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Francis Hopkinson: Wikis


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From The Cyclopaedia of American Literature (1880).

In office
September 26, 1789 – May 9, 1791
Nominated by George Washington
Succeeded by William Lewis

Delegate from New Jersey to the Second Continental Congress
In office
June 22, 1776 – November 30, 1776

Born September 21, 1737
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died May 9, 1791
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resting place Christ Church Burial Ground
Nationality United States
Spouse(s) Ann Borden
Alma mater The Academy and College of Philadelphia

Francis Hopkinson (September 21, 1737 – May 9, 1791), an American author, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from New Jersey. He later served as a federal judge in Pennsylvania. His supporters believe he played a key role in the design of the first American flag.


Education and public life

Francis Hopkinson was born at Philadelphia in 1737, the son of Thomas Hopkinson and Mary Johnson. He became a member of the first class at the College of Philadelphia (now University of Pennsylvania) in 1751 and graduated in 1757, receiving his masters degree in 1760, and a doctor in law (honorary) in 1790. He was secretary to a Provincial Council of Pennsylvania Indian commission in 1761 that made a treaty with the Delaware and several Iroquois tribes. In 1763, he was appointed customs collector for Salem, New Jersey. Hopkinson spent from May 1766 to August 1767 in England in hopes of becoming commissioner of customs for North America. Although unsuccessful, he spent time with the future Prime Minister Lord North and his half-brother, the Bishop of Worcester Brownlow North, and painter Benjamin West.

After his return, Francis Hopkinson operated a dry goods business in Philadelphia and married Ann Borden on September 1, 1768. They would have five children. Hopkinson obtained a public appointment as a customs collector for New Castle, Delaware on May 1, 1772. He moved to Bordentown, New Jersey in 1774, became an assemblyman for the state's Royal Provincial Council, and was admitted to the New Jersey bar on May 8, 1775. He resigned his crown-appointed positions in 1776 and, on June 22, went on to represent New Jersey in the Second Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence. He departed the Congress on November 30, 1776 to serve on the Navy Board at Philadelphia. As part of the fledgling nation's government, he was treasurer of the Continental Loan Office in 1778; appointed judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania in 1779 and reappointed in 1780 and 1787; and helped ratify the Constitution during the constitutional convention in 1787. On September 24, 1789, he was nominated by President George Washington to the newly created position of judge of the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania. He was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission, on September 26, 1789.

As a federal judge, Hopkinson died in Philadelphia at the age of 53 from a sudden epileptic seizure. He was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia. He was the father of Joseph Hopkinson, member of the United States House of Representatives and Federal judge.

Cultural contributions

Hopkinson was an amateur author and songwriter at a time when Philadelphia and the colonies were not well known for the arts. He wrote popular airs and political satires (jeux d'esprit) in the form of poems and pamphlets. Some were widely circulated, and powerfully assisted in arousing and fostering the spirit of political independence that issued in the American Revolution.

His principal writings are A Pretty Story . . . (1774), a satire about King George, The Prophecy (1776), and The Political Catechism (1777).[1] Other notable essays are "Typographical Method of conducting a Quarrel", "Essay on White Washing", and "Modern Learning". Many of his writings can be found in Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings, published at Philadelphia in three volumes in 1792 (see Bibliography).

Hopkinson was a reputed amateur musician. He began to play the harpsichord at age seventeen and, during the 1750s, hand-copied arias, songs, and instrumental pieces by many European composers. He is credited as being the first American born composer to commit a composition to paper with his 1759 composition "My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free." By the 1760s he was good enough on the harpsichord to play with professional musicians in concerts. Some of his more notable songs include "The Treaty", "The Battle of the Kegs", and "The New Roof, a song for Federal Mechanics". He also played organ at Philadelphia's Christ Church and composed or edited a number of hymns and psalms including: "A Collection of Psalm Tunes with a few Anthems and Hymns Some of them Entirely New, for the Use of the United Churches of Christ Church and St. Peter's Church in Philadelphia" (1763), "A psalm of thanksgiving, Adapted to the Solemnity of Easter: To be performed on Sunday, the 30th of March, 1766, at Christ Church, Philadelphia" (1766), and "The Psalms of David, with the Ten Commandments, Creed, Lord's Prayer, &c. in Metre" (1767). In the 1780s, Hopkinson modified a glass harmonica to be played with a keyboard and invented the Bellarmonic, an instrument that utilized the tones of metal balls.[2] In 1788 he published a collection of 8 songs dedicated to his friend George Washington and his daughter called "Seven Songs for the Harpsichord" and voice.



  • The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq Printed by T. Dobson, 1792. Available via Google Books: Volume I, Volume II, Volume III
  • Judgments in the Admiralty of Pennsylvania in four suits Printed at T. Dobson and T. Lang, 1789. Available via Google Books


Musical Compositions

  • Collection of Plain Tunes with a Few from Anthems and Hymns. Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1763.
  • Temple of Minerva. (The First American Opera)[3] Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1781.
  • Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano. Printed by T. Dobson, 1788.[4]

Flag controversy

Francis Hopkinson's design for a US flag, featuring 6-pointed stars arranged in rows.

Hopkinson claimed to have designed the official "first flag" of the United States and sought compensation from Congress. Congress refused on the pretext that many people were involved in the flag's design, and that Hopkinson was already paid as a public servant. [5] Another consideration was that the Flag Resolution of 1777, which defined official United States flags, did not specify the arrangement of stars.[6] Many designs were in use that complied with the flag resolution, with stars arranged in a square, a wreath, rows, patterns, or the familiar "Betsy Ross" circle.

The design of the first Stars and Stripes by Hopkinson had the thirteen stars arranged in a "staggered" pattern technically known as quincuncial because it is based on the repetition of a motif of five units. This arrangement inevitably results in a strongly diagonal effect. In a flag of thirteen stars, this placement produced the unmistakable outline of the crosses of St. George and of St. Andrew, as used together on the British flag. Whether this similarity was intentional or accidental, it may explain why the plainer fashion of placing the stars in three parallel rows was preferred by many Americans over the quincuncial style.[citation needed]

Hopkinson also designed a flag with stars arranged in a circle. It is similar to the familiar Betsy Ross Flag, except that it uses 6-pointed stars[7]

Hopkinson's letter and response

On May 25, 1780, Hopkinson wrote a letter to the Continental Board of Admiralty mentioning several patriotic designs he had completed during the previous three years. One was his Board of Admiralty seal, which contained a red-and-white striped shield on a blue field. Others included the Treasury Board seal, “7 devices for the Continental Currency,” and “the Flag of the United States of America.”[8]

In the letter, Hopkinson noted that he hadn’t asked for any compensation for the designs, but was now looking for a reward: “a Quarter Cask of the public Wine.” The board sent that letter on to Congress. Hopkinson submitted another bill on June 24 for his “drawings and devices.” The first item on the list was “The Naval Flag of the United States.” The price listed was 9 pounds.

The Treasury Board turned down the request in an October 27, 1780, report to Congress. The Board cited several reasons for its action, including the fact that Hopkinson “was not the only person consulted on those exhibitions of Fancy, and therefore cannot claim the sole merit of them and not entitled to the full sum charged.”[9]

Hopkinson’s itemized bill, moreover, is the only contemporary claim that exists for creating the American flag. Although no "Hopkinson flags" exist from the time period, it is believed that his flag contained 13 red and white stripes and 13 white stars arranged symmetrically on a field of blue.

Great Seal of the United States

Francis Hopkinson provided assistance to the second committee that designed the Great Seal of the United States. This seal is now impressed upon the reverse of the United States one-dollar bill. The seal, designed by William Barton, contains an unfinished pyramid with a radiant eye, an image used by Hopkinson when he designed the continental $50 currency.[10]


  1. ^ Charles Wells Moulton, ed (1902). The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors: 1785-1824. Buffalo, NY: The Moulton Publishing Company. pp. 131. 
  2. ^ Francis Hopkinson biography at the Library of Congress Performing Arts Digital Library
  3. ^ Pennsylvania Center for the Book on Hopkinson and his writings
  4. ^ "Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano". Early American Secular Music and its European Sources, 1589-1839. Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  5. ^ transcript
  6. ^ Mastai, pg. 49
  7. ^ Znamierowski says Hopkinson also used 5-pointed stars. Pg 113.
  8. ^ Leepson, Marc; DeMille, Nelson. Flag: An American Biography. St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 33. ISBN 978-0-312-32309-7. 
  9. ^ Journals of the Continental Congress - Friday, October 27, 1780
  10. ^ Univ. of Notre Dame, Coin and Currency Collections


  • Hopkinson holdings at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Online Public Access Catalog.
  • Mastai, Bolesław; Mastai, Marie-Louise d'Otrange. The Stars and the Stripes; the American flag as art and as history from the birth of the Republic to the present. New York, Knopf, 1973.. ISBN 0-394-47217-9. 
  • Znamierowski, Alfred. The World Encyclopedia of Flags. Hermes House. ISBN 1-84309-042-2. 


External links

Legal offices
Preceded by
Newly created seat
Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Pennsylvania
September 26, 1789 – May 9, 17
Succeeded by
William Lewis

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

FRANCIS HOPKINSON (1737-1791), American author and statesman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on the 2nd of October 1737. He was a son of Thomas Hopkinson (1709-1751), a prominent lawyer of Philadelphia, one of the first trustees of the College of Philadelphia, now the University of Pennsylvania, and first president of the American Philosophical Society. Francis was the first student to enter the College of Philadelphia.

from which he received his bachelor's degree in 1757 and his master's degree in 1760. He then studied law in the office in Philadelphia of Benjamin Chew, and was admitted to the bar in 1761. Removing after 1768 to Bordentown, New Jersey, he became a member of the council of that colony in 1774. On the approach of the War of Independence he identified himself with the patriot or whig element in the colony, and in 1776 and 1777 he was a delegate to the Continental Congress. He served on the committee appointed to frame the Articles of Confederation, executed, with John Nixon (1733-1808) and John Wharton, the "business of the navy" under the direction of the marine committee, and acted for a time as treasurer of the Continental loan office. From 1779 to 1789 he was judge of the court of admiralty in Pennsylvania, and from 1790 until his death was United States district judge for that state. He was famous for his versatility, and besides being a distinguished lawyer, jurist and political leader, was "a mathematician, a chemist, a physicist, a mechanician, an inventor, a musician and a composer of music, a man of literary knowledge and practice, a writer of airy and dainty songs, a clever artist with pencil and brush and a humorist of unmistakeable power" (Tyler, Literary History of the American Revolution). It is as a writer, however, that he will be remembered. He ranks as one of the three leading satirists on the patriot side during the War of Independence. His ballad, The Battle of the Kegs (1778), was long exceedingly popular. To alarm the British force at Philadelphia the Americans floated kegs charged with gunpowder down the Delaware river towards that city, and the British, alarmed for the safety of their shipping, fired with cannon and small arms at everything they saw floating in the river. Hopkinson's ballad is an imaginative expansion of the actual facts. To the cause of the revolution this ballad, says Professor Tyler, "was perhaps worth as much just then as the winning of a considerable battle." Hopkinson's principal writings are The Pretty Story (1774), A Prophecy (1776) and The Political Catechism (1777). Among his songs may be mentioned The Treaty and The New Roof, a Song for Federal Mechanics; and the best known of his satirical pieces are Typographical Method of conducting a Quarrel, Essay on White Washing and Modern Learning. His Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings were published at Philadelphia in 3 vols., 1792.

His son, Joseph Hopkinson (1770-1842), graduated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1786, studied law, and was a Federalist member of the national House of Representatives in 1815-1819, Federal judge of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1828 until his death, and a member of the state constitutional convention of 1837. He is better known, however, as the author of the patriotic anthem "Hail Columbia" (1798).

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Simple English

Francis Hopkinson (September 21, 1737  – May 9, 1791), an American author, was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from New Jersey. His supporters believe he played a part in the design of the first American flag.

=Great Seal of the United States

= Francis Hopkinson gave his help to the second committee that designed the Great Seal of the United States. This is the same seal that is now impressed upon the reverse of the United States one-dollar bill.

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