STEPHEN 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
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
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