GaspeeVirtual Archives
Captain John B. Hopkins, 1742-1796

The Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.COM is a civic-minded nonprofit organization that operates many community events in and around Pawtuxet Village, including the famous Gaspee Days Parade each June. These events are all designed to commemorate the
1772 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots as America's 'First Blow for Freedom' TM.  Our historical research center, the Gaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.ORG , has presented these research notes as an attempt to gather further information on one who has been suspected of being associated with the the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence implicating John B. Hopkins

John B. Hopkins was a Rhode Island based sea captain, and was assigned command of one of the longboats that, together with seven other such boats, attacked the Gaspee in 1772. From: p14 per Ephraim Bowen:

....and a sea captain acted as steersman of each boat, of whom I recollect Capt. Abraham Whipple, Capt. John B. Hopkins (with whom I embarked), and Capt. Samuel Dunn. A line from right to left was soon formed, with Capt. Whipple on the right and Capt. Hopkins on the right of the left wing.
Since Hopkins was in command of the boat in which Ephraim Bowen was riding, he was also in command of the actions of fellow rider Joseph Bucklin.  Bucklin would have to have had at least the tacit approval of his boat commander for him to fire his rifle at Lieutenant Dudingston.
Biographical notes:
Capt. John B. HopkinsLeft.  Portrait of John B. Hopkins c1776. Artist unknown, but subject name written on back of painting sold on eBay 2004. The provenance may be in question as writer Andrew M, in 2018 notes that the clothing worn in the portrait is more typical of that worn in 1830-1840, perhaps by another man named John B. Hopkins.

The earliest record we have found about the life of John Burroughs Hopkins comes in a Op-Ed piece in the June 5, 2004 edition of the Providence Journal.  In this article, Dr. Kathy Abbass, of the Rhode Island Marine Archeology Project, describes Captains Cook's journey in the Endevour with the scientific mission to observe the Transit of Venus in 1769.  While we are unsure of her exact source, she cites that it was John Burroughs Hopkins who took the precise measurements in Providence, RI during the Transit, in an effort to measure the size of the Planet Venus, and calculate the size of our Solar System. Benjamin West's article on the Providence observation of the Transit names Joseph Brown, Stephen Hopkins, along with a John Burroughs (not Hopkins) as members of the team (see West, Benjamin. An Account of the Observation of Venus, Providence, 1769 available at Brown University libraries)

We also note with interest in Tillinghast, Wayne G. "The Three Captains Joseph Tillinghast of Providence". Rhode Island Roots 30:57-86, June 2004, p67 that John B. Hopkins joined in sponsoring a privateering ship along with known Gaspee raider Joseph Tillinghast and others of like ilk.

Apparently, our Captain John B. Hopkins went on to become an impressive asset for the Continental Navy, the forerunner of the US Navy.  He served initially under his father Esek, who had been appointed Commander-in-Chief of all the fledgling nation's sea power. Note that John B. Hopkins outranked the illustrious John Paul Jones. From: Congress and the Continental Navy, 1775-1783: Chronology and Documents at:
22 December 1775 The Marine Committee appointed the following officers, with the approval of Congress:
Commander-in-Chief: Esek Hopkins
Captains: Dudley Saltonstall, Abraham Whipple, Nicholas Biddle, John B. Hopkins
First Lieutenants: John Paul Jones, Rhodes Arnold, Eli Stansbury, Hoysted Hacker, Jonathan Pitcher
Second Lieutenants: Benjamin Seabury, Joseph Olney, Elisha Warner, Thomas Weaver, James McDougall
Third Lieutenants: John Fanning, Ezekiel Burroughs, Daniel Vaughan
From:  An Historical Sketch of The Town of Scituate, R.I.; Part 2  (stale link 2009)
Esek, soon after the death of his father in the summer of 1738, a stout, tall and handsome young man, then in the twentieth year of his age, bid adieu to the old homestead and journeyed to Providence and became a sailor, soon rising to the position of Captain.  He married when he was twenty-five years of age, Miss Desire Burroughs, daughter of Mr. Ezekiel Burroughs, of Newport, and took up his residence there.  His conspicuous services in the war of the revolution, as the first commodore of the navy are well known. His fleet, consisting of the ships Alfred, Capt.  Dudley Saltonstall, and the Columbus, Capt. Whipple, the brig Andrew Doria, Capt. Nicholas Biddle, and the Cabot, Capt. John B. Hopkins, son of Esek, and the sloops Providence, Fly, Hornet and Wasp, put out to sea Feb. 17, 1776, with a smart north-east wind, and cruising among the Bahaman Islands, captured the forts at New Providence, Nassau.  This was a very fortunate affair, for the heavy ordinance and stores taken proved quite acceptable to the country. He captured two British armed vessels on his return.
The Andrew Doria and the Cabot were armed with six-pounders, the former having sixteen, the latter fourteen, and each carried twelve swivels;
Early in March the Frigate Warren, Captain John B. Hopkins, blockaded in the Providence River, escaped through the British fleet in Narragansett Bay. John Deshon, of the Eastern Navy Board, wrote to the other members of the board, March 9: "Respecting the Ship Warren I am happy She so well Succeeded in getting out of this river. Every Circumstance Combined in her Favour that She might Clear of the Enemy; the night was Exceeding Dark, and there was but little wind untill the Crittecal time of Passing the Greatest Danger, when the wind Shifted very Suddenly into the N.W. and blowd Exceeding hard, so that the Enemy Could not without the Greatest Difficulty Get under Sail and Persue. I was at Warrick Neck and up the Most part of the Night when the Warren Passed and am Very Sure it was Imposable for Captn Hopkins to gain the Port of N. London, there being So much wind and the weather so Severe Cold. There [were] on board the Warren abt 170 men, manny of which had not a Second Shift of Cloaths, therefore it will be Very Difficult as well as Teadius for Captn Hopkins to beat this Courst at this Severe Season; the Orders Given him by me you have with you, which Gives him not the least Encouragement to Cruise. Nevertheless Should the Ship Keep out this three weeks, I Shall not be in the least uneasy abt her; well Knowin the men in no Condission to Beat a Winters Courst, we have Succeeded beyound Expectation in Geting her out and I have not the least Doubt but She will in due time Return with honor to the Commander and his Compy." After a short cruise the Warren put into Boston, March 23. Two days later William Vernon wrote from Providence: "This moment several of the Ship Warrens Men came to Town from Boston, who inform me they Arrived There last Monday; and in passing the Enemys Ships in this River . . . they sustained some damage, their Mizen Yard shot away, Main yard wounded, several shot passed through their Hull, one Man only sleightly wounded. The Wind blowing and continueing fresh at N.W., the Crew badly Clothed and Weather extreem Cold, were under the Necessity of standing to the Southward in warmer Weather under easie sail far as the Latt. 24°, where they fell in with the Ship Neptune, Capt. Smallwood, from Whitehaven bound to Phila., Loaded with Salt and dry Goods." This ship and another prize were taken and the Warren then sailed for Boston. The Columbus also tried to escape from Narragansett Bay, but was chased ashore on Point Judith and burned (Publ. R. I. Hist. Soc., viii, 214 (March 9, 1778), 215, 229 (March 25, 1778), 230, 231, 233; Brit. Adm. Rec., A. D. 488, Nos. 55, 57, March 16, April 23, 1778; Continental Journal, March 26, 1778; Independent Chronicle, April 9, 16, 1778.)
From: Abraham Whipple
On the 22nd day of the month, by a resolution of Congress, Dudley Saltonstall was appointed captain of the Alfred frigate, Abraham Whipple of the Columbus, Nicholas Biddle of the Andrea Doria, and John B. Hopkins of the Cabot. Haysted Hacker, lieutenant of the Providence, was promoted to her command. The celebrated John Paul Jones was first lieutenant of the Alfred, and Jonathan Pitcher, of the Columbus: Esek Hopkins, an old man, commander-in-chief, as they chose to style the leader of their squadron. During the winter, the young flotilla, while fitting for a cruise, was frozen up in the Delaware river. Com. Hopkins, however, got to sea on the 17th of February, 1776, with seven armed vessels under his command, the largest of which was the Alfred of twenty-four guns instead of thirty-six, and bore away southerly, in quest of a small squadron under Lord Dunmore; but not falling in with him, concluded to make a descent on the island of New Providence, for the purpose of capturing military stores. This service was performed under the conduct of Capt. Nichols, the senior officer of the marines, at the head of three hundred men, whose landing from the boats of the squadron was covered in gallant style, by Capt. Hacker, of the Providence, and the sloop Wasp. The attack was entirely successful, and possession was taken of the fortifications and the town. The main object of the attempt, a magazine of gunpowder, was in part secreted by the governor; but they brought away four hundred and fifty tons of cannon and other military stores, with the governor and some others as prisoners. Having accomplished this victory, they sailed on the 17th of March, for the United States. At one o'clock in the morning of the 6th of April, the squadron fell in with the Glasgow, British man-of-war of twenty guns, off the easterly end of Long Island. The little Cabot of fourteen guns, Capt. Hopkins, being the nearest to the enemy, ranged manfully along side, discharging her broadsides with great spirit, but was soon obliged to haul off from the superior fire of the Glasgow. The Alfred now came up to the rescue, but after a short running fight, had her wheel ropes cut away, and became unmanageable. The Providence, by this time, had passed under her stern, and fired a number of broadsides with great effect. Capt. Whipple in the Columbus, could not get into action for want of wind, which was light and baffling, sufficiently near to afford much aid, or the Glasgow would have been captured. The darkness of night still continued, when seeing the approach of another antagonist, she spread all sail in flight, with the Columbus is pursuit, bat was soon signaled by the commodore to give up the chase; as they were approaching so near the harbor of Newport, where lay a large fleet, that the report of the cannonade would call them out to the rescue, and thus perhaps the whole American force might fall into their hands; as they were so deeply laden with the captured military stores, as to make all dull sailors. On his way back, Capt. Whipple fell in with, and made prize of the bomb ship of the British fleet, which had long been a terror to the people of Newport. The fleet arrived safely into the harbor of New London; but were soon after removed to Providence by the commodore, the British having left the bay of Narragansett.

In January 2012 we received an e-mail from Nanci Kendall who is doing research at the Gilder Lehrman Collection. According to a letter written to his wife by the illustrious hero Henry Knox  in April 1776, John B. Hopkins was significantly wounded in this battle with the HMS Glascow:
I have been on board Admiral Hopkins - and I’ve been in Company with his Gallant son who was wounded in the engagement with the Glasgow - the admiral is an Antiquated figure, he brought to my mind Van Tromp the famous Dutch admiral - Tho’ antiquated in figure he is Shrew’d & sensible [2] I who you think am not a little enthusiastic [struck: as you think] should have taken him for an Angell only he swore now & then which to be sure is not angelic, his Son Capt John Hopkins is a sensible genteel man about 30 Years old and who will one day (if he don’t get kill’d) make a most formidable figure in American History

Per the 1770 List of Providence Taxpayers, John B. Hopkins did not own property in Providence at the time.  This makes sense, as we know he lived in Newport, not Providence. We do find his father, Esek Hopkins with two properties, and his uncle Stephen Hopkins, as well as a Christopher Hopkins and a Rufus Hopkins. This Rufus was probably the Rufus Hopkins (c1726-1809) that was the son of Stephen Hopkins, but we have no idea who Christopher Hopkins was.
Genealogical Information:

From: Descendants of William HOPKINS, Fifth Generation

Esek HOPKINS was born 26 Apr 1718 in Providence, RI. He died 26 Feb 1802. He was buried in North Providence, RI. In 1741 Esek married Desire BURROUGHS daughter of Ezekiel BURROUGHS. Desire was born ABT. 1720 in prob. Newport, RI.  They had the following children:
M John B. HOPKINS, Capt. b1742
F. Susannah HOPKINS b: 1756
F Sarah HOPKINS died 5 Dec 1757 in Providence, Rhode Island.
In pinging Gendex we get many John Hopkins, but this one stands out:
John Burroughs Hopkins
Birth: 14 Aug 1742 in Newport, Newport County, Rhode Island
Death: 4 Dec 1796
Father: Esek Hopkins
Mother: Desire Burroughs
Wife: Sarah Harris (7 Dec 1742 - 8 Dec 1824)
Marriage: WFT Est. 1758-1785
Notes:  Obituary, Providence Gazette, December 10, 1796, "eminent nautical commander"
John B. Hopkins' wife, Sarah (nee Harris) was his first cousin, since she was the daughter of his aunt, Hope (Hopkins) Harris.  This was a common practice at the time. According to the RI Historical Cemeteries Database Sarah Harris is buried in the Old North Burial Ground in Providence, whereas the only Captain John B. Hopkins buried in RI records is at the PV023 ADMIRAL ESEK HOPKINS BURIAL GN, PROVIDENCE which was [REMOVED TO NORTH BURIAL GROUND] later.  The RI Historical Cemeteries Database lists this individual as having the same death date as our John B. Hopkins, but a birth year of 1762, not 1742.  No children have been listed from the union of John B. Hopkins and his wife Sarah Harris Hopkins.

Fellow Gaspee raider Benjamin Page continued his association with a Captain Hopkins later in the Revolutionary War.

Beside Captain Whipple, Page also sailed under Capt. Samuel Nicholson, Capt. John B. Hopkins, Jr., Capt. Dudley Saltonstall, Capt. Joseph Olney, Capt. John Manley and Capt. Hoystead Hacker.
But this could be either our John B. Hopkins or (doubtfully) his son.  History can warp the term of Captain John B. Hopkins, Jr.  Since our John B. was the son of the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy, Esek Hopkins, he would likely be called "Junior" Hopkins by his comrades. Note here too, that the people that Benjamin Page sailed with are being referred to in the context of the high rank of Naval Captains, not simply the generic captains of ships. If there ever was a John B. Hopkins, Jr. born in 1762, he would've been only 21 years old by the time of the end of the Revolutionary War.  By then, the importance of his grandfather, Esek, would have been tainted by his previous dismissal from command.  It is therefore unlikely that nepotism would have advanced such a young John B. Hopkins, Jr. to the rank of Captain. Note too, that of all the eight Captains listed as having sailed with Benjamin Page, only Captains Nicholson and Manley weren't in the initial naval officer appointment list for the Continental Navy and sailing together with our John B. Hopkins in Narragansett Bay in 1776.

In the 26May1777 edition of the Boston Gazette we find an ad offering a reward of $20 plus expenses for the capture and return of each of sixteen crewmen that had deserted at Providence from the Continental frigate Warren, John B. Hopkins, Commander. We note an ad in the Providence Gazette of 23Aug1783 of John B. Hopkins having for sale a few hogsheads of rum. The Connecticut Gazette of  14Apr1786  tells us that John Hopkins left in a ship from Rhode Island on 28Dec1785, lost all of his stock, but arrived safely in Surinam.

According to the Whipple Genealogical Database at,  Esek Hopkins of 1718 had 9 children, of which his eldest was John Hopkins born 25 AUG 1742 in Newport, RI.  Since his mother's maiden name was Desire Burroughs, it is likely that his middle initial would be "B". Esek of 1718 did have an older brother, John Hopkins, born in 1713, but his mother was a Wilkinson, and Governor Stephen Hopkins also had a son, John Hopkins of 1728 but who died on the Iberian Peninsula in 1753, long before the Gaspee affair. Robinson refers to the Gaspee raider John Hopkins as the nephew of Stephen Hopkins, which only the John Hopkins of 1742 would be. Our Captain John Hopkins would have probably used the name of Captain John B. Hopkins to distinguish himself from both his uncle and cousin within a very prominent Rhode Island family.

We conclude that there is a typo on the RI Historical Cemeteries Database that falsely gives his birth date as 1762.

Our conclusion is that our Gaspee raider is Captain John Burroughs Hopkins (1742-1796), and that he is buried with his wife in the Old North Burial Ground as were many other fellow Gaspee raiders.  The Gaspee Days Committee therefore recognizes him as a true American patriot.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 8/2002    Last Revised 5/2018    JohnBHopkins.htm