1737–1791

Introduction

Born: Sep­tem­ber 21, 1737, Phil­a­del­phia, Penn­syl­van­ia.

Died: May 9, 1791, Phil­a­del­phia, Penn­syl­van­ia.

Buried: Christ Church Bur­i­al Ground, Phil­a­del­phia, Penn­syl­van­ia.

portrait

Biography

Francis was the son of Tho­mas Hop­kin­son and Ma­ry John­son, and fa­ther of Jo­seph Hop­kin­son, mem­ber of the Unit­ed States House of Rep­re­sent­a­tives and who al­so be­came a fed­er­al judge.

Francis be­came a mem­ber of the first class at the Col­lege of Phil­a­del­phia (now the Un­i­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­van­ia) in 1751 and gra­du­at­ed in 1757, re­ceiv­ing his mas­ters de­gree in 1760, and an hon­or­a­ry do­ctor in law 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, Hop­kin­son was ap­point­ed cus­toms col­lect­or for Sa­lem, New Jer­sey. He spent from May 1766 to Au­gust 1767 in Eng­land in hopes of be­com­ing com­mis­sion­er of cus­toms for North Am­er­i­ca.

Though un­suc­cess­ful, he spent time with fu­ture Prime Min­is­ter Lord North and his half-bro­ther, the Bi­shop of Wor­ces­ter, Brown­low North, and paint­er Ben­ja­min West.

After his re­turn, Hop­kin­son op­er­at­ed a dry goods bu­si­ness in Phil­a­del­phia and mar­ried Ann Bor­den on Sep­tember 1, 1768.

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 a mem­ber of the New Jer­sey 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 Am­er­i­can De­clar­a­tion of In­de­pen­dence.

He left 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; judge of the Ad­mir­al­ty Court of Penn­syl­van­ia (1779, 1780 & 1787); and helped ra­ti­fy the Con­sti­tu­tion dur­ing the con­sti­tu­tion­al con­ven­tion in 1787.

On Sep­tem­ber 24, 1789, Pre­si­dent George Wash­ing­ton no­mi­nat­ed Hop­kin­son 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.

Only a few years in­to his ser­vice as a fed­er­al judge, Hop­kin­son died in Phil­a­del­phia at the age 53 from an ep­i­lep­tic sei­zure. He did not get his due in life. At one point, he asked on­ly for a bot­tle of wine for his ef­forts, which he ne­ver re­ceived.

So, ev­ery year on his birth­day, the work­ers at Christ Church take a bot­tle of wine to his grave-site and share it to re­mem­ber his con­tri­bu­tion.

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 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.

Hopkinson was also a re­put­ed am­a­teur mu­si­cian. He be­gan to play the harp­si­chord at age 17 and, in 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 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 the or­gan at Christ Church in Phil­a­del­phia, and com­posed or ed­ite­d a numb­er of hymns and psalms.

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.

At his al­ma ma­ter, the Un­i­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­van­ia, one of the build­ings in the Fish­er-Hass­en­feld Col­lege House was named af­ter him.

Publications

Most of Hop­kin­son’s texts were ad­ap­ta­tions from oth­er au­thors.

Sources

Lyrics