Monday, April 28, 2014

The Lighthouse of the Lord

In the early 17th Century, my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather Simon Hancock was living somewhere in the region of Devonshire, England. Sometime before 1642 he came to America, married Sarah Gilbert and settled in the region of Norfolk, Virginia.  They had ten children, one of whom was my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, grandfather William Hancock, who, in 1675 also had a son named William.  

On August 2, 1712, William's son Hector Hancock was born in Carteret County, North Carolina, where he also died on October 27, 1751, but not before having sired Joseph Hancock, who in turn fathered a son named Calvin Hancock.  Calvin Hancock was born just prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence (which document bears the signature of my namesake, though not a direct relation, John Hancock... no it's not Herbie Hancock), and his son James was the father of yet another William Hancock, who was the father of Charles Sterling Hancock, who was born on December 13, 1869 on Cape Lookout, in Carteret, North Carolina.  When I was but a wee lad, I had the privilege of meeting Charles Sterling's youngest son, and my great grandfather, Charlie William Hancock.  

During summer vacations, my family would often travel to North Carolina to visit my great grandparents, Charlie William and Margarette, and other relatives.  I trace some of my fondest childhood memories to the Island where my grandfather, Ralph Louis Hancock, was born on October 17, 1928.  From my earliest days, Harkers Island, North Carolina has always been one of my favorite places on earth.

It is also the place where my grandfather, Ralph Louis, first met missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the place where he was baptized on March 14, 1948.  (As another historical side note, only two months after my grandfather was baptized, the future Prime Minister David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of a Jewish State in Eretz-Israel, to be known as the State of Israel.)  My grandfather's brother, Joel G. Hancock, later wrote a history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Harkers Island entitled Strengthened by the Storm, a phrase that teaches a parable about trees on the Island that grow stronger because of the heavy seasonal winds and rain.  In this inspiring account, my great-uncle Joel recorded that in the spring of 1938 (just a decade prior to my grandfather's baptism), an apostle of the Lord, Elder Melvin J. Ballard, was said to have prophesied that Harkers Island would one day become a Mormon Paradise.  Those who visit the Island today may witness the confirmation and the fruition of that prophecy.

Which brings us back to the story of my great grandfather Charlie William Hancock.  Like many of those who settled the Outer Banks of North Carolina, my great grandfather was a fisherman.  His son, my paternal grandfather, Ralph Louis Hancock, once wrote a brief but elegant essay called The Seasons of My Youth, a title fitting for the subject matter of the essay, namely, a month by month summary of family life and fishing on the Island.  When my parents, siblings and I visited the Island, my grandfather would often take us out on the boat to go fishing.  For a variety of reasons, my brothers and I especially enjoyed trawling.  The net drew in fish and sea creatures of every kind, from sea turtles to squid, and from shrimp to sharks.  After our excursions, we would return to great grandpa Charlie William's home (one that he had built himself), where great grandma Margarette Hancock would prepare a delicious meal of fresh caught shrimp and dumplings.  As the adults rocked in the porch swings and whittled sticks, my siblings, cousins, second cousins and I would roam about the property, playing games, and climbing the family tree, a tree in which we each carved our names.  The Island was not just a Mormon Paradise, or even a childhood paradise.  It was paradise, plain and simple.

Not long after he was baptized, my grandfather Ralph Louis Hancock left the Harkers Island paradise to attend Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where he met Jacquelyn Tebbs, whom he married soon thereafter.  Their marriage was solemnized in the Idaho Falls LDS temple, and many years after that, my great grandparents' marriage was solemnized in the Washington, D.C. LDS temple.  My grandfather's first son, Ralph Cornel Hancock, married Julie Lynn Higginson in the Provo, Utah LDS temple, and I am the eldest son of the fruit of their loins.

Over the years, our family returned often to Harkers Island.  My gratitude and fondness for our family heritage increased with each visit.  Only last year, I returned to Harkers Island once again to visit my ailing grandmother, and other relatives.  As was customary in my youth, I also took a ferry out to the Cape Lookout Lighthouse.  There are few things I enjoy more in life than to feel the salty breeze on my face, to watch the galloping wild horses, and to peer out over land and sea from the top of the lighthouse.  I hope to visit the Island again soon, and as frequently as possible thereafter.

As I reflect on Simon Hancock's 17th century journey from England to the American Colonies, I am reminded of Lehi's prophecy in the Book of Mormon that the Americas would be a land of promise, and a land of liberty.  Lehi recognized the hand of the Lord in the migrations of many people: "Wherefore, I, Lehi, prophesy according to the workings of the Spirit which is in me, that there shall none come into this land save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord.  Wherefore, this land is consecrated unto him whom he shall bring. And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them."  (2 Ne. 1:6-7)

America has been a land of liberty for my forefathers, and for many people.  It is also the land where the Lord restored the Gospel through His servant and prophet Joseph Smith.  Simon Hancock's great great great grandson Calvin Hancock was born during the period of the American Revolution and American Independence, just prior to the restoration of the Gospel in 1820.  Calvin Hancock's great great great grandson, Ralph Louis Hancock, my grandfather, was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just months before Israel's own declaration of independence.  Although my mother tells me that I was named after the beloved disciple in the New Testament, it cannot ignore the fact that my father is, among other things, a scholar of the American Revolution, and that I was born in the bicentennial year of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which document bears the name of an early patriot whose name, John Hancock, has since become a synonym of the word "signature."  

All of these things remind me of the great blessings of freedom that we enjoy in the United States of America, and that the love of liberty can inspire our souls, as it did the souls of those who preceded us.  It reminds me that it is important to remember who we are, and that like the good timber on the Island, we too can grow stronger and become better through the trials and the adversities of life.  It reminds me that, like the Cape Lookout lighthouse beckoning to the ships at sea, the lighthouse of the Lord, His holy temple, beckons to all of God's children: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matt. 11:28-30)


  1. I love this John. And I learned a lot. ��

  2. That was a thorough and thoughtful post, John. What a beautiful heritage!

    1. Thanks Leah. :) And there is so much more to discover!


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