Signer of the Declaration of Independence
HOPKINS was born March 7, 1707 in Scituate, Rhode Island. Hopkins
had little formal education, although he was an avid reader of Greek, Roman and
British history and enjoyed English poetry as well. He
was reared to be a farmer, and had inherited his father's estate in Scituate,
although he was chiefly employed as a land surveyor. He
was elected town clerk and some time after was chosen as a representative from
Scituate to the general assembly. He was subsequently appointed a justice of the
peace, and a justice of one of the courts of common pleas. In 1733, he became
chief justice of that court.
In 1742, he sold of his father's farm in Scituate, and moved to Providence,
where he made a survey of the streets and lots and he erected a house, in which
he continued to reside until his death. He
married young, at the age of nineteen, a Miss Sarah Scott and fathered seven
children. He also bought a store in
Providence, Rhode Island that led to a successful and profitable career as a
merchant and a ship builder. That
same year he was sent to the provincial assembly as a representative from
Providence and was chosen speaker.
In 1751 he was elected for the
fourteenth time to the general assembly, and later in the year he was appointed
chief justice of the superior court. He
was a delegate from Rhode Island to the convention that met at Albany in 1754
for the purpose of developing a plan uniting the colonies and arranging an
alliance with the Indians, in view of the impending war with France.
In 1756, Hopkins was elected
governor of the colony and he held that office, with the exception of one year,
until 1764. While he was governor,
Hopkins had a disagreement with William Pitt, prime minister of England,
regarding illegal imports with the French colonies. Hopkins
was one of the earliest and most vigorous champions of colonial rights. In
1765 he wrote a pamphlet "The Grievances of the American Colonies Candidly
Examined", which was printed by the order of the general assembly and
reissued in London later that same year. In
1765 he was elected chairman of the committee appointed by a town meeting in
Providence to draft instructions to the general assembly on The Stamp Act. The
resolutions that were adopted were nearly identical to those Patrick Henry
introduced into the house of burgesses of Virginia.
In 1772, Hopkins was again elected
to the general assembly. He freed
his slaves in 1773 and the following year he sponsored a bill that prohibited
the importation of slaves into the colony. He
was elected with Samuel Ward to represent Rhode Island in the continental
congress in August 1774. In the year
1775 and 1776, he again represented Rhode Island in the continental congress. In
this latter year be had the honor of signing his name to the Declaration, which
declared the colonies to be free, sovereign, and independent states. He recorded
his name with a trembling hand, the only instance in which an unsteady signature
is visible among the fifty-six patriots who wrote their names. But in this case
only the flesh was weak. Hopkins had
for some time been troubled with a condition, which forced him, when he wrote,
to guide his right hand with his left.
Hopkins served in the Congress, distinguishing himself as a bold orator. "The
liberties of America would be a cheap purchase with the loss of but 100,000
lives," he confessed to a colleague. His
knowledge of the shipping business made him particularly useful as a member of
the naval committee that formulated plans to arm vessels and in framing the
regulations for the navy.
From 1777 through 1779, Hopkins was
an active member of the general assembly of Rhode Island. He
was a founder of the Providence town library in 1750, which was subsequently
burned in 1760, but rebuild through his influence and involvement.
Hopkins spent the remainder of his
life doing local public service work and he died at his home in Providence on
July 13, 1785 at the age of seventy-eight.
Book of Signers
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The article "The
Declaration of Independence: A History,"
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its preservation today at the National Archives.
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