GaspeeVirtual Archives
Governor (and Chief Justice) Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785)

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 burning of the hated British revenue schooner, HMS Gaspee, by Rhode Island patriots in 1772 as America's 'First Blow for Freedom'®.  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 in, or being associated with, the burning of the Gaspee. Please e-mail your comments or further questions to
Evidence to indict Stephen Hopkins:

Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Superior Court Stephen Hopkins greatly contributed to the destruction by others of the HMS Gaspee by advising Deputy Governor Darius Sessions  in March of 1772 that the actions of the commander of the vessel were probably illegal. In Staples, The Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee, p3:
...I have consulted with the Chief Justice thereon, who is of 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.

Stephen Hopkins was alarmed about the British reaction to the burning of the Gaspee, and he and other leading men of the Colony sought advice from the Revolutionary leader, Samuel Adams.  Found in The Writings of Samuel Adams, Vol II and Vol III, edited by H. A. Cushing c1904 - 1908.

To Samuel Adams:
Providence Dec 25, 1772

We doubt not you have before this heard of the difficulties this Colony labors under, on account of the destruction of the Gaspee, they being such as becomes the attention of the Colonies in general (though immediately to be executed on this only). As they affect in the tenderest point the liberties, lives, and properties of all America, we are induced to address you upon the occasion, whom we consider as a principal in the assertion and defence of those rightful and natural blessings; and in order to give you the most authentic intelligence into these matters, we shall recite the most material paragraphs of a letter from the Earl of Dartmouth to the Governor of this Province, dated Whitehall, Sept. 4th, 1772. [Then follows the extract from the Secretary's letter.] You will consider how natural it is for those who are oppressed, and in the greatest danger of being totally crushed, to look around every way for assistance and advice. This has occasioned the present troubles we give you. We therefore ask that you would seriously consider of this whole matter, and consult such of your friends and acquaintance as you may think fit upon it, and give us your opinion in what manner this Colony had best behave in this critical situation, and how the shock that is coming upon us may be best evaded or sustained. We beg you, answer as soon as may be, especially before the 11th of January, the time of the sitting of the General Assembly.

Darius Sessions
Stephen Hopkins
John Cole
Moses Brown

Richard Deasy, writing in his introduction to the 1990 re-publication of Staples, The Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee (p. xxviii) feels that witnesses
Hitchcock and Cole apparently collaborated on their testimony concerning events in Sabin Tavern the night of the raid. One day before, Brown, Cole, and Hitchcock had told Hopkins that they intended to refuse to appear before the commissioners, presumably on the advice they had received earlier from Sam Adams.  Adams had challenged the jurisdiction of the commissioners, but Hopkins obviously convinced them to move away from this kind of direct challenge and to submit written depositions instead.  Misrepresentation, intimidation, and evasion are all evident here in this first session.

Sessions, Hopkins, et al also determined to influence how the Gaspee commissioners were to interpret their special powers. Staples, p49
Thursday, January 7, 1773. 
Stephen Hopkins, Esq., Chief Justice of said Colony, also appeared before the commissioners and assured them he was ready and willing to aid and assist the commissioners in the exercise of the power and authority with which they are invested for discovering the persons who destroyed the Gaspee schooner, &c. The commissioners then requested Mr. Hopkins to give them in writing a full and particular account of all the proceedings had and done by him for discovering and bringing to justice the persons who committed the aforesaid offence, and also what knowledge or information he had obtained of the assembling, arming, and leading on the persons who perpetrated the same, which he also promised to do without loss of time.

Of course, Hopkins never did comply with this request, at least not that we have documented. Natalie Robinson states in Revolutionary Fire: The Gaspee Incident that:
As a result of this review, and of interviews with Governor Wanton, Lieutenant Governor Sessions, and Chief Justice Hopkins, the Commissioners agreed to interpret their powers quite narrowly. They assured the Rhode Island officials that they would not themselves arrest anyone or deliver anyone to Admiral Montagu, but would leave that task to the regular judicial officials in the colony. ... By acknowledging local judicial authority, the Commissioners calmed some of the Rhode Islanders' worst fears. 

Adding insult to injury, Chief Justice Stephen Hopkins issued a warrant for the arrest of Lieutenant Dudingston in October of 1773 based on the lawsuit that Jacob Greene & Co. filed against the commander of the Gaspee for the seizure of their sloop Fortune the previous March.

Hopkins demonstrated a reluctance to find suspects indictable for trial, which would have greatly aided the British cause.  In pursuance of Article 3 of their instructions, the commissioners turned over evidence that they had collected to the deputy governor and to the Rhode Island Superior Court (Staples, p95):
The honorable the commissioners, appointed by royal commission, for examining into the attacking and destroying his Majesty's armed schooner the Gaspee, commanded by Lieutenant Dudingston, and wounding the said Lieutenant, having laid before us, Justices of the Superior Court of Judicature, Court of Assize, &c., within and throughout the Colony of Rhode Island, two examinations of Aaron Briggs, two examinations of Patrick Earle, the examination of Peter May, the examination of William Dickinson, the deposition of Samuel Tompkins, Samuel Thurston, and of Somerset and Jack, indented servants, for our advisement thereon:

It appeareth unto us from our consideration had thereupon, that no particular person or persons are made mention of as being concerned in that atrocious crime, except in the examination of Aaron Briggs, a negro, and of Peter May, one of the Gaspee's people. The confession of the said Aaron upon his first examination was made in consequence of illegal threats from Capt. Linzee of hanging him (the said Aaron) at the yard arm if he would not discover who the persons were that destroyed the Gaspee; and besides, most of the circumstances and facts related in both of his examinations are contradictions repugnant to each other, and many of them impossible in their nature.

It is evident from the depositions of Tompkins, Thurston, and Aaron's two fellow servants, that he was at home the whole of that night on which the Gaspee was attacked; especially as there was no boat on that part of the island in which he could possibly pass the bay in the manner by him described. In short, another circumstance which renders the said Aaron's testimony extremely suspicious, is Capt. Linzee's absolutely refusing to deliver him up to be examined by one of the Justices of the said Superior Court when legally demanded.

Peter May, in his deposition, mentions one person only, by the name of Greene, whom he says, he saw before on board the Gaspee; but the family of Greene being very numerous in this colony, and the said Peter not giving the Christian name or describing him in such a manner as he could be found out, it is impossible for us to know at present the person referred to. Upon the whole, we are all of opinion that the several matters and things contained in said depositions do not induce a probable suspicion, that persons mentioned therein, or either or any of them, are guilty of the crime aforesaid. It is, however, the fixed determination of the Superior Court to exert every legal effort in detecting and bringing to condign punishment the persons concerned in destroying the schooner Gaspee.

And if the honorable commissioners are of a different sentiment we should be glad to receive their opinion for our better information.

S. HOPKINS, Chief Justice.
J. HELME, M. BOWLER, J. C. BENNET, Assistant Justices

Brown University Portrait CollectionLeft:  The new portrait of  Stephen Hopkins by John Hagen, 1999, Brown University Portrait Collection. Note that the pose of the face is exactly the same as Trumbull's portrait on the right.  Stephen Hopkins is not known to have ever actually sat for a portrait.

Right: Portrait detail as depicted in "Declaration of Independence" by John Trumbull (1819), Independence National Historical Park. Since Hopkins had long-since died, Trumbull based his portrait of Hopkins on his nephew who was said to have looked just like Stephen Hopkins.  More recent scholarship suggests that this figure not to be Stephen Hopkins (or his nephew) at all, and is actually Pennsylvania's John Dickinson. Both Hopkins and Dickinson were Quakers that wore the same traditional broad brimmed hat while in public.


Stephen Hopkins (1707–1785) was an American political leader from Rhode Island who signed the Declaration of Independence. He served as the Chief Justice and Governor of colonial Rhode Island and was a Delegate to both the Colonial Congress in Albany in 1754 and to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1776.  He was described by Rev. Ezra Stiles, subsequently the President of Yale University, as "a man of penetrating astuitious Genius, full of Subtlety, deep Cunning, intriguing and enterprising."

Stephen Hopkins was born on March 7, 1707 in Cranston, Rhode Island, the son of William and Ruth (Wilkinson) Hopkins. He was descended from the Thomas Hopkins that emigrated to Plymouth Plantation in 1635, and he was raised in his mother's Quaker religion. His great-granduncle was Benedict Arnold, the first governor of Rhode Island (not to be confused with the much later Benedict Arnold the traitor). He grew up in the small agricultural community of Scituate to the West of Providence, RI. 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 later instrumental in establishing Rhode Island's present-day boundaries. 

Hopkins attained success purely by his own efforts.  He had little formal education, was taught by his fiesty mother and in the public schools, and he was an avid reader of Greek, Roman and British history.  In 1726 he married at the age of nineteen to a fellow quaker, Sarah Scott (c1707-1753), and fathered seven children; five sons and two daughters.  At least one of his daughters and one son died in their childhood. After his first wife died, Stephen Hopkins remarried in 1755 to Ann Smith (1717-1782), her second marriage also.  His second son, Captain John Hopkins (1728 - 1753) died in Spain of the smallpox, and Sylvanus Hopkins (1734-1753 was killed by Indians at Nova Scotia.  His youngest son, Capt. George Hopkins (1739 - 1775) is noted to have also died at sea.

When Scituate Township separated from Providence in 1731, he plunged into politics. During the next decade, he held the following elective or appointive offices: moderator of the first town meeting of Scituate, town clerk, president of the town council, town solicitor, justice of the peace, justice and clerk of the Providence County Court of Common Pleas (in 1733, he became Chief Justice of that court), Representative from Scituate to the General Assembly of Rhode Island (1732-1752), and Speaker of the House (1738-1744 and 1749).  He travelled a considerable distance as the General Assembly met in Newport, some 30 miles South of Scituate and Providence.

In 1742, he sold of his father's estate in Scituate, and moved to Providence, where he made a survey of the streets and lots. Under his leadership Providence paved the streets, built bridges, wharves and storehouses, and grew rapidly into an economic power.  According to Providence Preservation Society Guide to The Providence Waterfront:  Three Centuries of Commerce, (p5., 1983), together with Joseph Brown, he helped design the Brick Market House in 1772 as a centerpoint to Colonial Providence.

Left: Stephen Hopkins House, currently at Benefit and Hopkins Street, Providence. This house had apparently originally stood on South Main Street until 1927.  George Washington slept here--twice. The museum is currently owned and operated by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America. Click image to enlarge..  

In 1743, Stephen Hopkins purchased a home from John Field, supposed to have been built in 1707.  To the structure, Hopkins attached his own two-story house, built with a single ground floor room on either side of a central hallway and two chimneys (one for each main floor room with chamber above).  He installed a fine staircase with stocky balusters set in a heavy, molded closed string course, and good paneling and trim.  He resided in this home until his death in 1785. Now a museum, it is one of the oldest buildings in Providence still extant, and can be visited at the corner of Hopkins and Benefit Street. George Washington is said to have slept at this house on April 5-6, 1776.  Visit museum website

Along with his equally famous brother Esek, he bought a store in Providence that led to a successful and profitable career in a mercatile and ship-building partnership. Per Chapin, Howard M., Rhode Island Privateers in King George's war : 1739-1748  (Providence: Rhode Island Historical Society :, 1926, 246 pgs), p177., we find Stephen Hopkins' name in a partnership with that of John Mawney (1718) as owners of the Rhode Island privateerining ship Reprisal, in 1745 during King George's War.  For three decades, he built up his business and would probably have acquired a fortune had he not at the same time supported a variety of civic enterprises and broadened his political activities. In 1765 he copartnered with the famous Brown Brothers (Nicholas, Joseph, John and Moses) in establishing the Hope Furnace that created essential cannon for use during the Revolutionary War.  His eldest son Rufus Hopkins (1727-1813) was employed in managing the Hope Furnace for almost 40 years.

Right: Detail inset from Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam (c1752-1758) by John Greenwood (1727-1792) courtesy St. Louis Art Museum.  Left to right at table: Nicholas Cooke, Esek Hopkins, Stephen Hopkins (asleep), and Joseph Wanton. Click to view entire image. There is some controversy as to whether this man in red was actually Stephen Hopkins, as per the said tradition of the original owners of the painting, the Jenckes family. Brown University professor Robert Kenney believed that this man must have been Esek and Stephen's other brother, William, since Stephen was at the time running for re-election as Governor, and tied up in court in Worcester MA while suing his arch rival Samuel Ward for slander.

Below:  Stephen's brother,
Esek Hopkins, by Martin Johnson Heade, Brown University Portrait Collection

Brown University Portrait CollectionStephen Hopkins is one of the subjects of an early American painting (1755) by John Greenwood entitled "Sea Captains Carousing in Surinam", the original of "Dogs Playing Poker" genre.  Surinam (Suriname) was a Dutch colony on the North coast of South America known for its slave plantations. It was a predominant trading destination for Rhode Island merchants during the 18th century who exchanged lumber, horses, rum, and African slaves for sugar, coffee, and cocoa in what is known as the Triangular Trade.  While we have not discovered any direct dealings Stephen Hopkins had in the slave trade, he certainly fits with the profiles of those that did.  Charles Rappleye in Sons of Providence (p57) indicates that Stephen Hopkins did indeed own slaves, something not unusual for upperclass families in Providence at the time.  Esek Hopkins was a mariner who often sailed for the Brown family, and commanded the disasterous slave trading voyage of the Sally in 1764, during which most of his cargo of 140 African slaves died.  Details of the voyage of the Sally, as well as original source documents, and more information about Rhode Island's involvement in slavery are found at Brown University's Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice.  Esek Hopkins later went on to become the first commanding officer of the infant US Navy (see more at  JohnBHopkins.htm)

In 1751, Stephen Hopkins was chosen Chief Justice of the Superior Court, in which office he continued until 1754 (there was no such thing as a Supreme Court at the time).  He helped set up a public subscription library in Providence in the 1750s and he himself cataloged its first collection.  He helped found the influential newspaper Providence Gazette and Country Journal in 1762.

At the Albany Congress (1754), he cultivated a friendship with Benjamin Franklin and assisted him in lobbying a plan of colonial union, and arranging for an alliance with the Indians, in view of the impending war with France.  Hopkins wrote  A True Representation of the Plan Formed at Albany (1755) in hope of converting the opposition in Rhode Island. While the plan was approved by the Albany Congress, the individual colonies eventually rejected the idea.  During the ensuing French & Indian war, Governor Hopkins was very active in promoting the enlistment of volunteers for the service; Hopkins raised a volunteer corps, and was placed at its head; but its services were not needed, and it was disbanded. 

He acted as first chancellor of Rhode Island College (later Brown University), founded in 1764 at Warren, and 6 years later he and the Brown brothers were instrumental in relocating it to Providence, and served as chancellor until 1785.  He also held membership in the Philosophical Society of Newport.

About this time, Hopkins took over leadership of the colony's radical faction, supported by Providence merchants. For more than a decade, it bitterly fought for political supremacy in Rhode Island with a conservative group in Newport, led by Samuel Ward, a political enemy of Hopkins. In 1756, Hopkins was elected Governor of the colony and he held that office during nine terms (at the time a term as Governor lasted only a year) on and off (1755-1756, 1758-1761, 1763-1764, and 1767), as he and Samuel Ward played musical chairs with the Governorship.  These annual battles for the Governor's office took on a farcical air, with Hopkins supporters John and Moses Brown buying up votes; the Ward camp did likewise. His sea trading companion Joseph Wanton helped the Hopkins faction in the Newport area. He served as Deputy Governor during Hopkins' last two terms, later becoming Governor himself.  Overall, the Hopkins faction helped wrestle supremacy within the Colony by Providence (Plantations) over Newport (Rhode Island).

While he was Governor, Hopkins had a disagreement with William Pitt, Prime Minister of England, regarding illegal molasses trade with the French colonies. Hopkins was one of the earliest and most vigorous champions of colonial rights, and in 1764 took aim, writing under the pseudonym "P", in the Providence Gazette with an essay entitled "Essay on the Trade of the Northern Colonies."

Per Carroll's Rhode Island: Three Cernturies of Democracy,  p234: 
The General Assembly, in July [1764], appointed Governor Hopkins, Daniel Jencks and Nicholas Brown a "committee of correspondence" to "confer and consult with any committee or committees that are or shall be appointed by any of the British colonies upon the continent of North America, and to agree with them upon such measures as shall appear to them necessary and proper to procure a repeal of the . . .  sugar act . . . and also the act . . . for levying several duties in the colony, or in procuring the duties in the last mentioned act to be lessened; also to prevent the levying a stamp duty upon the North American colonies and, generally, for the prevention of all such taxes, duties or impositions that may be proposed to be assessed upon the colonists which may be inconsistent with their rights and privileges as British subjects."  In October, Governor Hopkins, Nicholas Tillinghast, Joseph Lippitt, Joshua Babcock, Daniel Jencks, John Cole and Nicholas Brown were appointed a committee "to prepare an address to his majesty for a redress of our grievances in respect to the duties, impositions, etc., already laid and proposed to be laid on this colony."

Brown University LibraryLeft: Hopkins' famous pamplet

In 1764 Stephen Hopkins penned The Rights of Colonies Examined published first in the Providence Gazette, and which in 1765 by the order of the General Assembly was reprinted as a pamplet, and reissued in London in 1766 as The Grievances of the American Colonies Candidly ExaminedThis famous work criticized parliamentary taxation (the Stamp Act) and recommended colonial home rule, and established Hopkins as one of the earliest of the patriot leaders. 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.

Iin 1770 Hopkins was appointed to a Providence Committee ofIinspection, basically a group that attempted to enforce the agreements of nonimportation of British goods among area merchants.  When the British revenue schooner HMS Gaspee was attacked and burned by compatriots of Hopkins in 1772, he gave immediate sage advice to help limit Royal reprisals over the raid, and later so much as declared that Rhode Island courts would not cooperate with the Gaspee investigatory commission, by refusing to hand over any citizen so indicted to the British Admiralty stating,  "Then, for the purpose of transportation for trial, I will neither apprehend any person by my own order, nor suffer any executive officer in the Colony to do it." (Bartlett, RI Colonial Record, VII:60.).  He and Deputy Governor Darius Sessions were also able to convince the Commission of Inquiry to limit their powers so as to not usurp the local courts within the Colony. As Chief Justice of the Superior Court, Stephen Hopkins demonstrated a particular reluctance to find suspects indictable for trial, which would have greatly aided the British cause. 

In March of 1773 the Virginia House of Burgess, largely in response to the threats to American liberties posed by the Gaspee Affair, created the first permanent intercolonial committee of correspondence.  These resolutions were sent to Rhode Island by Peyton Randolph, Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, and laid before the General Assembly at the May session.  The Assembly adopted resolutions creating a standing committee of correspondence for Rhode Island, including Stephen Hopkins, Metcalfe Bowler, Moses Brown, John Cole, William Bradford, Henry Marchant and Henry Ward.

In 1773 in keeping with the directives of Quaker leadership of the time, Hopkins freed his slaves that he had acquired through marriage. In 1774, again elected to the General Assembly, he authored a bill enacted by the Rhode Island legislature that prohibited the importation of slaves into the colony—one of the earliest antislavery laws in the United States.

<>He carried on with his duties in the legislature and Superior Court while a Member of the Continental Congress (1774-76). He was elected along with Samuel Ward (later replaced by William Ellery) to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia in August 1774. "to represent the people of this colony in a general congress of representatives from the other colonies, at such time and place as shall be agreed upon by the major part of the committees appointed or to be appointed by the colonies in general."  These were the first delegates from any colony elected to the Congress of 1774.

Paul Revere relates one interesting snippet upon meeting Stephen Hopkins for the first time, contained in The Life and Recollections of John Howland, p198:.
One evening [in 1774], a number of the gentlemen seated around the fire, were conversing on the engrossing subject of the day. They generally expressed the opinion that the next arrival from England would bring news of the repeal of the obnoxious [Intolerable ]acts then complained of.  Governor Hopkins, who was walking the floor, and had not joined in the conversation, stopped, and facing the company said, ' Gentlemen, those of you who indulge this opinion, I think deceive yourselves. 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 question, had better retire in time, as it will not, perhaps, be in your power, after the first blood shall have been shed.'

In the year 1775 and 1776, he again represented Rhode Island in the Continental Congress. When Rhode Island became the first colony to renounce its allegience to King George III, in effect declaring its independence on May 4, 1776, Hopkins wrote, "I observe that you have avoided giving me a direct answer to my queries concerning independence; however the copy of the act of the Assembly, which you have sent me, together with our instructions, leave me little room to doubt what is the opinion of the colony I came from."  In 1776, at the age of 69, he had the honor of signing his name to the Declaration of Independence, which declared the colonies to be free, sovereign, and independent states. In these later years Hopkins had a shaking palsy, what was probably Parkinson's Disease, and was noted to have said, as he signed the Declaration of Independence, "My hand trembles, my heart does not."  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. Fellow statesman John Adams was impressed with Hopkins.  From David McCullough's John Adams: p.100:
"Knowing nothing of armed ships, he (Adams) made himself expert, and would call his work on the naval committee the pleasantest part of his labors, in part because it brought him in contact with one of the singular figures in Congress, Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island, who was nearly as old as Franklin and always wore his broad-brimmed Quaker hat in chamber. Adams found most Quakers to be 'dull as beetles,' but Hopkins was an exception. A lively, learned man ... he suffered the loss of three sons at sea, and served in one public office or other continuously from the time he was twenty-five. The old gentlemen loved to drink rum and expound on his favorite writers. The experience and judgment he brought to the business of Congress were of great use, as Adams wrote, but it was in the after-hours that he 'kept us alive.' His custom was to drink nothing all day, nor 'til eight o'clock in the evening, and his beverage was Jamaica spirits and water ... Hopkins never drank to excess, according to Adams, but all he drank was promptly converted into wit, sense, knowledge, and good humor."

While at Congress, Hopkins served on the committees that prepared the Articles of Confederation.  Hopkins' knowledge of the shipping business made him particularly useful as a member of the Naval Committee. He persuaded the Congress in 1775 to outfit 13 armed vessels and to commission them as the Navy of the united colonies. He also saw to it that Rhode Island received a contract to out fit two of these, and appointed his brother Esek Hopkins as its commander-in-chief.  His wife's cousin, Abraham Whipple, was commissioned to the rank of Commodore, while Stephen Hopkins' nephew, John B. Hopkins, was commissioned as Lieutenant. 

One vignette retold in the Providence Journal (March 8, 2007, pB5) depicts the rather humble Quaker values of the Hopkins household:

General Washington’s first visit was on April 5, 1776. He was on his way to take command of the Continental Army in Boston. Hopkins himself was in Philadelphia, at the Continental Congress. His daughter-in-law served as host. Her family wanted to lend her better china for the occasion. “What’s good enough for my father,” she is said to have replied, “is good enough for General Washington.”

Continued ill health compelled Hopkins to retire in September 1776, a month after he signed the Declaration. He declined subsequent reelections to Congress, but sat in the State legislature from 1777 through 1779, and took part in several New England political conventions. He withdrew from public service about 1780.  His second wife Ann died in 1782, and Stephen Hopkins himself died on July 13, 1785 in Providence at the age of 78.  It is said he retained full possession of his faculties to the end, and he was interred in the Old North Burial Ground of Providence, where both of his wives had preceded him.  "A vast assemblage of persons, consisting of judges of the courts, the president, professors and students of the college, together with the citizens of the town, and inhabitants of the state, followed the remains of this eminent man to his resting place in the grave". Details of his funeral procession and eulogy are contained in the 21 and 23July1785 editions of the Providence newspapers.

A sad historical footnote is added by John Howland in
Stone, Edward Martin. The Life and Recollections of John Howland, Late President of the Rhode Island Historical Society.  Providence, Geo. H. Whitney, 1857, p47: 
He left a large trunk of papers connected with the transactions of his public life.  After his decease, an unsuccessful attempt was made by Moses Brown to obtain them for safe keeping, and in the great storm of September, 1815, the tide swept through the house where they were lodged, and they were carried off and lost in the multitude of waters.
The town of Hopkinton, Rhode Island was later named after him. The SS Stephen Hopkins, a liberty ship named in his honor, was the first US ship to sink a German surface warship in World War II.  In the musical 1776, which tells the story of the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence, Stephen Hopkins is a main character. He is depicted as a well meaning but cantankerous drunkard whose force of personality helps keep the Continental Congress together. Most historians consider that depiction to be a bad rap: our Stephen Hopkins had converted to Quakerism, and most likely did not drink at all.  Our Stephen Hopkins is also not to be confused with others of that name, including one that was an early settler of the Plymouth Plantation, nor the current day movie director.
In recognition of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Stephen Hopkins, The TriCentennial Commission has established a website complimenting much of the information presented above at
For dereliction of his duty to his King, and by obstructing the Gaspee Commission of Inquiry while Chief Justice of Rhode Island, we recognize Stephen Hopkins as an unindicted co-conspiritor in the Gaspee Affair.
From  Stephen Hopkins' gravestone inscriptions at the Old North Burial Ground, Providence, RI:

West side


South side


East side

BORN MARCH 7, 1707
DIED JULY 13, 1785

North side

HERE lies the man in fateful hour,
Who boldly stemm'd tyrannic pow'r.
And held his hand in that decree,
Which bade America BE FREE!
—Arnold's poems
Sources consulted:
  • Carroll, Charles. Rhode Island: Three Centuries of Democracy, 1932

  • Chapin, Howard M., Rhode Island Privateers in King George's war : 1739-1748  (Providence: Rhode Island Historical Society :, 1926, 246 pgs)

  • website

  • Cushing. H. A., ed. The Writings of Samuel Adams, Vol II and Vol III,.  c1904 - 1908.

  • The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America, website

  • Goodrich, Rev. Charles A. Lives of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence by , R.G.H. Huntington, 1841

  • McCullough, David.  John Adams: (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001)

  • National Parks Service website "Signers of the Declaration of Independence"

  • Newport Mercury, 23July1785 obituary

  • Providence Journal (March 8, 2007, pages B5 and E7) "Happy 300th, Stephen Hopkins"

  • Providence Preservation Society guide to The Providence Waterfront:  Three Centuries of Commerce, 1983.

Bibliography from the
Congressional Biography of Stephen Hopkins:
  • Foster, William Eaton. Stephen Hopkins, a Rhode Island Statesman. Providence: S. S. Rider, 1884.

  • Hopkins, Stephen. The Grievances of the American Colonies Candidly Examined. London: Reprinted for J. Almon, 1766. New York: Research Reprints, [1970].

  • ———. The Rights of Colonies Examined. Introduced and edited by Paul Campbell. Providence: Rhode Island Bicentennial Foundation, 1974.

  • ———. A True Representation of the Plan Formed at Albany for Uniting All the British Northern Colonies, In Order To [sic] Their Common Safety and Defence [sic]: Containing Abstracts of the Authorities Given by the Several Governments to Their Commissioners, and of Several Letters From the Secretaries of State, and Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations Concerning Such an Union: Together With a Representation of the State of the English and French Colonies in North-America, and the Said Plan of Union with the Doings of the Commissioners Thereon: and Some Remarks on the Whole. [Newport, R.I.: James Franklin, 1755].

  • Rhode Island. Governor (1755-1765: Hopkins). The Game Cock Readies to Strike: Abraham Whipple, Commander of the Schooner Game Cock, Receives Letters of Marque from Governor Stephen Hopkins, 1759. With an introduction by Bruce Campbell MacGunnigle. East Greenwich: Printed for the Society by Print Shops, 1993.

  • Stitt, Edward Walmsley. Stephen Hopkins, A Signer from Rhode Island. [N.p., 1959].
Genealogical Addendum:

Birth: 7 MAR 1707 in Cranston, RI  Death: 13 JUL 1785 in Providence, RI
Father: William HOPKINS (1682) son of William Hopkins (1647) and Abigail WHIPPLE
Mother: Ruth WILKINSON b: 31 JAN 1686, dau of Samuel WILKINSON & Plain WICKENDEN
Marriage1 1726: Sarah SCOTT (c1707 - 1753) dau of Silverman SCOTT c1665 & Jeanna JENCKS
Children: (all born in Scituate, Providence, RI)
  1. Hon. Rufus HOPKINS  (10 FEB 1727-14 APR 1813)  Superintendant of Hope Furnace, married Abigail Angell
  2.  Capt. John HOPKINS b: 6 NOV 1728 d July 20, 1753 in Spain of smallpox, married Mary Gibbs of Boston
  3.  Ruth HOPKINS b: 3 OCT 1731 died as infant
  4.  Lydia HOPKINS b: 6 JAN 1733 possibly died young, may have married  Col. Daniel Tillinghast of Newport
  5.  Sylvanus HOPKINS b: 30 NOV 1734- d 1753  killed by Indians
  6.  Simon HOPKINS b: 26 AUG 1736 died at age 7 on 2 APR 1744
  7.  Capt. George HOPKINS b: 11 JAN 1739 m Ruth SMITH (daughter pof his father's second wife),  died 1775 at sea
Marriage2 1755: Ann SMITH b:5OCT1717 in Providence, dau of Benjamin SMITH & Mercy ANGELL. Died 26 JAN 1782

Stephen Hopkins' brother John married a Catherine Turpin., and his sister Hope married a Henry Harris.  According to, Gaspee raid leader Abraham Whipple was the brother-in-law to Stephen Hopkins. Actually, Abraham Whipple's wife was Sarah Hopkins, the daughter of John Hopkins, (the brother of Stephen), so Abe's wife was Steve's cousin.
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Originally Posted to Gaspee Virtual Archives 8/2002    Last Revised 07/2009    StephenHopkins.htm