Putting Your John Hancock on Labor Day

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I don't remember being taught that Paul Revere would never have used a phrase including “redcoats(which was hugely inappropriate as at the time it spoke to a monthly female issue) nor would he have said “the British are coming…” as it was not a phrase anyone would have known.  Additionally, I never realized that the Boston Tea Party was setup because of a trade war between the Dutch and the British tea companies, gathering product from China vs India, resulting in a corrupt leader using the situation to better his pocketbook, and his family, while ensuring the colonists could not cry foul as paying specific taxes meant they submitted to taxation and therefore, British rule. 

My family and I are in Boston, MA.  I have a conference beginning Tuesday and will be visiting a number of Universities who are interested in talking about a connectedness play (as well as retention, new enrollment, alumni affinity, etc) for students, faculty, and staff.  But before all of that begins, my wife, daughter, and I are spending the 3-day weekend learning as much as we can about this birthplace of American liberties, revolution, and leadership. 

So, as today is when our country celebrates Labor Day, let me give you a fascinating piece of history from the lips of our costumed historian tour guide (who was clear to tell us he is NOT an actor, but a true historical event analyst).  It was new and fascinating to our family.  Perhaps it will be to you as well.

Just prior to the Revolutionary War, one man was responsible for more labor in the 13 colonies than any man before or since.  John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, was that man.  To start, Hancock was the wealthiest person in the colonies by a long way.  While it is impossible to say how much money he had compared aptly to anyone today, regardless of the formula, here are a couple of things that might make it clear.

In Hancock’s mansion sitting atop Beacon Hill in downtown Boston, he had more than twenty, floor-to-ceiling windows requiring huge panes of glass.  Each pane of glass had to be shipped from England (as there was no industry in the colonies that could handle such an order).  Each pane of glass cost roughly 99 Pounds Sterling.  In or around the 1770’s, 99 Pounds Sterling was a great deal of money.  How much?  Let’s revisit Paul Revere for a moment.

Paul Revere was squarely in the middle class.  He lived a very decent life for the time, as a gold / silver smith, actually doing some very clever and creative things with copper for the navy.  (Did you know he was the first colonist to create lead replacement teeth, leading him to go find the body of the man he gave the teeth to on a battle field, 6 months after that man had died?  In other words, Paul Revere performed the first case of dental forensics in history.)  But Paul Revere used his cleverness and talents to create a nice, middle class life for he and his two wives (his first died after their 8th child’s birth) and his 16 children (yes, he had 8 more kids with wife number two).  We know he was in the middle class from his three story house in the city, his two pairs of clothes (poor people only had one set of clothing), his multiple horses, etc.

Paul Revere made a very nice wage at the time.  He made approximately 26 Pounds Sterling per year. 

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John Hancock’s windows cost (essentially) 4 years’ salary, per window, for a middle-class worker like Revere. 

But perhaps that doesn’t convince you.  Expensive windows?  So what?  Ok, let’s try this instead. 

As stated above, Paul Revere had two changes of clothes.  He had one suit for Monday through Saturday and one "nice" suit for Sundays.  When the "nice" suit got overly dirty, it would become the weekly suit, and Revere would likely go buy a new "nice" suit for Sundays.  John Hancock did not have only two suits.  John Hancock, during a trip back to England, purchased so many clothes for he and his family that he charted a ship to take the clothes back to Boston as they would not fit on a commercial vessel. 

If none of that is enough, let's just talk about his company.  Just prior to the Revolutionary War, the 13 colonies had roughly 2.2-2.4 million people living here.  While only 15,000 people were in Boston, the colonies were a wildly popular place to settle for sure.  At that time, the largest industry in the colonies was shipping.  In fact, one specific shipping business employed more than 600,000 colonists.  Guess who owned that shipping business?  Yep.  John Hancock. He employed more than 1/4 of the people in the colonies personally!

John Hancock actually used both his political office, but more importantly his industry position to spur on the Revolutionary War.  This included a party for every person in Boston, drawing attention to an unfair British law.  The party lasted an entire week, as Bostonians consumed French wine just brought over on four different ships sitting in the harbor.  This also included working with the Tea Party men regarding what to do with the ships holding the tea on that fateful night.  And much, much more. 

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John Hancock was more important to the labor in America than Walmart, Amazon, Google, or even the Government.  He was the original Bill Gates or Warren Buffet but on a grander scale.  He employed America before it was America.  And then he pushed a bunch of buttons to make it America. 

Happy Labor Day.  I hope you found this little foray into history interesting.  I wish you could have seen 'Bob' from Lessons on Liberty do it all justice, but maybe this gave you enough of a taste to get to Boston Commons yourself and take the tour. 

(If you do, ask about the mold spores that caused much of the witch hunting in Salem or why most of the accused witches were educated, female, and Irish.  Perhaps the luck o’ the Irish didn’t make it across the pond.) 

Good luck and Happy Labor Day everyone.