Francis Hopkinson, signer of "the Declaration of Independance"

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Francis Hopkinson, signer of "the Declaration of Independance"

Birthdate:
Birthplace: Philadelphia, PA, USA
Death: Died in Philadelphia, PA, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Hopkinson and Mary Hopkinson
Husband of Ann Hopkinson
Father of James Hopkinson; Joseph Hopkinson; Emily Hopkinson; Mary Hopkinson; Ann Hopkinson and 4 others
Brother of Elizabeth Duche; Thomas Hopkinson; Mary Hopkinson; Jane Hopkinson and Ann Hopkinson

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About Francis Hopkinson, signer of "the Declaration of Independance"

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.

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 having studied law under Benjamin Chew, 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.

Only a few years into his service 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, who was a member of the United House of Representatives and also became a federal judge.

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). 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.

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. 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.

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. 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.

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.

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.”

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.”

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.


Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1949

Biographies

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HOPKINSON, Francis (father of Joseph Hopkinson), a Delegate from New Jersey; born in Philadelphia, Pa., September 21, 1737; was graduated from the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia in 1757; the first native American composer of a secular song in 1759; studied law; was admitted to the bar in 1761 and commenced practice in Philadelphia; secretary of a commission of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania which made a treaty between the Province and certain Indian tribes in 1761; appointed collector of customs at the port of Salem, N.J., in 1763, and at New Castle, Del., in 1772; settled in Bordentown, N.J., in 1774 and resumed the practice of law; member of the Provincial Council of New Jersey 1774-1776; member of the executive council from January 13 to November 15, 1775; was admitted to practice before the bar of the supreme court of New Jersey on May 8, 1775; elected an associate justice of that court in 1776 but declined the office; Member of the Continental Congress from June 22 to November 30, 1776; a signer of the Declaration of Independence; elected on November 18, 1776, to serve on the Navy Board at Philadelphia; returned to Philadelphia in 1777; treasurer of the Continental Loan Office in 1778; judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania in 1779 and reappointed in 1780 and 1787; member of the constitutional convention in 1787 which ratified the Constitution of the United States; judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 1789-1791; died in Philadelphia, Pa., May 9, 1791; interment in Christ Church Burial Ground

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Francis Hopkinson, signer of "the Declaration of Independance"'s Timeline

1737
September 21, 1737
Philadelphia, PA, USA
1769
October 30, 1769
Age 32
Philadelphia, PA, USA
1770
November 12, 1770
Age 33
Philadelphia, PA, USA
1772
July 26, 1772
Age 34
Philadelphia, PA, USA
1773
November 28, 1773
Age 36
November 28, 1773
Age 36
Philadelphia, PA, USA
1777
October 19, 1777
Age 40
Philadelphia, PA, USA
1781
1781
Age 43
Philadelphia, PA, USA
1791
May 9, 1791
Age 53
Philadelphia, PA, USA