Our History & Our Heritage by Bill Kiefer

As I write this, I look forward to the Independence Day holiday. Most of us just refer to it as the 4th of July and more or less think of it as a mid-point to the Summer season started with Memorial Day and concluding with Labor Day. In reality this one will mark the 245th anniversary of the issuance of our nation’s Declaration of Independence.

Most of us who are at least fifty years of age and older likely have some recollection of the Nation’s Bi-Centennial celebrated on July 4, 1976, designed to commemorate the events of July 4, 1776. Among those for me was the Bicentennial Minute. Each evening between July 4, 1974 and December 31, 1976, one minute of prime time broadcasting was devoted to a recitation of the relevant events of the date two-hundred years in the past. For me, a student of history, it was an important event to be enjoyed each day. As I look back almost fifty years into the past, I look at some of ways our region has honored the leaders of the Revolution. In doing so I think it fitting to ignore (just this once) the obvious big four of Washington (a state, the nations capital, two more or less local counties and one local city are named after him), Jefferson (counties in PA, WV, and OH, named for him), Franklin (counties in OH, PA, and VA named for him, along with a city in PA), and Adams (counties in PA and OH named for him). Besides all that they were our first three Presidents, plus in Franklin, one of our best known and loved early governmental officials. Most of us, and most fourth graders could identify them.

But who was Hancock County named for? Why I believe that it was named for John Hancock. He had a role in the American Revolution. He was born in 1737 in the Boston area. He was a graduate of Harvard in 1754. He began working of his uncle’s trading company about the time that the French and Indian War broke out. In 1764, upon his uncle’s death he inherited the business and became one of the richest men in the colonies. As he became politically active he became one of Boston’s five selectmen (similar to a councilman today.) When the Massachusetts colony started to organize its own government in 1774 it named John Hancock as President of its first Provincial Congress. Following Lexington and Concord, English General Gage offered full pardons to those who would throw down their arms, with the exceptions of Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Subsequently, he was elected President of the Continental Congress which met in Philadelphia, and which approved the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776. On most copies of the document, his signature thereon is large and bold, allegedly signed so that the “King could read my signature without his spectacles.” This is myth as apparently there was no signing ceremony in Congress. He served as Governor of Massachusetts twice and as a member of the Confederation Congress, prior to the adoption of the Constitution. Incidentally his support was crucial in Massachusett’s adoption of the Constitution. He died on October 8, 1793 at the age of 56. His two children preceded him in death. Having left few written materials he fell into relative obscurity during the 19ty century compared to other founding fathers.  Still ten states do have counties named after him, as well cities named for him appear in five states. The United States Navy has had several ships named for him most prominently a WWII aircraft carrier. Thus he was certainly a suitable founding father for whom to provide a name for our county when it was created from Brooke County, West Virginia.

While we are at this, I thought it might be appropriate to write a few words concerning the man foe which Brooke County was named. He was likely born in 1751 in Spotsylvania County VA. His grandfather, also named Robert was a surveyor who was a member of Lt. Governor Alexander Spotswood’s “Knights of the Golden Horseshoe” expedition. Although a second son, Robert received an education in Scotland at Edinburgh University. He returned home at the beginning of the Revolution, but his ship was captured and he was returned to England. He thereaster made a circuitous return to arrive on a French ship carrying arms for the colonials. He joined a cavalry company, was captured again and exchanged to rejoin the Continental Army’s forces. After the war he became a lawyer and was elected to the Virginia Legislature, eventually serving as Governor of Virginia, and later as its Attorney General. Brooke County was created in 1796 and named for the outgoing Governor. He died in 1800 while holding the position of Attorney General.