cornwallis’s forces had returned to winter quarters on Manhattan and Staten Island while Hessian mercenaries remained at Trenton. Upon his return, the patriot spy told Hessian commander Colonel Johann Gottlieb Rall that morale was so low among Washington’s troops that they would be incapable of launching any attacks.

Crossing the Delaware River to attack Trenton on December 25, 1776, Washington’s victory reaffirmed his command, bolstered American morale, spurred reenlistments, and laid the groundwork for another successful attack on Princeton on January 3.

John Hancock (1737-1793) was a Boston merchant and leader of the colonial resistance movement. Born in Braintree, his paternal uncle, Thomas Hancock, adopted John after his father died in 1742. Under his uncle, he learned the mercantile trade and was groomed for partnership. The Hancock family engaged in smuggling with the French West Indies in defiance of the Molasses Act. Named a Boston selectman in 1765, Hancock opposed the Stamp Act, and upon passage of the Townshend Duties in 1767, he resolved to prohibit British customs officials from setting foot on his ships. Hancock served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and, in 1774, he was elected president of the revolutionary Provincial Congress. He and Samuel Adams were the targets of General Gage’s projected campaign against Lexington and Concord in April 1775. During the war, Hancock served as President of the Continental Congress, 1775-1777, and in that capacity signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. He was later a popular governor of Massachusetts (1780-1785, 1787-1793).


Minor stains. Silked on the recto, with some separation at folds.

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