John Henry didn’t sign Declaration


I’ve always wondered why one’s signature is often called one’s “John Henry.”

Even in early childhood, I would often hear such phrases as: “Put your John Henry right here.”

When I learned that the most conspicuous of signatures on the Declaration of Independence was that of John Hancock (above), I soon got his name confused with John Henry’s.

Then I learned that John Henry was a “steel-drivin'” railroad man of American folklore — a reference that resonated with me as a youngster in a railroad family.

But did John Henry sign the Declaration on a day off from driving steel? If not, why is his name associated with signatures?

THIS LITTLE ARTICLE says the confusion of John Henry with John Hancock is just one big mistake and that “John Henry” in reference to a signature is cowboy slang that has nothing to do with John Henry, the folk hero.

So are we clear on all this?



  1. I have certainly heard the phrase, “Sign your John Hancock”.

  2. Jerry: Interestingly, a comparison of Google searches for “put your John Hancock here” and “put your John Henry here” (without quotation marks in both cases) produces 1.7 million results for the former and 15 million results for the latter.

  3. And I get 17.7 million results from Goggle with “put your George Bush here, and 37.9 million results for “put your Barack Obama here”. So…

  4. While I had always heard it as …Put your”John Hancock” right here. I am a little confused by the fact that the only two brothers who signed the Declaration of Independence were the Lee brothers, Richard Henry and Francis Lightfoot. However when Turner made the Famous painting about the signing of the Declaration he traversed the country painting the signers into his master piece….all except Francis Lightfoot Lee. WHY?

  5. Georgia

    I think the artist you refer to is Trumbell

  6. Brian Opsahl

    I was reading about Thomas Jefferson the other day,turns out he was very much against Religions having any say in government. He was also a strong believer in free college for everybody in the country,at the time they called them land grant college’s and they were self supporting..i.e. they would sell timber,or grow corn anything to help with the cost.

    On his head stone it doesn’t even say he was President he was more proud of the fact that he started the college in Virgina and it was free to anybody…!

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