Stephen Higginson Throws Shade At John Hancock

Stephen Higginson Throws Shade At John Hancock

Stephen Higginson was one of the most wealthy men in Boston during the American Revolution.

Higginson was a privateer who helped fight the Revolution at sea.

His most notable battle, however, was a public fight with John Hancock.

Stephen Higginson

By 1771, Stephen Higginson was one of the wealthiest merchants in Boston.

Higginson was called to London to testify before Parliament regarding the problems in the American colonies.  He discussed the colonists’ resistance to taxation, impressment and standing armies.

After returning to Massachusetts, Higginson joined the Patriot Cause.  He became a privateer, funding ships which would make war with the British Navy and keep the profits for himself.

Stephen was a delegate to the Continental Congress for four years.  He participated in finalizing the Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War.

Hancock Rivalry

In the late 1780’s Higginson was made a member of the Quorum.  

The Quorum was an important Massachusetts Court of the day which was made up of many respectable members of society.  Soon after, Stephen was replaced by John Hancock.

Higginson and Hancock were longtime rivals.  They were both wealthy merchants, leading citizens of Boston and former privateers in the Revolutionary War.

Hancock was a former Governor who resigned due to ill health but was running again. Higginson supported incumbent James Bowdoin for the position. It was in this environment which Stephen wrote the Laco Letters.

Laco Letters

The Laco Letters were a series of articles Higginson wrote attacking Hancock’s credibility as Governor.

Among the criticisms were the accusation that Higginson only left office because he did not want to deal with the tensions which would lead to Shays’ Rebellion.  This made him a poor leader and a coward.

Additionally, if Hancock was really too sick to be Governor, would he be healthy enough to hold the position in the future?

Higginson also attacked Hancock personally, calling him vain and greedy as well as criticizing the small amount of military service Hancock performed during the Revolutionary War (although it was more than Higginson did).


In the end, the Laco Letters backfired.  Hancock, who had sweeping popular support all along, won in a landslide.  

Although many of the Letters had some truth to them, there were also several assertions which were incorrect.  The general public didn’t know what to believe and certainly were not going to be swayed against one of their revolutionary heroes.

Higginson would hold minor offices through the rest of his career.  Eventually, he became associated with the Federalists who attended the Hartford Convention.  While he did not participate in this event, Higginson, now an old man, faded into the background of American history.

You can read an interesting article defending Hancock from the accusations (tho it was written in 1960) for FREE here.

To learn more about Founders who published public letters, you might want to read out articles on Silas Deane and John Dickinson.

While Higginson does not have a biography of his own, he is mentioned several times in ‘The Life of John Hancock’ which can be purchased through our affiliate Amazon below.

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