Filed Under Cemeteries

Founding Father: Stephen Hopkins and the Hopkins House

Rhode Island's Delegate for the Declaration of Independence

“My hand trembles but my heart does not.”

Stephen Hopkins was born on March 7, 1707, the second of nine children of William and Ruth (Wilkinson) Hopkins. Hopkins later married Sarah Scott, and together they had seven children. Unfortunately, only five of them survived to adulthood. Despite being self-educated, Hopkins served as justice of the peace at the age of only 23. He went on to win election as town solicitor in Scituate and served in the Rhode Island General Assembly as a Scituate representative in the 1730s. His colleagues elected him speaker of the House of Representatives seven times; he served nine terms as governor, and eleven years as chief justice. He was also the representative for Rhode Island at the Albany Congress in 1754, where he supported Benjamin Franklin’s plan for colonial union.

Stephen Hopkins built his family a beautiful home on Towne Street (now South Main Street), which stands today on Hopkins Street, in 1742. The following year, after the Hopkins family moved from Scituate to Providence, Sarah Hopkins and two of the young sons passed away. On January 2, 1755, Hopkins married his second wife, Anne Smith, and she and her two children joined Hopkins in his Providence home.

In 1764, the British parliament passed the Sugar Act, and Governor Hopkins wrote a revolutionary pamphlet, “The Rights of the Colonies Examined,” which was distributed throughout the colonies. In 1772, when Providence residents attacked and burned the British vessel Gaspee, Justice Hopkins refused to sign the court order to arrest those responsible. As the American Revolution approached, Hopkins was appointed the chairman of the Continental Congress's Naval Committee; his experience as a shipping merchant was ideal for building the new American navy. His brother Esek became the Navy's first admiral.

In 1776, at the age of seventy and suffering from palsy, Stephen Hopkins signed the Declaration of Independence as Rhode Island’s delegate. After signing the Declaration he said, “My hand trembles but my heart does not.” Sadly, Hopkins died in July 1785 and was buried in North Burial Ground. “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."

On Hopkins Street, the 8-room, dark-red home of Stephen Hopkins still stands and is now a historic house museum with guided-tours for visitors.

Images

Stephen Hopkins House The house sits on the corner of Benefit and Hopkins Streets, after being moved twice from its original location much closer to the waterfront. Creator: Stephen Hopkins House
Stephen Hopkins Stephen Hopkins was a devout Quaker during his life and disapproved of the vanity of having his portrait painted, so there is no none likeness of Hopkins from his lifetime. In the 1980s, a portrait of Hopkins were commissioned by the state. Rhode Island School of Design painting instructor John Hagen was chosen to complete the likeness. He based this portrait on likenesses from within the Hopkins family. The version shown here was commissioned by Brown University in 1999 and includes details that are relevant to the college's history. Source: Brown University Portrait Collection: Brown Portrait Number: 275; Brown Historical Property Number: 2315 Creator: John Philip Hagen Date: 1999
Stephen Hopkins' Gravestone On the North Side of the gravestone, the engraving says, "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." The marker was erected by the Rhode Island State Assembly. Source: Photo taken by contributor. Date: 2018
Stephen Hopkins Gravestone, West The westside of Stephen Hopkins' gravestone says "Sacred to the memory of the illustrious Stephen Hopkins, of revolutionary fame, attested by his signature to the declaration of our national independence, great in council, from sagacity of mind; magnanimous in sentiment, firm in purpose, and good, as great, from benevolence of heart; he stood in the front rank of statesmen and patriots. self-educated, yet among the most learned of men; his vast treasury of useful knowledge, his great retentive and reflective powers, combined with his social nature, made him the most interesting of companions in private life." Source: Photo taken by contributor.

Location

5 Branch Avenue, Providence, RI 02906 | Access the grave via North Burial Ground's south gate/main entrance at North Main Street and Branch Avenue during normal business hours, or by the pedestrian gate on North Main Street and Rochambeau Avenue.

Metadata

Aisha Pierre, Rhode Island College, “Founding Father: Stephen Hopkins and the Hopkins House,” Rhode Tour, accessed January 30, 2023, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/284.