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Francis Hopkinson
Francis Hopkinson, 1785 - Robert Edge Pine.jpg
portrait by Robert Edge Pine (1785)
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania
In office
September 26, 1789 – May 9, 1791
Appointed by George Washington
Preceded by Seat established by 1 Stat. 73
Succeeded by William Lewis
Personal details
Born
Francis Hopkinson

(1737-10-02)October 2, 1737
Philadelphia,
Province of Pennsylvania,
British America
Died May 9, 1791(1791-05-09) (aged 53)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resting place Christ Church Burial Ground
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Children Joseph Hopkinson
Parent(s)
  • Thomas Hopkinson (father)
Relatives James Johnson
Education University of Pennsylvania (A.B., A.M.)
Awards Magellanic Premium (1790)
Signature

Francis Hopkinson (September 21, 1737 – May 9, 1791) was an author and composer. He designed Continental paper money, the first United States coin, and two early versions of the American flag, one for the United States and one for the United States Navy. He was also one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, as a delegate from New Jersey. He served in various roles in the early United States government including as a member of the Second Continental Congress and as a member of the Navy Board. He later became the first federal judge of the Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania on September 30, 1789.

Education and career

Born on October 2, 1737 (Gregorian), September 21, 1737 (Julian) in Philadelphia, Province of Pennsylvania, British America, Hopkinson received an Artium Baccalaureus degree in 1757 from the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) and an Artium Magister degree in 1760 from the same institution. He was the first native American composer of a secular song in 1759. He was Secretary of a Commission of the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania which made a treaty between the Province and certain Indian tribes in 1761. He entered private practice in Philadelphia, Province of Pennsylvania from 1761 to 1766. He was Collector of Customs in Salem, Province of New Jersey in 1763. 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, Hopkinson's cousin James Johnson and the painter Benjamin West. He was a merchant in Philadelphia, Province of Pennsylvania, who sold varieties of fabric and port wine, starting in 1768. Additionally, in 1768 he was elected to the revived American Philosophical Society, and would go on to serve as the Society's Curator from 1776 to 1782. He was Collector of Customs for New Castle, Delaware Colony from 1772 to 1773. He resumed private practice in Bordentown from 1773 to 1774. He was a member of the New Jersey Provincial Council from 1774 to 1776. He was a member of the Executive Council of New Jersey from January 13, 1775, to November 15, 1775. He was admitted to practice before the bar of the Supreme Court of New Jersey on May 8, 1775. He was elected an Associate Justice of that court in 1776, but declined the office. He was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress (Continental Congress) from June 22, 1776, to November 30, 1776. He was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence. He was a member of the Navy Board in Philadelphia from 1776 to 1777. He was Treasurer for the Continental Loan Office in Philadelphia from 1778 to 1781. He was Judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania from 1779 to 1789. He was a member of the Pennsylvania Convention which ratified the United States Constitution.

Federal judicial service

Hopkinson was nominated by President George Washington on September 24, 1789, to the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania, to a new seat authorized by 1 Stat. 73. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 26, 1789, and received his commission the same day. His service terminated on May 9, 1791, due to his death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, of a sudden apoplectic seizure. He was interred in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.

Personal life

Hopkinson was the son of Thomas Hopkinson and Mary Johnson Hopkinson. He married Ann Borden on September 1, 1768. They would have five children. He was the father of Joseph Hopkinson, who was a member of the United States House of Representatives and also became a federal judge.

Cultural contributions

Hopkinson 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 (see Bibliography).

Hopkinson 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.

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

Musical compositions

  • Collection of Plain Tunes with a Few from Anthems and Hymns. Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1763.
  • Temple of Minerva. (The First American Opera) Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1781.
  • Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano. Printed by T. Dobson, 1788.
    • No. 3: "Beneath a weeping willow's shade"

Great Seal of the United States

On March 25, 1780, Congress created a second committee to design the Great Seal of the United States. Before he worked as a consultant to a committee working on the design of the Great Seal. Hopkinson had designed the Great Seal of New Jersey with assistance from Pierre Eugene du Simitiere in 1776.

Fourteen men worked on the Great Seal of the United States, including two other consultants – Pierre Eugene du Simitiere (first Great Seal committee) and William Barton (third committee). The Seal was not finalized until June 20, 1782.

On today's Great Seal of the United States, the 13 stars (constellation) representing the 13 original states have five points. They are arranged in the shape of a larger star with six points. The constellation comprising 13 smaller stars symbolizes the national motto, "E pluribus unum." Originally, the design had individual stars with six points, but this was changed in 1841 when a new die was cast. This seal is now impressed upon the reverse of the United States one-dollar bill. The reverse of the seal, designed by William Barton, contains an unfinished pyramid below a radiant eye. The unfinished pyramid was an image used by Hopkinson when he designed the Continental $50 currency bill.

United States Flag

On Saturday, June 14, 1777, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the first official national flag of the newly independent United States (later celebrated as Flag Day). The resolution creating the flag came from the Continental Marine Committee. Hopkinson became a member of the committee in 1776. At the time of the flag's adoption, he was the Chairman of the Navy Board, which was under the Marine Committee. Today, that office and responsibility/power would be residing in the United States Secretary of the Navy.

Hopkinson is recognized as the designer of the Flag of the United States, and the journals of the Continental Congress support this. 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 shield of seven red and six white stripes 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." 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. While the request for the wine might seem comical in today's world, in the Revolutionary War period, the quarter cask of wine would not be subject to inflation.

Hopkinson submitted another bill on June 24 for his "drawings and devices." In this second letter, Hopkinson did not mention designing the flag of the United States. Instead, the first item listed was "the great Naval Flag of the United States" along with the other contributions. This flag with its red outer stripes was designed to show up well on ships at sea. A parallel flag for the national flag was most likely intended by Hopkinson with white outer stripes as on the Great Seal of the United States and on the Bennington flag, which commemorated 50th anniversary of the founding of the United States (1826). Ironically, the Navy flag was preferred as the national flag. For the various designs, Hopkinson asked for cash in the amount of £2,700. The Auditor General, James Milligan, commissioned an evaluation of the request for payment. The report from the commissioner of the Chamber of Accounts said that the bill was reasonable and ought to be paid. Congress used the usual bureaucratic tactics of asking for an itemized bill for payment in cash. Hopkinson requested £9 for the naval flag. A committee investigated Hopkinson's charges that his payment was being delayed for arbitrary reasons. 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 [that were incidental to the Board (among them, the U.S. flag, the Navy flag, the Admiralty seal, and the Great Seal with a reverse)], and therefore cannot claim the sole merit of them and not entitled in this respect to the full sum charged." The reference to the work of others is most probably a reference to his work on the Great Seal. For that work, he was not the only contributor, but served as a consultant to the second committee that worked on the Great Seal of the United States. Therefore, he would not be eligible to be paid for the Great Seal. Furthermore, the Great Seal project was still a work in progress. No known committee of the Continental Congress was ever documented with the assignment to design the national flag or naval flag. Hence, there was no evidence of collaboration with others on Hopkinson's flag design.

There is no known sketch of a Hopkinson flag—either U.S. or naval—in existence today. However, he incorporated elements of the two flags he designed in his rough sketches of the Great Seal of the United States and his design for the Admiralty Board Seal. The rough sketch of his second Great Seal proposal has 7 white stripes and 6 red stripes. The impression of Hopkinson's Admiralty Board Seal has a chevron with 7 red stripes and 6 white stripes. The Great Seal reflects Hopkinson's design for a governmental flag and the Admiralty Board Seal reflects Hopkinson's design for a naval flag. The predominance of red stripes made the naval flag more visible against the sky on a ship at sea. Both flags were intended to have 13 stripes. Because the original stars used in the Great Seal had six points, Hopkinson's U.S. flag might also have intended the use of 6-pointed stars. This is bolstered by his original sketch for the Great Seal that featured a U.S. flag with six-pointed asterisks for stars.

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