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Francis Hopkinson

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Title: Francis Hopkinson  
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Subject: Great Seal of the United States, Flag of the United States, Memorial to the 56 Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, Declaration of Independence (Trumbull)
Collection: 1737 Births, 1791 Deaths, 18Th-Century Composers, American Composers, American Male Composers, American People of English Descent, Burials at Christ Church (Philadelphia), Continental Congressmen from New Jersey, Deaths from Epilepsy, Flag Designers, Flags of the American Revolution, Judges of the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania, Members of the New Jersey Provincial Council, Musicians from New Jersey, Musicians from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, People from Bordentown, New Jersey, Signers of the United States Declaration of Independence, United States Federal Judges Appointed by George Washington, University of Pennsylvania Alumni
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Francis Hopkinson

Francis Hopkinson
From The literary history of Philadelphia (1906).
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania
In office
September 26, 1789 – May 9, 1791
Nominated by George Washington
Succeeded by William Lewis
Delegate from New Jersey to the Second Continental Congress
In office
June 22, 1776 – November 30, 1776
Personal details
Born September 21, 1737
Philadelphia, Province of Pennsylvania, British America
Died May 9, 1791(1791-05-09) (aged 53)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Resting place Christ Church Burial Ground, Philadelphia
Nationality American
Spouse(s) Ann Borden
Alma mater The Academy and College of Philadelphia
Awards Magellanic Premium (1790)

Francis Hopkinson (September 21,[1][2] 1737 – May 9, 1791) designed the first official American flag. He was an author, a composer, and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from New Jersey. He served in various roles in the early United States government including as a member of the Continental Congress and chair of the Navy Board. He also served as a federal judge in Pennsylvania.


  • Early and Family Life 1
  • Legal career 2
  • Cultural contributions 3
    • Bibliography 3.1
      • Books 3.1.1
      • Essays 3.1.2
    • Musical compositions 3.2
  • Flag controversy 4
    • Hopkinson's letter and response 4.1
    • Great Seal of the United States 4.2
  • See also 5
  • Notes 6
  • External links 7

Early and Family Life

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 the University of Pennsylvania) in 1751 and graduated in 1757, receiving his master's degree in 1760, and 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, Hopkinson's cousin James Johnson (Bishop of Worcester), and the painter Benjamin West.[3]:133

After his return, Hopkinson operated a dry goods business in Philadelphia and married Ann Borden on September 1, 1768. They would have five children.

Legal career

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 a member of the New Jersey 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 was appointed to Congress’ Marine Committee in that year. He departed the Congress on November 30, 1776 to serve on the Navy Board at Philadelphia. The Board reported to the Marine Committee. Hopkinson later became the Navy Board’s chairman. 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.[3]:chapter VI [3]:325

On September 24, 1789, President United States District Court for the Eastern 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 apoplectic seizure.[3]:449 He was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.[4] He was the father of Joseph Hopkinson, who was a member of the United States House of Representatives and also became a federal judge. Hopkinson was the designer of the American flag. He did not get his due in life. At one point, he asked for a quarter cask of wine for his efforts, [3]:241 which he never received.

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

Legal offices
Preceded by
Newly created seat
Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Pennsylvania
September 26, 1789 – May 9, 1791
Succeeded by
William Lewis
  • Francis Hopkinson at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  • University of Penn. Archives on Hopkinson
  • The Hopkinson Family Papers, including correspondence, documents and printed materials, are available for research use at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
  • Pennsylvania Center for the Book on Hopkinson and his writings
  • Library of Congress on Hopkinson
  • Works by or about Francis Hopkinson in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • 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
  • First American Song by Francis Hopkinson
  • Free scores by Francis Hopkinson at the International Music Score Library Project
  • "AN ACCOUNT OF THE GRAND FEDERAL PROCESSION. PERFORMED AT PHILADELPHIA ON FRIDAY THE 4TH OF JULY 1788" by Francis Hopkinson – Hopkinson's review of a Philadelphia 4 July parade of 1788; celebrating the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.

External links

  • Francis Hopkinson holdings at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania Online Public Access Catalog.
  1. ^
  2. ^ Francis Hopkinson was on September 21, 1737, according to the then-used Julian calendar. In 1752, however, Britain and all its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar that moved Hopkinson’s birthday a year and 11 days to October 2, 1737. See George E. Hastings, The Life and Works of Francis Hopkinson. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926), p. 43.
  3. ^ a b c d e f
  4. ^ Francis Hopkinson at Find a Grave
  5. ^
  6. ^ Francis Hopkinson biography at the Library of Congress Performing Arts Digital Library; accessed 30 September 2015.
  7. ^ Pennsylvania Center for the Book on Hopkinson and his writings
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ transcript
  14. ^ Buescher, John. "All Wrapped up in the Flag",, accessed August 21, 2011.
  15. ^
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b c Williams (2012), pp. 7–9.
  21. ^ Williams (2012), p. 8.
  22. ^ Patterson and Dougall, p. 9.
  23. ^ Canby and Balderston, pp. 110–11.
  24. ^
  25. ^
  26. ^
  27. ^ Williams, (1988), p. 48.
  28. ^ Journals of the Continental Congress – Friday, October 27, 1780
  29. ^$50_note_1778
  30. ^ Univ. of Notre Dame, Coin and Currency Collections


See also

Francis Hopkinson provided assistance to the second committee that designed the Great Seal of the United States. On today's seal, the 13 stars (constellation) representing the 13 original states have five points. They are arranged in a larger star that has 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 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.[29][30]

Great Seal of the United States

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 (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 to the full sum charged.” This is most probably a reference to his work as a consultant to the second committee that worked on the Great Seal of the United States.[27] Therefore, he would not be eligible to be paid for the Great Seal.[28]

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. This flag with its red, outer stripes was designed to show up well on ships at sea.[20] A parallel flag for the national flag was most likely intended by Hopkinson with white, outer stripes[20] 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).[26] Ironically, the Navy flag was preferred as the national flag.

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.”[25]

Hopkinson's letter and response

The legend of Betsy Ross as the designer of the first flag entered into American consciousness about the time of the 1876 centennial celebrations, owing to the efforts of her grandson, William Canby.[23] This flag with its circle of 13 stars came into popular use as a flag commemorating the nation's birth. Many Americans today still cling to the Betsy Ross legend that she designed the flag, and most are unaware of Hopkinson's legacy. The circle of stars (a circle connotes eternity) first appeared after the war ended and after Hopkinson’s original design.[24]

There is no known sketch of a Hopkinson flag—either U.S. or naval—in existence today. Hopkinson, however, did incorporate elements of the two flags he designed in his rough sketch of his Great Seal of the United States and his design for the Admiralty Board Seal.[17] His rough sketch of the Great Seal[18] has 7 white stripes and 6 red stripes. The impression of Hopkinson’s Admiralty Board Seal[19] 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.[20] 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.[21] This is bolstered by his original sketch[22] that showed asterisks with six points.

Hopkinson is recognized as the designer of the flag of the United States, and the journals of the Continental Congress support this.[10] His first letter in May 25, 1780, requesting compensation from Congress was almost comical. He asked for a quarter cask of wine in payment for designing the U.S. flag, the Great Seal of the United States, and various other contributions. After Congress received a second letter from Hopkinson asking for cash in the amount of L2,700, the Auditor General, James Milligan, commissioned an evaluation of the request for payment. In this second letter, Hopkinson did not mention designing the flag of the United States. Instead, he listed "the great Naval Flag of the United States" (See illustration of flag.) along with the other contributions.[11] 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. After that, there was further bureaucratic back and forth including a request for an itemized bill and a committee to investigate Hopkinson’s charges that his payment was being delayed for arbitrary reasons. Congress eventually refused to pay Hopkinson for the reason that Hopkinson was already paid as a public servant as a member of Congress. Congress also mentioned that Hopkinson was not the only person consulted on the designs that were "incidental" to the Treasury Board. [3]:240–249 This referred to Hopkinson's work on the Great Seal.[12] He served as a consultant to a committee working on the design of the Great Seal.[13][14] Fourteen men worked on the Great Seal, including two other consultants – Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere (first Great Seal committee) and William Barton (third committee).[15] No known committee of the Continental Congress was ever documented with the assignment to design the national flag or naval flag.[16]

On Saturday, June 14, 1777, Congress adopted the Stars and Stripes as the first official national flag of the United States. 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, he would be known as the Secretary of the Navy.[9]

Possible representation of Francis Hopkinson's Navy flag showing 6-pointed stars in rows.

Flag controversy

  • Collection of Plain Tunes with a Few from Anthems and Hymns. Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1763.
  • Temple of Minerva. (The First American Opera)[7] Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1781.
  • Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano. Printed by T. Dobson, 1788.[8]

Musical compositions

  • A Pretty Story Written in the Year of Our Lord 1774. Printed by John Dunlap, 1774. Available via Google Books


  • The Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson, Esq Printed by T. Dobson, 1792. Available via Google Books: Volume I, Volume II, Volume III
  • Judgments in the Admiralty of Pennsylvania in four suits Printed at T. Dobson and T. Lang, 1789. Available via Google Books



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

Hopkinson began to play the 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.[6]

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).


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