THE GOLD-MOUNTED, PRESENTATION WALKING STICK OF JOHN HANCOCK, C. 1755
44 1/4 in L overall, with a gold, embossed knob or head 3 1/8 in. L x 1 1/2 in. diameter, set on a malacca wood shaft with two opposing gold eyelets for the hanger knot set 1 3/8 in. below the base of the head, the shaft terminating in a 2 1/2 in. L brass ferrule with iron tip; the lower rim of the head engraved 'The Gift of Coll: Littlehales to Thos. Hancock', the top of knob mounted with a later gold disc engraved: 'The Gift of Govr. Hancock to J. Avery Esq. [later re-engraved as] Jun.'; with later 19th century case. 2 pieces.
In the 18th century the walking stick became one of the most important status symbols of one's status as an aristocrat or gentlemen and one would never step out without such in hand. Sticks and canes, being high status objects, were frequently presented as a token of esteem and/or to honor some selfless act. In Benjamin Franklin's last will, he noted that "My fine crab-tree walking stick, with a gold head curiously wrought in the form of a cap of liberty, I give to my friend, and the friend of mankind, General Washington. If it were a Sceptre, he has merited it, and would become it."
It has not yet been fully ascertained why or when Lieutenant Colonel John Littlehales (1702-1761) presented this fine, gold-headed stick to merchant Thomas Hancock of Boston. Hancock (1703-1764) imported and exported throughout the British empire and, thanks to lucrative military contracts with the Crown during King George's War and the Seven Years' War, was one of the wealthiest men in Massachusetts. The gift was most likely in thanks for Hancock's influence in securing Littlehales, (a British officer who had been on half-pay retirement since 1749), an active appointment as major in Shirley's 50th Regiment of Foot in 1754 or for his promotion to lieutenant colonel the following year. Clearly, Hancock valued the gifted walking stick highly, for it is predominately displayed on the table next to him in in John Singleton Copley's portrait of Hancock (now in the Harvard Art Museum). Hancock's junior partner was his beloved nephew and heir, John Hancock (1737-1793), to whom this walking stick was passed either as gift or bequest when Thomas died in 1764.
It is almost certain that John Hancock carried this gold-headed stick with him to Philadelphia when he attended the Second Continental Congress in 1775 and was unanimously voted its president. It was likely witness to events such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence before Hancock left Congress and returned home in 1778. When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts organized a government under its new constitution, John Hancock was elected its first governor and John Avery, Jr, its first Secretary, both taking post on January 1, 1780. John Avery Jr. (1739-1806) was already a close acquaintance of Hancock's. An ardent patriot, he earlier had been a member of "The Loyal Nine, nine Bostonians who met in secret to plan protests against the Stamp Act and later, a member of the Sons of Liberty with Hancock. Avery
served as Secretary of the Commonwealth from 1780-1806, including Hancock's two terms as governor, 1780-1785 and 1787-1793. The two men worked well together and developed a close friendship and, as Hancock's health began to decline in his final years, Avery took on more of Hancock's workload as governor. Before his death, Hancock presented his friend with this walking stick as a lasting memento. The Hancock walking stick remained a prized possession of the Avery family, being successively handed down from father to eldest son. In the early 1900s, John Avery VI placed the walking stick on loan to Philipse Hall Manor, where it remained on exhibit until 1988, when it was returned to the family and sold the following year.
Provenance: Gifted to Thomas Hancock by Lieutenant Colonel John Littlehales, c. 1755; by gift or inheritance to his nephew and heir, John Hancock, c. 1764; presented by John Hancock to John Avery, Jr., c. ; and by descent in the Avery family to John Avery VIII; to Jonathan Trace, January 1989; Collection of Roy and Ruth Nutt to January 2015; private collection to present.
Exhibited: on loan from Avery family and on continuous exhibition at Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, Yonkers NY from early 20th c. until 6 December 1988.
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