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Lot 31: Hancock, John. Letter signed as President of the Continental Congress, 2 pages (12 ¼ x 7 ½ in.)
December 18, 2012
Calabasas Hills, CA, USALive Auction
31. Hancock, John. Important letter signed as President of the Continental Congress, 2 pages (12 ¼ x 7 ½ in.; 311 x 191 mm.), Philadelphia, 15 March 1776 to The Provincial Convention of New York, the body of the letter in the hand of Jacob Rush; light browning and corner chipped.
Aware that war with the British is unavoidable, John Hancock, the President of the Continental Congress, exhorts New York, a major battlefield during the Revolutionary War, to expedite the raising and arming of Battalions for the defense of the colony against the British.
The letter reads in full: As it is now apparent, that our Enemies mean to prosecute this cruel and unjust War, with unrelenting Fury; and as every Intelligence assures us, that they mean to bend their Force against your Colony, I would not do you the Injustice to suppose, there will be any occasion to use Arguments, to stimulate you, to exert your most strenuous Endeavours, to expedite the raising and arming the Battalions ordered to be raised in your Colony, for its Defence. Enclosed I send you the Commissions for the Field Officers. If any of them are provided for in Canada, they are to continue there, and others will be elected in their Room. Such of them as are in Canada, and unprovided for, have orders immediately to repair to their respective Regiments.
Lest our Enemies should come upon you before the Continental Troops can be in Readiness to receive them; or in Case they should come with superior Force, the Congress have thought proper, to empower the Continental Commander at New York, to call to his assistance the Militia of your Colony, and that of Connecticut, and New Jersey, agreeably to the enclosed Resolve: and I have it in Command to request you, to hold your Militia in Readiness, to march in such Numbers, and at such Times, as he may desire.
The Congress have ordered five Tons of Powder for the Use of the Troops employed in your Defence, which will be forwarded with the utmost Expedition.
In a postscript, Hancock alludes to objections of Rudolphus Ritzema being appointed a command position but Ritzema won command of the 3rd New York Battalion on March 28, 1776 and served until November of 1776. Subsequently, he joined the British Army.
It was the Second Continental Congress (1775-81), with John Hancock at its helm as President (1775-77) that guided the thirteen colonies to rebellion, and eventual military victory. Convening in Philadelphia on 10 May 1775, the 2nd Continental Congress, faced with armed conflict in Massachusetts and the British refusal to redress American grievances, had no other choice but to act as a national government. Following the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the delegates organized the Continental Army (with George Washington serving as Commander-in-Chief after July of 1775). While making a conciliatory gesture to King George III in the Olive Branch Petition (July, 1775), an overture of peace, the Congress proceeded with its plans for war, the numbers growing of those who no longer believed in the King as America’s advocate. The Continental Congress showed its resolve to resist in its “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms.” A Continental Navy was organized, and attempts were made to win Canada to the cause. In May of 1776, two months after Hancock’s letter to the New York Provincial Convention, Congress authorized the colonies to replace their governments based on royal authority with those grounded in the people. In June of 1776, Richard Henry Lee made his famous motion for independence, foreign alliance and confederation. There was a vote for independence (2 July 1776) followed by the adoption of the Declaration of Independence (4 July 1776).
Though perhaps the most conservative of all the colonies, New York was the first to suggest an intercolonial congress, known as the Albany Congress (1754), to resist British measures. At the time of this letter from the Continental Congress, the New York Provincial Convention, counting as its members the elite in the colony, guided and controlled the populace. New York was not to approve the Declaration of Independence until 9 July 1776 though a large, indeterminate number of New Yorkers remained loyal to the British Crown. New York’s colonial status was not to come to an end until April 20, 1777, when the Provincial Congress created and approved a state constitution. New York was to become a major battlefield during the Revolutionary War. Nearly one-third of all Revolutionary War engagements were fought in New York.
This is an historically important letter, a letter of exhortation and assurance, from the Continental Congress President to the Provincial Congress of the colony of New York.
Provenance: Sotheby’s New York, 7 November 1994, lot 52.