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John Hancock Playground

John Hancock Playground

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

John Hancock (1737-1793) is best known as the first man to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. His signature was so grand and bold that “to give your John Hancock,” has entered the vernacular as a phrase for signing one’s name.

Hancock was born in Massachusetts and adopted by his uncle. He attended Harvard College and then joined his uncle’s prosperous mercantile business in Boston, which he inherited after his uncle died in 1764. Hancock entered politics the following year, serving as a selectman - an elected city office similar to a city council member or alderman. He joined Samuel Adams (1722-1803) in opposing the Stamp Act of 1765, which was passed by Parliament to pay the costs of British troops in America by levying duties on a wide range of goods. Hancock’s popular reputation as an anti-British stalwart grew in 1768, when his sloop Liberty was seized for smuggling to avoid British import levies. From 1769 to 1774 he served as a member of the Massachusetts General Court.

He was a member of the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1780, serving as its president from 1775 until 1777. It was in this capacity that he signed the Declaration of Independence. He had hoped to be named commander of the Continental army, but George Washington (1732-1799) was named instead.

In 1780, Hancock helped draft the constitution for the state of Massachusetts and was elected its governor that same year. He served in Congress under the Articles of Confederation in 1785-1786 before returning to serve Massachusetts as governor in 1787. In 1788, when Massachusetts was voting on ratifying the Constitution, he argued in favor of it, and for the addition of a Bill of Rights; the state ratified the Constitution by a close margin. Hancock held the office for the rest of his life, dying during his ninth term as governor, in 1793.

His iconic signature has been adopted by the John Hancock Insurance Company as its logo; appropriately, the company once possessed the tallest building in the world. Their office building in Chicago, the John Hancock Center, passed the Empire State Building to become the world’s tallest building in 1969. It held that title until in 1973, when New York City’s World Trade Center surpassed it, and the World Trade Center was itself superceded the following year by the Sears Tower in Chicago.

The city bought this land between Bedford Avenue, Hancock Street, and Jefferson Avenue in 1947 to provide recreation space for the new P.S. 3. It was not until the old P.S. 3 on the adjacent site was demolished, however, that the current playground could be constructed. It was opened in 1962, named simply P.S. 3 Playground.

Commissioner Stern renamed the park Jefferson Playground in 1987, to match P.S. 3’s formal name. The commissioner changed its name again in 1999, to John Hancock Playground. The park does sit on Hancock Street, but the main motivation for this last name change is the dearth of places named for Hancock, especially when compared with those named for Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). The new name retains the same “Founding Fathers” patriotic theme of the park, with its big eagles, stars and stripes, and use of red, white and blue.

In 2000, Council Member Annette Robinson sponsored a $1,018,000 renovation of the playground, which installed new play equipment with safety surfacing, a new spray shower, and new paving and fencing. It also improved the schoolyard with new pavement, color-seal coating, fences and new line markings for the handball and basketball courts. The park leaves a positive and memorable mark on the community, as Hancock left his on the Declaration of Independence and the history of the United States.

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