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Hancock helped Jones get the
Ranger in 1777 & PR in 1923

See 1900s JPJ insurance calendar

John Paul Jones History Booklet From the early 1920's through the 30's John Hancock Mutual Insurance company, issued a slew of patriotic pamphlets. We're not sure how many, but at least three dozen appear to have been circulated on famous Americans from John Paul Jones to Davy Crockett, Admiral Peary and the Wright Brothers. Without exception, to our knowledge, the booklets were all about famous white men; no women or ethnic heroes could be found. The rare exception is a booklet of patriotic songs or ones dedicated to the US Constitution and the Declaration. Smoothly written, compact and attractive -- each booklet measures 4 1/2 by 6 inches and includes 16-illustrated pages and usually a two-color cover. We've reproduced nearly two dozen of those covers here.

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Selling History & Life Insurance

Thanks to mathematician Elizur Wright who developed the first actuarial tables in 1858, Americans are able to pay money in advance for financial protection in the future. Although it was almost named after Benjamin Franklin, the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company opened in 1862. Capitalizing on the bold signature, the "John Hancock" of the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence, the company image was formed and Americans were invited to sign on the dotted line. Hancock's name exuded a sense of security and, according to the company's own history, a half million dollars of insurance had been sold by 1864 and $20 million worth within a decade.

By the turn of the 20th century insurance companies had become aware of the need to appear rock solid and secure. Following a national trend, historic figures were commonly used to evoke a sense of patriotic duty to one's country and family. The big push toward group life insurance in the 20s and 30s matches the era of the historical booklets, now a popular collectible. To their credit, the booklets contain no advertising other than the company's name. The one's we've read appear accurate to the history known in that era -- an excellent means of selling traditional history to insurance buyers and, likely, their children who would have been attracted to these little collectibles.

Seeking more info on the original booklet, we called the head of the advertising department at the company, today famous for sponsoring the Olympics and for its John Hancock glass tower in Boston's Back Bay. No company historian could enlighten us on the number of booklets printed. The company had long "distanced itself" we were told, from the old-fashioned history promotion. In 1985, the company began promoting sports, backing the US Olympics and pumping advertising revenue into the Boston Marathon that is run, ironically, on Patriot's Day in Massachusetts. With the new millenium, the company prefers a more high-tech approach to advertising. Collectors interested in the series can learn more from eBay where individual booklets sell from anywhere between 25 cents to 25 dollars, depending on the whims of the buyer. We paid $5 for our first John Paul Jones booklet, and 50 cents apiece for the rest.

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John Hancock pamphlet John Hancock and John Paul Jones With the exception of Washington, Jefferson and Franklin, no two names from the American Revolution are better recognized than John Hancock and John Paul Jones. What did they do? Well, not too many people know. What was their relationship? Ummm...

In short, it was wealthy influential patriot John Hancock who made it possible for Scottish immigrant Paul Jones to sail the sloop of war Ranger to its famous. Hancock (actually John Hancock III) lived at the apex of Boston's high society in the Beacon Hill crowd. While Hancock hailed from Harvard, Jones left school at 13 for life on the sea. When they met in Philadelphia in 1775, Hancock was one of the richest men in Massachusetts and Jones was of dubious financial standing. Some say he had inherited his brother William's Virginia Plantation, but Jones biographer S.A. Morrison calls that a myth. Jones may have saved money from his stint as a slave-ship owner. The truth is, we don't know what happened to Jones between his murder of a crewman in the West Indies and his reappearance in America on the verge of the Revolution.

Jones was the right man at the right time. He was well-dressed, a superb military tactician and spoke and wrote French and Spanish. Sure, he was also arrogant and opinionated and, unfortunately for him, Jones was a foreigner with no social or military pedigree. America had no navy to speak of and no money to buy ships and no time to wait for them to be built. A rag-tag fleet of merchant ships was hastily pulled together and six new frigates were on order from private agents. Jones went to Philadelphia, lobbied hard, and came up lieutenant on the ship Alfred, then Captain of the sleek Providence.

John Hancock signature John Hancock was at this time chairman of the Marine Committee. Personally named as a traitor by the King of England and the first signer of the Declaration of Independence -- Hancock was a Revolutionary pop star. And he liked what he saw in Jones who could make the best of the worst situations at sea.

"I admire the spirited conduct of little Jones; pray push him out again," Hancock wrote at this time, with a clear reference to Jones' stature of just 5' 6". Jones was back on dry land after capturing the British supply ship Mellish intended to equip the advancing Redcoats. The supplies went instead to patriots under General George Washington. Robert Morris, a friend of Jones who helped finance the Revolution set up an ambitious plan to use this "fine fellow" by giving him a fleet of five second-hand ships. Had the mission come off, Jones would have gone from the Mississippi to the West Indies to West Africa, hacking at the British supply ships and battleships. The fleet never came together and then Jones got into a tiff with his commanding officer who wrote to the Marine Commission insisting that the incorrigible Jones be court marshaled. As a testament to his admiration for "little Jones", Hancock ignored the call for discipline and instead removed Jones aging commander from active duty.

Jones, the Commission decided, would be better used in France. Instead of irritating the British on the American coast, he would attack them on their home court, thumbing his nose at the largest navy in the world. He could speak French, got along famously with American ambassador Ben Franklin it turns out, and knew the British coastline like the back of his hand. And so Jones was commissioned captain and sent to Portsmouth, NH so he could be "pushed out" again as Hancock suggested. His command of the Ranger and then the Bon homme Richard, despite impossible odds, was the greatest maritime victory of the Revolutionary era. Like Washington's survival at Valley Forge, Jones' attack on the British isles went a long way to discouraging the enemy and boosting morale in the colonies.

John Hancock went on to be Governor of Massachusetts in the new United States and lived sumptuously until he died of gout in 1793 at age 56. Although he was born a decade after Hancock, John Paul Jones died a year earlier with little money and few friends in a cheap Paris boarding house.

By J. Dennis Robinson

Copyright © 2000 by All rights reserved.

Those images not in the public domain, used by permission of John Hancock Insurance Company.

See the John Hancock Warehouse in York, Maine

Read more on John Paul Jones in Portsmouth

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John Hancock Insurance Company
Patriotic Brochures
1920s and 30s
(Click on images for greater detail)

Alexander Hamilton
Story of Pilgrims
US Flags and John Adams
John Hancock and John Paul Jones
Patrick Henry and George Washington
Admiral Peary and Ben Franklin
Theodore Roosevelt and David Crockett
Thomas Edison and James Monroe
Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln
Ulysses S Grant and Daniel Webster
John Winthrop and Paul Revere
John Jay and John Marshall
Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee
The Constitution and John Quincy Adams

Why not send us a nice scan of any John Hancock Insurance patriotic booklets that you see missing. Or send us the brochures themselves and we will donate them to the Portsmouth Historical Society when our collection is complete. Here are a few of the ones we are looking for:


  • Eli Whitney
  • John Stevens
  • Lewis & Clark
  • Wright Brothers
  • Presidents of the US

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    PO Box 7158
    Portsmouth, New Hampshire 03802
    Voice: 603-427-2020

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