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If someone asks for your 'John Henry,' give them instead your 'John Hancock.'

"Put your 'John Henry' here."

My dad used to say that.

I used to think he was the only one.

But I have heard that phrase twice in recent weeks from people who never met my dad.

They, of course, were referring to a signature, basing the phrase on a man whose signature is a big part of American history. But they got it wrong.

John Henry was a great American hero.

But he was not known for his signature. That was John Hancock.

John Hancock, one of the Founding Fathers, was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence. Knowing the risks he would face if King George III saw his name on the paper announcing that the colonies are and ought to be free from his rule did not discourage John Hancock from leaving a large mark on that historic page.

In fact, he did just the opposite. Knowing that KG3 had problems with his vision, Hancock signed his name in huge letters. As he wrote, those around him recalled that he said, "There, I think King George should be able to read this."

For more history on John Hancock, click HERE.

John Henry

It's' easy to see why many would mistake John Henry for John Hancock. The names are similar, and there was a famous John Henry in American history.

The real story of John Henry remains a mystery, although many people believe the historical evidence is strong enough to support his story as fact. The legend is that John Henry -- perhaps a prisoner -- was born a slave and grew to be one of the strongest men of his day. The legend says he competed in a contest with a steam-powered hammer, and died with his 9-pound hammer in his hand. The town of Talcott, W.V., still has John Henry Days each July.

But John Henry was never known for signing anything.

So, the next time someone asks you to "Put your 'John Henry' there," tell him it's John Hancock.

Unless, of course, your name is John Henry.



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Comments (7)

What about Herbie Hancock? And didn't they make a movie about John Hancock, I think it starred Will Smith.
By: John on March 2nd 11:43am
Sadly, this story has no basis in primary sources. Charles Thomson, secretary of the Continental Congress, remarked that when Hancock signed the document the chamber was empty (it was at night), and he "affixed his usual signature" to it. The story about eyesight is a 19th century insult to the British (spectacles, in the 18th century, were seen as a sign of affluence but in the 19th century were seen as a sign of weakness and it took Theodore Roosevelt to change that perception). This link explains better:

www.snopes.com/history/american/hancock.asp
By: Alex Vasquez on March 2nd 1:40pm
but i meant which word best decribes john henry
By: on May 1st 7:42pm
I didn't know the origins of either I and everyone I have ever known uses the phrase John Henry. Maybe because I am Canadian so the name John Hancock doesn't have the same meaning for me. I don't know, I just read somewhere that the term John Henry seemed to be a cowboy term used even before John Henry the man. Interesting where we get our terms from.
By: Doris Billey on November 13th 3:16pm
I agree totally !!! its HANCOCK not Henry! Who says henry? People sound pretty ignorant saying Henry.... I think anyway
By: Kristie Novak on May 22nd 5:22pm
Actually, The term "John Henry" is derived from cowboy jargon pre-dating the 1870 folklore of John Henry the railroad worker. It was a term coined in reference to John Hancock, however considering that most American Cowboys at that time were immigrants, Hancock became Henry. So, yes, the person could be ignorant... But they just might be more of a historian than you. Oh and if you question this response, feel free to use the internet to educate yourself.
By: Bobby Hall on May 25th 4:37pm
Your John Henry is Western slang, having nothing to do with John Hancock. See http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/10/messages/147.html
By: Klem Kaddiddlehopper on January 21st 1:02pm

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