In 1775 at age 38, John Hancock was one of the most eligible bachelors among the Boston rebels. Made wealthy by his uncle, Hancock was a smuggler and a rising political star in the uncertain Patriot cause.
Dorothy Quincy, born May 21, 1747, was 10 years younger than Hancock. She was the youngest of 10 children from a prominent family. Though her family was largely sympathetic to the Patriot movement, not everyone liked the idea of John and Dorothy getting married. One of her brothers-in-law, a staunch Loyalist, likened Hancock to the devil and saw him as a traitor to his class.
Nevertheless, Dorothy Quincy and John Hancock married in August of 1775, making them one of Massachusetts’ first political celebrity couples. Here are 10 facts about the lovely Dorothy Quincy:
She was adopted by John Hancock’s aunt. When Dorothy’s mother died in 1769, Lydia Hancock – John’s aunt – took a special interest in her. Lydia was the widow of Thomas Hancock, who founded the fortune that John would nurture. She had a special affection for Dorothy Quincy and took her under her wing, serving as chaperone and also urging on her romance with John.
She witnessed the Battle of Lexington. When the Battle of Lexington broke out, Dorothy Quincy was staying in Lexington with friends, along with John. When Paul Revere arrived with his news of the British coming, Dorothy was doubtless among those awakened. While John, a wanted man, ran off into hiding, Dorothy witnessed the battle and comforted two wounded soldiers in the aftermath.
She told John to get stuffed. In the wake of the Battle of Lexington, Dorothy Quincy intended to return to Boston to be by her father’s side. John told her she could not go, and she gave him an earful: “Recollect, Mr. Hancock, that I am not under your control yet. I shall go to my father tomorrow.”
She lost two children. John and Dorothy had two children together, but neither would reach adulthood. Their first daughter, named Lydia for his aunt, died in infancy. Their second, a son named John, died at age 8. He fell through the ice while skating on a pond in Milton, Mass., and drowned.
Her feet won John’s heart. Dorothy was, by all accounts, pretty, smart and poised. But Hancock family tradition holds that John’s first romantic thoughts about Dorothy came while attending a particularly tedious church service. John happened to glance at Dorothy’s feet while the service was underway and found them very attractive.
She had a crush on Aaron Burr. For much of 1775, Dorothy Quincy and John’s Aunt Lydia stayed in Fairfield, Conn., with family friends. While there, Aaron Burr joined the household for a visit. The young Burr captured Dorothy’s attention. Aunt Lydia, who was planning the wedding of John and Dorothy, watched Dorothy like a hawk and never allowed them to be alone together. Lydia probably brought about an abrupt end to cousin Aaron’s visit. Of Aaron, Dorothy noted: “He was a handsome young man, with a pretty property.”
She became the first presidential secretary. Following their marriage, Dorothy and John lived together in Philadelphia. She found that society duties were largely replaced by secretarial ones. So Dorothy installed herself as her husband’s, assistant, trimming the rough edges off bills of credit issued by the Continental Congress, of which he was president, and organizing much of the paperwork that John had to deal with himself since he had no staff.
She stole her neighbor’s milk. In 1776, John Hancock invited the officers of the French fleet in Boston to visit his home, expecting a crowd of about 30 men. When the entire crews began arriving – a crowd of more than 100 – Dorothy scrambled to feed them. She used all the household’s bread and dispatched servants to the neighbors with orders to milk every cow they could find. Dorothy told them she would explain later.
She gave to the state, and gave, and gave. Following the Revolution, John Hancock governed Massachusetts for 11 years. His health and his fortune suffered greatly as he paid for a never-ending series of dinners, hosted by Dorothy, for both state purposes and charitable purposes. Hancock instructed Dorothy to submit the expenses for his funeral to the state — $1,800 – but the Legislature declined to pay them, so she did.
She shocked her relatives with her second marriage. After John Hancock died in 1793, Dorothy relied on one of his old friends, James Scott, to manage her affairs. For three years Scott, a widower, courted her. And for three years she brushed him off. When she finally accepted his proposal, many of her relatives were dismayed, though many in the family came to accept the marriage. Dorothy Quincy Hancock and James Scott were married and lived in Portsmouth, N.H., from 1795 until his death in 1809. She returned to Boston for the remainder of her life, which ended in 1830.
This story was updated in 2020.