Francis Hopkinson

Francis Hopkinson

Francis Hopkinson (September 21, 1737 ndash 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 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. 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. Hopkinson entered the legal profession under Pennsylvania attorney general Benjamin Chew and was admitted to the bar in 1761. 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 went on to represent New Jersey in the Continental Congress from June 22 to November 30, 1776 where he signed the Declaration of Independence.

As part of the fledgling nation's government, Hopkinson served on the Navy Board at Philadelphia in 1777; was treasurer of the Continental Loan Office in 1778; was appointed judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania in 1779 and reappointed in 1780 and 1787; helped ratify the Constitution during the constitutional convention in 1787; and was a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 1789-1791.

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 the author of several songs to which he wrote popular airs, and of various political poems, pamphlets, and "jeux d'esprit", which from their humorous satire had a wide circulation, and powerfully assisted in arousing and fostering the spirit of political independence that issued in the American Revolution.

His principal writings are "The Pretty Story" (1774); "The Prophecy" (1776); "The Political Catechism" (1777). Among his songs may be mentioned "The Treaty", "The Battle of the Kegs", 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 three volumes in 1792.

Hopkinson was a reputed amateur musician. He began to play the harpsichord at age seventeen. During the 1750s he hand copied arias, songs, instrumental pieces by many European composers. He also composed several songs. By the 1760s he was good enough on the harpsichord to play with professional musicians in concerts. He played organ at Philadelphia's Christ Church in 1770. 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. [ [ Francis Hopkinson biography at the Library of Congress Performing Arts Digital Library] ]

Flag controversy

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. [ [ transcript] ] Another consideration was that the Flag Resolution of 1777, which defined official United States flags, did not specify the arrangement of stars. [Mastai, pg. 49] 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.Fact|date=July 2007

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 [Znamierowski saysHopkinson also used 5-pointed stars. Pg 113.]

Hopkinson's letter and response

On May 25, 1780, Hopkinson wrote a letter to the Continental Board of Admiralty mentioniong 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. [ [ Journals of the Continental Congress -FRIDAY, OCTOBER 27, 1780 ] ]

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 [ [ Univ. of Notre Dame, Coin and Currency Collections] ] . Contemporary conspiracy theorists hold that the seal contains Freemasonry images.Fact|date=November 2007



*Mastai, Boleslaw and 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" ©1973. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. ISBN 0-394-47217-9
*Znamierowski, Alfred. "The World Encyclopedia of Flags" ©2002 Anness Publishing Limited ISBN 1-84309-042-2.

External links

* [ University of Penn. Archives on Hopkinson]
* [,M1 Francis Hopkinson: Jurist, Wit, and Dilettante] Marble, Annie Russell. "Heralds of American Literature: A Group of Patriot Writers of the Revolutionary and National Periods." 1907, University of Chicago Press, hosted by Google Book Search
* [ image] of stamp with Hopkinson's flag, stars in a circle, from the University of Georgia
*Find A Grave|id=2774

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