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Stephen Hopkins (politician)

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Title: Stephen Hopkins (politician)  
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Subject: Samuel Ward (American statesman), Josias Lyndon, Joseph Wanton, Nicholas Cooke, Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
Collection: 1707 Births, 1785 Deaths, American Abolitionists, American People of English Descent, American Politicians with Physical Disabilities, Burials in Rhode Island, Chancellors of Brown University, Chief Justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, Colonial Governors of Rhode Island, Continental Congressmen from Rhode Island, Foundrymen, Governors of Rhode Island, Members of the Rhode Island General Assembly, Patriots in the American Revolution, People from Providence, Rhode Island, People from Scituate, Rhode Island, People of Colonial Rhode Island, People of Rhode Island in the American Revolution, Political Leaders of the American Revolution, Rhode Island in the American Revolution, Signers of the United States Declaration of Independence, University and College Founders
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Stephen Hopkins (politician)

Stephen Hopkins
Stephen Hopkins with Brown University in the background
28th, 30th, 32nd and 34th Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
In office
Preceded by William Greene
Succeeded by William Greene
In office
Preceded by William Greene
Succeeded by Samuel Ward
In office
Preceded by Samuel Ward
Succeeded by Samuel Ward
In office
Preceded by Samuel Ward
Succeeded by Josias Lyndon
3rd, 5th and 17th Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court
In office
May 1751 – May 1755
Preceded by Joshua Babcock
Succeeded by Francis Willet
In office
August 1755 – May 1756
Preceded by Francis Willet
Succeeded by John Gardner
In office
June 1770 – October 1775
Preceded by James Helme
Succeeded by John Cooke
Personal details
Born March 7, 1707
Providence, Rhode Island
Died July 13, 1785
Providence, Rhode Island
Spouse(s) (1) Sarah Scott
(2) Anne Smith
Occupation Surveyor, Politician, Chief Justice, Congressional Delegate, Governor
Known for signer of the United States Declaration of Independence
Religion Quaker

Stephen Hopkins (March 7, 1707 – July 13, 1785) was a governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, a Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. From a prominent Rhode Island family, Hopkins was a grandson of William Hopkins who served the colony for 40 years as Deputy, Assistant, Speaker of the House of Deputies, and Major. His great grandfather, Thomas Hopkins, was an original settler of Providence, sailing from England in 1635 with his first cousin, Benedict Arnold, who became the first governor of the Rhode Island colony under the Royal Charter of 1663.

As a child Stephen Hopkins was a voracious reader, becoming a serious student of the sciences, mathematics, and literature. He became a surveyor and astronomer, and was involved in taking measurements during the 1769 transit of Venus across the sun. Hopkins began his public service at the early age of 23 as a justice of the peace in the newly established town of Scituate, Rhode Island. He soon became a justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas, while also serving at times as the Speaker of the House of Deputies and President of the Scituate Town Council. While active in civic affairs, he also was part owner of an iron foundry and was a successful merchant who was portrayed in John Greenwood's 1750s satirical painting, Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam. In May 1747 Hopkins was appointed as a justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and in 1751 became the third Chief Justice of this body. In 1755 he was elected to his first term as governor of the colony, and served a total of nine of the next 15 years in this capacity. One of the most contentious political issues of his day was the use of paper money versus hard currency. His bitter political rival, Samuel Ward championed hard currency, whereas Hopkins advocated the use of paper money. The rivalry between the two men became so heated, that Hopkins sued Ward for £40,000, but lost the case and had to pay costs. By the mid-1760s the contention between the two men became a serious distraction to the government of the colony, and realizing this they attempted to placate each other, but initially without success. Ultimately, in 1768, both agreed to not run for office, and Josias Lyndon was elected governor of the colony as a compromise candidate.

In 1770 Hopkins once again became Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and during this tenure became a principal player in the colony's handling of the 1772 Gaspee Affair, when a group of irate Rhode Island citizens boarded a British revenue vessel, and burned it to the waterline. In 1774 he was given an additional important responsibility as one of Rhode Island's two delegates to the First Continental Congress, Samuel Ward being the other. Hopkins had become well known in the 13 colonies ten years earlier when he published a pamphlet entitled "The Rights of Colonies Examined," which was critical of British Parliament and its taxation policies. In the summer of 1776, with worsening palsy in his hands, Hopkins signed the Declaration of Independence while holding his right hand with his left, saying, "my hand trembles, but my heart does not." He served in the Continental Congress until September 1776 when failing health forced him to resign. A strong backer of the College of the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (later named Brown University), Hopkins was one of the school's most ardent supporters, and became the institution's first chancellor. He died in Providence in 1785 at the age of 78, and is buried in the North Burial Ground there. Hopkins has been called Rhode Island's greatest statesman.


  • Ancestry and early life 1
  • Political and mercantile pursuits 2
    • Governorships 2.1
    • The Rights of Colonies Examined 2.2
    • Chief Justice 2.3
    • Continental Congress 2.4
  • Hopkins and slavery 3
  • Death and legacy 4
  • In fiction 5
  • Family 6
  • Ancestry 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
    • Bibliography 9.1
  • External links 10

Ancestry and early life

Born in Providence in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, Hopkins was the second of nine children of William and Ruth (Wilkinson) Hopkins.[1] His grandfather, also named William Hopkins, was very prominent in colonial affairs, having served for more than 40 years as a Deputy from Providence, Assistant, Speaker of the House of Deputies, and Major.[2] His grandmother Hopkins was a daughter of Providence settler John Whipple, sister of the wealthy Providence merchant, Joseph Whipple, and aunt to Deputy Governor Joseph Whipple, Jr.[2] Stephen Hopkins' great grandfather was Thomas Hopkins, who was baptized in Yeovilton, Somerset, England in 1616, the son of William and Joanne (Arnold) Hopkins.[3] Orphaned at an early age, Thomas Hopkins was raised by his uncle William Arnold, and sailed to New England in 1635 with his Arnold relatives, including his first cousin, Benedict Arnold, who became the first governor of the colony under the Royal Charter of 1663.[2][3]

The early part of Stephen Hopkins' life was spent in the wooded northern part of Providence known as Chopmist Hill, an area that became Scituate, Rhode Island.[4] There were no schools in this area at the time, but the books belonging to the family, supplemented by a small circulating collection, provided Hopkins with reading material, which he consumed voraciously. Richman called Hopkins "a close and severe student, filling up all the spare hours of his life with reading," while Sanderson wrote, "He attached himself in early youth to the study of books and men."[4][5] Besides reading, Hopkins also gained skills in surveying from his grandfather, Samuel Wilkinson.[4] He used his surveying skills to revise the streets and create a map of Scituate, and later did the same for Providence.[6] Because of his responsibility as a youth, at the age of 19 Hopkins was given 70 acres (28 ha) of land by his father, after which his grandfather Hopkins bestowed an additional 90 acres (36 ha) upon him.[7]

Hopkins' interest in surveying spilled over into an interest in astronomy and other scientific endeavors as well, which was illustrated by an event when he was much older. Before the American Revolutionary War, on June 3, 1769, Hopkins was involved in the observation of a rare astronomical event, the transit of Venus across the face of the sun. This event was used to determine the distance of the earth from the sun, and also in this case to improve the measure of the latitude of Providence.[8] Joseph Brown, noted for his scientific accomplishments as well as his commercial enterprise, was able to obtain a complete set of necessary instruments, including a reflecting telescope, a micrometer, and a sextant. An observatory was erected on a hill in Providence where a street, later named "Transit Street" in honor of the event, was laid out. Brown was assisted by a group of individuals, including Hopkins, Dr. Benjamin West, and others who were also interested in science. The observation was able to very accurately determine the latitude of Providence (to the nearest second of arc), after which the longitude was determined by comparing observations of the moons of Jupiter with similar observations made in Cambridge, England.[8]

Political and mercantile pursuits

Hopkins began his public service at the age of 23, when in 1730 he became a Justice of the Peace from the newly formed town of Scituate, a position he held continuously until 1735.[9] Also, in 1731 he became the clerk of Scituate, which position he held for 11 years, until moving to Providence in 1742.[10] Following his tenure as Justice of the Peace, Hopkins became a justice of the Inferior Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions, sitting on this court from 1736 to 1746, and being the clerk of this body for the last five of these years.[11] Other positions he held during this time period include President of the Town Council, Deputy, and Speaker of the House of Deputies.[10] In 1744 he was elected as a Deputy from Providence, which position he held for seven years, also being the Speaker of the House of Deputies during two of those years.[12]

Hopkins (dozing at the table) and other Rhode Island merchants in Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam, a 1750s satirical painting by John Greenwood

In 1742 Hopkins sold his farm in Scituate and moved to the settled part of Providence.[6] Here he devoted much energy to commercial interests which would help small Providence grow.[12] He became a merchant who built, owned, and outfitted ships, and in 1745 he was part owner of the privateering vessel Reprisal, in partnership with John Mawney, Sheriff of Providence, and son of Colonel Peter Mawney.[13] In the mid-1750s, the Boston portraitist, John Greenwood, was commissioned by a group of sea captains and merchants, including Hopkins, to create a satirical painting. The men were stopped at a major trading port in Suriname on the north coast of South America where Greenwood was living at the time. Greenwood concocted a 22-figure tavern scene, showing himself among the affluent traders, many of whom were intoxicated.[14]

One of Hopkins' enterprises later in life was as a manufacturer, and he became a partner with the four brothers, Moses, Nicholas, Joseph, and John Brown in establishing the Hope Furnace.[13] This enterprise was concerned with iron works which made pig iron and cannons for use during the Revolutionary War.[15] After its establishment, Hopkins' son, Rufus, managed the business for four decades.[13]


Samuel Ward, Hopkins' bitter rival, fought with him over the use of paper money.

In 1755 Hopkins was elected to his first term as governor, defeating his predecessor,

  • Chronological list of Rhode Island leaders
  • Stephen Hopkins' Biography by Rev. Charles A. Goodrich (1856) at
  • Stephen Hopkins at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Encyclopedia Brunoniana
  • Biography VI - Stephen Hopkins
  • Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice
  • National Park Service biography
  • Descent of Stephen Hopkins from Lady Joan Beaufort through his mother

External links

Online sources


  1. ^ Austin 1887, p. 325.
  2. ^ a b c Austin 1887, p. 324.
  3. ^ a b Moriarity 1944, pp. 224-5.
  4. ^ a b c Bicknell 1920, p. 1078.
  5. ^ Sanderson & Conrad 1846, p. 143.
  6. ^ a b Sanderson & Conrad 1846, p. 136.
  7. ^ Sanderson & Conrad 1846, p. 135.
  8. ^ a b Arnold 1894, p. 294.
  9. ^ Smith 1900, pp. 52-68.
  10. ^ a b Bicknell 1920, p. 1079.
  11. ^ Smith 1900, pp. 74-115.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Bicknell 1920, p. 1080.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Gaspee Virtual Archives 2009.
  14. ^ Merchants Satirized in Art 2009.
  15. ^ a b Sanderson & Conrad 1846, p. 145.
  16. ^ Sanderson & Conrad 1846, pp. 136-7.
  17. ^ Sanderson & Conrad 1846, p. 137.
  18. ^ a b c d Bicknell 1920, p. 1081.
  19. ^ a b c d e Bicknell 1920, p. 1074.
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h Bicknell 1920, p. 1075.
  21. ^ a b c d e Bicknell 1920, p. 1082.
  22. ^ a b Bicknell 1920, p. 1076.
  23. ^ Bicknell 1920, p. 1077.
  24. ^ a b c d e f Bicknell 1920, p. 1083.
  25. ^ Sanderson & Conrad 1846, p. 140.
  26. ^ Smith 1900, p. 129.
  27. ^ Smith 1900, pp. 149-77.
  28. ^ Smith 1900, pp. 290-325.
  29. ^ a b Staples 1845, p. 3.
  30. ^ a b c d e Bicknell 1920, p. 1084.
  31. ^ a b c Bicknell 1920, p. 1085.
  32. ^ Richman 1905, pp. 215-218.
  33. ^ Interactive Declaration of Independence.
  34. ^ Key to Declaration of Independence (Am Rev).
  35. ^ Key to Declaration of Independence.
  36. ^ John Adams autobiography.
  37. ^ Bamberg & Hopkins 2012, p. 12.
  38. ^ a b c Bamberg & Hopkins 2012, p. 13.
  39. ^ a b Bamberg & Hopkins 2012, p. 14.
  40. ^ Bamberg & Hopkins 2012, p. 15.
  41. ^ Bamberg & Hopkins 2012, p. 16.
  42. ^ Sanderson & Conrad 1846, p. 141.
  43. ^ Richman 1905, p. 170.
  44. ^ a b Richman 1905, p. 171.
  45. ^ Richman 1905, pp. 172-4.
  46. ^ Find-a-grave 2001.
  47. ^
  48. ^ Sanderson & Conrad 1846, pp. 143-4.
  49. ^ Richman 1905, p. 334.
  50. ^ Charter of Brown University 1945.
  51. ^ Bamberg & Hopkins 2012, p. 11.
  52. ^ Richman 1905, p. 161.
  53. ^ 1776, the Musical 2012.
  54. ^ Ford's Humanizes Founding Fathers 2012.
  55. ^ Memorable quotes for 1776 2012.
  56. ^ Austin 1887, p. 274.
  57. ^ Sanderson & Conrad 1846, p. 161.
  58. ^ Rufus Hopkins.
  59. ^ a b Burton family 2012.
  60. ^ Coyne Genealogy 2012.
  61. ^ Austin 1887, pp. 221-4,324-5,376-7,426-7.
  62. ^ Browning 1883, pp. 287-289.


See also

Most of this ancestry of Stephen Hopkins comes from John O. Austin's Genealogical Dictionary of Rhode Island.[61] Hopkins descends from King Edward I of England through his mother and her great grandmother Mary Conyers.[62]


[59] Hopkins' seven children with his first wife included his oldest child, Rufus (1727-1813), who married on October 18, 1747 Abigail Angell, a great granddaughter of

In 1726, at the age of 19, Hopkins married Sarah Scott, the daughter of Sylvanus Scott and Joanna Jenckes, and a great great granddaughter of early Providence settler Richard Scott whose wife was Katharine Marbury, the youngest sister of the famed Puritan dissident minister Anne Hutchinson.[15] Richard Scott was said to be the first Quaker in Providence.[56] Hopkins and Sarah had seven children, five of whom lived to maturity. Sarah died on September 9, 1753 at the age of 46, and following her death, Hopkins married Anne Smith, the daughter of Benjamin Smith, and the widow of an unrelated Benjamin Smith. Hopkins and Anne did not have children together. Hopkins' younger brother, Esek Hopkins, became the first commander in chief of the Continental Navy, and another brother, William, became a celebrated merchant.[57]


Hopkins was present when the Providence mob decided to attack Joseph Curwen in H.P. Lovecraft's The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

In the musical 1776, which tells the story of the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence, Stephen Hopkins is a main character, played by veteran character actor Roy Poole. He is depicted as a well-meaning, but cantankerous, maverick politician who readily partakes of alcoholic refreshment, owns a loyal hound-dog (which is intolerantly allowed to wait for Hopkins inside Independence Hall), and whose force of personality helps keep the Continental Congress together. When asked for his vote on opening debate on Virginia's resolution on independence, the representative from Rhode Island to the Continental Congress declares: "I've never seen, heard, nor smelled an issue that was so dangerous it couldn't be talked about. Hell yes, I'm for debating anything!"[53][54][55]

In fiction

In his diary, the Reverend Ezra Stiles wrote of Hopkins, "I well knew Gov. Hopkins. He was a man of penetrating astutious [sic] Genius, full of Subtlety, deep Cunning, intriguing & enterprizing..." adding that he was a "man of a Noble fortitude & resolution" and "a glorious Patriot!"[51] Hopkins, has been given strong accolades from numerous historians including Sanderson, Arnold and Bicknell, but was simply called by Richman "the greatest statesman of Rhode Island."[52]

Although largely self-educated, Hopkins was instrumental in the establishment of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations (now Brown University) as a founding trustee or fellow along with the Reverend James Manning, Samuel Ward, John Brown, Nicholas Brown, Sr., Moses Brown, the Baptist Reverend Isaac Backus, the Baptist Reverend Samuel Stillman, and the Congregationalist Reverend Ezra Stiles. Hopkins served as Brown's first chancellor from 1764 to 1785.[50] His home, the Governor Stephen Hopkins House, originally located at the corner of Hopkins and South Main Streets in Providence, was moved twice after his death, both times to other locations on Hopkins Street. It is now located at 15 Hopkins Street, at the corner of Benefit Street, on the edge of the Brown University campus, and is a U.S. National Historic Landmark.[13]

Hopkins helped to found a subscription library, the Providence Library Company, in 1753, and was a member of the Philosophical Society of Newport.[48][49] The town of Hopkinton, Rhode Island, was later named after him. Also, the SS Stephen Hopkins, a liberty ship named in his honor, was the first U.S. ship to sink a German surface warship in World War II.[13]

In September 1776, poor health forced Hopkins to resign from the Continental Congress and return to his home in Rhode Island, though he remained an active member of Rhode Island's general assembly from 1777 to 1779. He died at his home in Providence on July 13, 1785, at the age of 78 and is buried in the North Burial Ground there.[46][47]

Hopkins grave marker, North Burial Ground, Providence

Death and legacy

In 1774, while serving in the Rhode Island Assembly, Hopkins introduced a bill that prohibited the importation of slaves into the colony.[42] This became one of the first anti-slavery laws in the new United States.[43] There were several pressures occurring in the colony which lead to greater restrictions on the slave trade, the greatest of which was the pressure applied by the Quakers, who comprised a large percentage of Rhode Island's population.[44] Hopkins' second wife was a Quaker, and as a consequence he became an active follower of this faith. Admonition from the Quakers was likely a compelling reason for Hopkins to begin freeing his slaves and introduce his antislavery bill.[44] Other forces acting against this institution included the influence of the Congregationalist minister, Samuel Hopkins, and also the poor profit margin derived from the trade in New England.[45]

While Hopkins felt that the bondage of self-sufficient "rational creatures" was against God's will, he also thought that unconditional freedom for some slaves would be an abrogation of responsibility. To this end, he refused to manumit his slave woman, even though it cost him his membership in the Quaker meeting.[39] His rationale was simple: "She had Children that needed the Immediate Care of a Mother..."[40] It appears that Hopkins' remaining slaves were not freed until after his death, but at least two of them, Primus and Bonner Jr., had been living semi-independently for several years before his death.[41]

"But, principally, and most of all finding that the merciful and beneficent goodness of Almighty God; by the blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord: hath by the blessed Spirit taught all, who honestly obey its Divine Dictates, that, the keeping any of his rational Creatures in Bondage, who are capable of taking care of, and providing for themselves in a State of Freedom: is, altogather [sic] inconsistent with his Holy and Righteous Will."[39]

On October 28, 1772, Hopkins manumitted Saint Jago, and wrote the following in the manumission document:

Stephen Hopkins, like several of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was a slave owner, and he mentioned five in his 1760 will.[37] His five slaves consisting of a negro man, woman, lad, and two little boys, were bequeathed to close members of his family with tender instructions for their care that were highly unusual coming from any slave owner.[38] His negro woman, Fibbo (Phibo/Phebe), was to go to his wife Anne and treated "so that Servitude may not be a Burthen to her," and his negro man, Saint Jago, was to go to his oldest son, Rufus, and treated "so that his Life may be rendered easy and comfortable."[38] The will was never proved, because Hopkins lived another 25 years, and circumstances changed the instrument's provisions.[38]

Hopkins and slavery

"... Governor Hopkins of Rhode Island, above seventy Years of Age kept us all alive. Upon Business his Experience and judgment were very Useful. But when the Business of the Evening was over, he kept Us in Conversation till Eleven and sometimes twelve O Clock. His Custom was to drink nothing all day nor till Eight O Clock, in the Evening, and then his Beveredge was Jamaica Spirit and Water. It gave him Wit, Humour, Anecdotes, Science and Learning. He had read Greek, Roman and British History: and was familiar with English Poetry particularly Pope, Tompson [Thomson] and Milton. And the flow of his Soul made all his reading our own, and seemed to bring to recollection in all of Us all We had ever read. I could neither eat nor drink in those days. The other Gentlemen were very temperate. Hopkins never drank to excess, but all he drank was immediately not only converted into Wit, Sense, Knowledge and good humour, but inspired Us all with similar qualities."[36]
appreciated Hopkins' contributions during the congressional sessions, writing: John AdamsFuture United States President

On May 4, 1776, by a nearly unanimous vote of the Rhode Island General Assembly, the Rhode Island colony declared its absolute independence from Great Britain. Exactly two months later, on July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress performed its supreme act by adopting the United States Declaration of Independence. The aged Stephen Hopkins had to support his palsied right hand with his left as he signed the document, remarking, "my hand trembles, but my heart does not."[31] The gathering of the founding fathers was depicted in John Trumbull's famous Declaration of Independence where Hopkins is easily distinguishable as the gentleman standing in the back wearing a hat.[33][34][35]

Hopkins was again elected as a delegate to the American War for Independence. The first American naval squadron was launched on February 18, 1776. Hopkins used his influence to secure the position of commander in chief of the new navy for his brother Esek Hopkins, an appointment that proved to be unfortunate.[32]

Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull. Hopkins wears a hat and stands in the back near the door on the left.

The congress was called to protest the actions of Great Britain, and to secure the rights and privileges of the 13 colonies.[30] Both Hopkins and Ward had already predicted that independence would only come with war. To his associates in congress Hopkins said, "Powder and ball will decide this question. The gun and bayonet alone will finish the contest in which we are engaged, and any of you who cannot bring your minds to this mode of adjusting the quarrel, had better retire in time."[30]

In 1774, the First Continental Congress convened, and both Ward and Hopkins were chosen as the delegates from Rhode Island. Hopkins, at age 68, was senior to every delegate there, and was the only one of the 55 delegates who had attended the Albany Congress 20 years earlier.[30] Over the previous several years Hopkins had developed palsy in his hands, and this greatly affected his ability to write. At the seating of this congress, Henry Arniett Brown wrote, "yonder sits the oldest of them all. His form is bent, his thin locks, fringing a forehead bowed with age and honorable service, and his hands shake tremulously as he folds them in his lap. It is Stephen Hopkins."[30]

Continental Congress

Sessions conferred with Chief Justice Hopkins and lawyer John Cole, and with Moses Brown the four men drafted a letter to Massachusetts' statesman Samuel Adams, who replied, urging Rhode Island to remain defiant, or at least to stall matters by appealing the creation of the royal commission.[13] Governor Wanton was put at the head of this commission, but was compliant with Sessions' and Hopkins' attempts to frustrate the aims of the commission.[13] Sessions, Hopkins, and others coordinated their efforts to lose evidence, threaten potential witnesses, and discredit those who testified. The vast majority of Rhode Island's citizens were supportive of the attackers, and kept quiet about their identities. A year after the incident, the royal commission was terminated without a single indictment.[13]

Sessions went on to request that the governor take measures to bring the ship's commander to account. A chain of threatening correspondence ensued between the governor and the commander of the Gaspee, Lieutenant William Dudingston, and the commander's superior, Admiral John Montagu. On the night of June 9–10, a party of incensed colonists attacked the vessel, and burned it to the waterline.[13] Officially, Sessions was outraged at the incident, and offered the colony's assistance in bringing the perpetrators to justice. To ameliorate retribution by the British authorities, Rhode Island officials took visible steps to find the culprits who burned the ship.[13] Behind the scenes, however, Sessions and Hopkins did all they could to thwart any attempts to identify and find the attackers. When a royal commission was appointed by the British to investigate the incident, they demanded that any indicted person be sent to England for trial. This agregious threat to local liberty prompted the colonists to form the Committees of Correspondence.[13] Loyalist Massachusetts Governor Hutchinson further aggravated the colonists sensitivities by urging Britain to rescind the Rhode Island charter.[13]

"I have consulted with the Chief Justice [Hopkins] thereon, who is of the opinion that no commander of any vessel has any right to use any authority in the Body of the Colony without previously applying to the Governor and showing his warrant for so doing and also being sworn to a due exercise of his office--and this he informs me has been the common custom in this Colony."[29]

One of the most important events with which Hopkins dealt during his final tenure as Chief Justice was the Gaspee Affair. In March 1772 Deputy Governor Darius Sessions, working in Providence, sent a letter of concern to Governor Joseph Wanton in Newport, having consulted with Chief Justice Hopkins. Sessions expressed alarm that the British schooner Gaspee had been cruising the Narragansett Bay, disrupting the traffic by stopping and searching commercial ships.[29] In the letter Sessions wrote:

Burning of the Gaspée

In May 1747 Hopkins was first appointed as a Justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court, whose long title was the "Superior Court of Judicature, Court Of Assize, and General Gaol Delivery."[26] In 1751 he became the third Chief Justice of this court, which position he held until 1755 when he became governor.[27] Following a total of nine years as governor over the next 15 years, Hopkins was once again appointed as Chief Justice of the court in 1770, and served until October 1775, while simultaneously serving as a delegate to the Continental Congress.[28]

Chief Justice

In November 1764 a pamphlet by Hopkins entitled The Rights of Colonies Examined, was published by the Rhode Island General Assembly.[21] This pamphlet, with its broad distribution and criticism of taxation and Parliament, was directed primarily at the Stamp Act, and helped build Hopkins' reputation as a revolutionary leader.[25] The text begins with the words, "Liberty is the greatest blessing that men enjoy, and slavery the heaviest curse that human nature is capable of," and goes on to present a clear and logical review of the relationship of the American colonies to the mother country.[24] The paper received widespread circulation and brought hearty approval from throughout the colonies. Historian Thomas Bicknell called it "the most remarkable document that was issued during the period preceding the War of the Revolution."[24] Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote of the paper, "it was conceived in a higher strain than any that were sent out by other colonies." With this paper Hopkins became to Rhode Island what Samuel Adams was to Massachusetts and what Thomas Jefferson was to Virginia.[24] The paper was printed widely, and Hopkins became recognized as one of the leaders of public opinion in the colonies.[24]

The Rights of Colonies Examined

Rhode Island's election of 1767 was as hotly contested as ever, but Hopkins beat Ward by the widest margin of any of their previous elections.[24] In 1768 Hopkins proposed to Ward that the two men should relinquish their claims on the elections and agree to a compromise candidate. Ward accepted the proposal, Josias Lyndon was elected as governor, and the two adversaries, Ward and Hopkins, met and united in a cordial friendship for the remainder of their lives.[24]

Hopkins' pamphlet was widely circulated in the 13 colonies.

Another event of great importance to the future of the Rhode Island colony also found agreement between Ward and Hopkins. In 1764 the act incorporating the college in Rhode Island was passed.[21] Both men strongly supported an institution of higher learning within the colony, and both became trustees, with the name Stephen Hopkins appearing first on the list of 36 trustees, and that of Samuel Ward being third.[21] Hopkins also became one of the school's most generous supporters, and became the school's first chancellor, which position he held until his death in 1785.[20]

The news of the act infuriated the colonists, and Samuel Adams of Massachusetts invited all the colonies to a congress of delegates to meet in New York to discuss relief from the unjust taxes.[20] In August 1765, with Ward once again governor, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed resolutions following the lead of Patrick Henry of Virginia. Rhode Island's appointed stamp distributor, Attorney General Augustus Johnson, refused to execute his office "against the will of our Sovereign Lord the People."[20] The Rhode Island General Assembly met again at East Greenwich in September 1765, choosing delegates to the New York congress, and appointing a committee to consider the Stamp Act.[22] The committee reported six resolutions that pointed to the absolution of allegiance to the British Crown unless the grievances were removed.[22] Ultimately, the act was repealed, with news reaching the colonies in May 1766 to public rejoicing. The conflict for independence was delayed, but not abandoned.[23]

Towards the end of Hopkins' term one of the most contentious issues of the age arose, uniting the divided elements into a common cause.[20] In early 1765 the Stamp Act was passed by both houses of Parliament in England.[20] This act was a scheme for taxing the colonies, directing that all commercial and legal documents, to be valid in a court of law, must be written on stamped paper sold at fixed prices by governmental officers, and also directing that a duty be applied to newspapers.[20] Parliament, assuming the right to tax the colonies, put additional duties on sugar, coffee and other articles, and required that lumber and iron from the colonies only be exported to England.[20]

In 1763 Hopkins won back the governorship, and signs of reason between the two men appeared the following year when Ward wrote to Hopkins proposing that both resign their "pretensions to the chief seat of government."[18] On the same day, without the knowledge of this letter, Hopkins wrote to Ward inviting him to accept the position of deputy governor, which had just been vacated by the death of John Gardner.[21] Neither man accepted the proposal of the other, but the stage had been set for future cooperation.[21]

Governor Stephen Hopkins House, 15 Hopkins Street, Providence

For ten years the two men, each at the head of a powerful party, went back and forth as Governor of the colony.[19] Ward led the wealth and conservatism of Newport, Narragansett, and Kent County, while Hopkins represented the growing strength of Providence and Bristol Counties.[18] The two men had been likened to gladiators in an arena, thirsting for each others' life.[18] Hopkins eventually lost to Ward, who was finally elected Governor in 1762.[20]

After two years in office Hopkins was defeated by William Greene for the governorship, but Greene died in office in February 1758, and Hopkins once again became governor.[18] The most divisive political issue of the day was the use of hard money, or specie, versus the use of paper money, and Hopkins sided with the latter group.[19] Another issue was Newport interests versus Providence interests.[12] For several years, Hopkins was locked in a bitter rivalry with Samuel Ward of Westerly, a strong supporter of hard currency, and also a champion of Newport, his town of origin.[19] So bitter was the animosity between these two men that Hopkins commenced an action for slander against Ward, putting damages at £40,000.[19] The case was moved to Massachusetts for a fair trial, and in 1759 the judgment went against Hopkins by default, and he paid the costs.[19]


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