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.