Patriot John Hancock is the King of memorable signatures, so much so that his name has become synonymous with signing a document. As President of the Continental Congress, he was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
But John was memorable for more than a pretty signature. When I turned a corner at the Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and came face to face with this John Singleton Copley portrait of Hancock, I thought, wowza, he is one handsome Patriot! And probably a fun date, as he reportedly had a taste for luxury and the finer things in life. Rumored to somewhat of a lady’s man, Hancock finally settled down at age 38 with Dorothy Quincy, but apparently continued to flirt.
As King of the House of Hancock, a merchant house he inherited from his uncle, John Hancock could have lived a life focused on parties and luxury. But instead — partly because of British policies that targeted merchants — he got involved in politics. Although Hancock didn’t die broke, he spent a good amount of his fortune to support the Continental cause, instead of using the cause to increase his fortune. Now that’s patriotism.
My encounter with John made me wonder: which other patriots of 1776 might be possible winners in a People-magazine style contest for “hottest Patriot”? Below, in addition to John Hancock, I nominate four additional Patriot hotties. Cast your ballot — or contribute another nomination — for your favorite Patriot by making a note in the comments. All commenters will be entered into a drawing to win a copy of my just-published book, Pioneer on a Mountain Bike: Eight Days Through Early American History.
If you have qualms about voting for a Patriot hottie, because you are married or involved with a significant other, keep in mind: THESE GUYS ARE ALL DEAD. Be sure to vote — or nominate another Patriot — by the July 12, 2014 deadline!
Captain Nathan Hale: “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
My second nomination is Nathan Hale, captured by the British in New York City and sentenced to hang for espionage. He is remembered for his speech at the gallows, in which he uttered some variation of the famous sentence above.
At 21 years old, Nathan was just a kid, albeit a mature and well-educated one who had graduated from Yale in 1773 at age 18, then accepted his first position as a teacher before the outbreak of the Revolution. Did the British really have to kill him? Breaks my heart. I know it must have broken his mother’s heart, and surely the heart of at least one girl, if not several.
President Thomas Jefferson: Imperfect Renaissance man
Thomas J. was getting up there in years when Rembrandt Peale painted this portrait in 1805, but still projected rugged good looks. Doesn’t he bear a striking resemblance to the actor Robert Redford?
Yes, Jefferson was a slaveowner, and had other imperfections (not to mention his Embargo Act that wrecked the economy), but this lead author of the Declaration of Independence, born to privilege, was a true democrat as well as a republican who believed in democracy, the republic, and the rights of the individual.
After 11 years of a happy marriage, Jefferson deeply mourned the death of his wife Martha, and honored her promise to never again marry, as she did not want another woman to bring up her children.
Jefferson was both a critic of slavery and a slaveowner, and it’s hard to reconcile why he didn’t walk the walk on the issue of slavery. Was his 37-year relationship with his slave Sally Hemming a mutual love relationship or an exploitive master-concubine one? We don’t know, but I can see why Sally might have found him attractive, even if he was 30 years her senior.
Major General John Stark: “Live free, or die. Death is not the greatest of evils.”
During the Revolution, Massachusetts supplied the rabble-rousers like John Hancock and Samuel Adams, while New Hampshire quietly fielded many of the Revolution’s key generals. Major General John Stark, who is looking pretty good in this portrait, established the strategy for a successful losing battle against the British at Bunker Hill (kind of like the recent US performance in the World Cup; we didn’t win, but showed the soccer world that the American team is now a force to reckon with). Later, Stark led the Continentals to victory at the Battle of Bennington, Vermont.
Stark’s famous sentence (above), now the New Hampshire state motto, is from a letter he wrote to a group of Bennington veterans in 1809, when they gathered there to commemorate the battle. By then, Stark was 81 and and not well enough to travel.
In 1776, at age 48, John Stark was no longer a young man, but he WAS dashing. Perhaps his 11 children kept him young.
Ironic twist: When New Hampshire made Stark’s words the state motto in 1945, they also passed a law making it a crime if to conceal the motto on the state license plate. In 1977, the Supreme Court said First Amendment freedoms trumped the state’s right to require all citizens to display a particular ideology on the official license plate.
Paul Revere: Midnight Rider/Go-t0 Guy
Silversmith Paul Revere might seem an odd choice for hottest Patriot. In 1776, he was the married father of eight surviving children (he eventually fathered 16), and in this portrait, completed eight years earlier, he was already a little jowly.
But Revere’s nomination illustrates that for all of these Patriots, it’s really the entire package that make a guy attractive — personality, looks, gusto. The expression on his face — the lifted eyebrow, the piercing gaze — suggests thoughtful determination. You can tell that Paul is a go-getter, whether it be riding to Portsmouth, N.H. in 1774 to let the town know the British were coming, or sounding the alarm a year later at Lexington and Concord, or in crafting a silver platter or cup. Revere put his all into anything he took on.
Remember to vote!
Perhaps some will find a contest for the hottest Patriot irreverent. But as a history geek, I love getting to know the people of the past. These Patriots were guys who lived lives, who laughed, loved, and sometimes drank too much. They could be heroes, even if sometimes they were hypocrites, and in some cases had an equal number of friends and foes. All could have hunkered down and ridden out the Revolution with their heads bent low to the ground, but instead chose to risk their lives, liberty, and property to create a new nation. Now that’s hot!
Enter your vote — or your nomination — in the comments by July 12, 2014 to be eligible for the book drawing!
P.S. At some future point, I will run a contest on Patriot women, although I may have to broaden the category to include a portrait of the very intriguing Margaret Kemble Gage, the wife of British General Thomas Gage, and definitely not a Patriot.