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Memoirs of the Wilkinson Family in America, 1869

Biography No. VI — Stephen Hopkins, cont.

What was my surprise in examining the records of the town of Scituate, where every page of the first and succeeding books bears ample evidence of penmanship excelled by few, even masters of the art. At first for a few pages his recording lacked boldness being a hair mark, but improvement manifests itself until the beautifully shaded letters are a close imitation of neatly engraved copper plate. Never was there a reproach more undeserved. The family tradition of his nervous difficulty in his old age, and also, his feebleness of body just at the time of signing is a sufficient explanation and vindication. So determined was he to affix his own signature that succeeding generations might know his position in American affairs, that he guided his right hand with his left, and so left his trembling marks as a monumental inscription of his patriotism and devotion to human liberty. The silent pages of Scituate records attest his scholarship and genius.

So well did he perform the duties of town clerk, and so rapidly did he gain the confidence of the people that in 1732, in the 25th year of his age he was elected Representative to the General Assembly, and he was re-elected annually until 1738, inclusive. In 1735, he was chosen President of the Town Council, and in 1736, he was appointed by the Governor, Justice of the Peace, and was also one of the Justices of the Court of Common Pleas. The following year he was employed by the proprietors to revise the streets, and project a map of Scituate and Providence, which work required no little knowledge of mathematics, and was executed to the entire satisfaction of his employers. In 1739, he was chosen Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. In 1740, he was appointed surveyor of the proprietor's sic lands. He was clerk of the court and clerk of the proprietors at the same time. Having been returned to the legislature in 1741, he was elected Speaker of the General Assembly, and performed the duties of that position with such marked ability and dignity as to win the approbation of all parties.

Commercial matters had for some time attracted his attention. His brother William had become a successful sea captain, and was highly respected and honored, not only in the Colony but in Eng. sic The favorable notice of the King while in London, and the expeditions which had been fitted out against the Spanish in Cuba and the West Indies, and committed to him, had opened new and flattering prospects of wealth. His brother Esek also, had made several voyages to Surinam and other places, and the indications were favorable for speedy and ample returns. He accordingly sold his farm in Scituate in 1742, and moved to Providence, and engaged in building and fitting out vessels, and commenced mercantile business.

But such was the popular confidence in him that he was elected by the people the year he became an inhabitant of Providence to the same office and position he formerly held while a resident of Scituate. He was continued in the chair of Speaker of the House of Representatives with occasional intermissions up to 1751, when he was returned for the fourteenth time. In the latter year he received the appointment of Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Rhode Island. In all of these positions he was regarded with admiration and delight by his own relatives, and his services met with popular approval.

He was one of the prime movers of forming a public library in 1750, and always active in diffusing the means of education. Having himself felt the want of instruction in early life, and afterwards realized the advantages of extensive attainments in knowledge by his own efforts, he was desirous that others should possess and enjoy the means of cultivating and improving their minds on a liberal and broad foundation. He was a friend and patron of all measures which promoted the general education of youth.

The year 1753 was one of bereavement and almost insupportable grief and sorrow to him. Affliction followed affliction in rapid succession. His commercial enterprises had proved successful, and as his sons grew up they manifested a predilection for the sea; and Rufus, John and Sylvanus, having made several voyages with their uncles, had become commanders of ships, although the latter was but nineteen years of age. The first blow that fell upon this doting parent's heart was the sad intelligence of the death of his son John at St. Andere in Spain who had fallen a prey to that terrible disease, the small pox. The next was the appalling news of the murder of his son Sylvanus by the savages after his being shipwrecked on the island of Cape Breton. These were followed by the decease of his wife in September, after a lingering illness. The storm at length passed by, and bowed, but not broken by its chastenings, he again resumed his duties as a public officer.

In 1754, he was appointed delegate to a convention which met in Albany, N. Y., consisting of commissioners from the several colonies, to hold a conference with the Indians of the Six Nations, and to secure their friendship, and also, to form some plan for security against French encroachments through Canada in the approaching war. Benjamin Franklin, Sir William Johnson and Roger Wolcott were among the members of this board.*

In 1755, he married a second wife, Mrs. Anna Smith, widow of Benjamin Smith. She was a most estimable woman and proved a help-meet worthy of her spouse.

He was elected Governor of Rhode Island very soon after this event, and continued to occupy the Gubernatorial chair until 1767, inclusive, (excepting 1757, 1762, 1765-6), a period of nine years of the most stormy political times in the history of Rhode Island. The contest for Governor between Hopkins and Ward was spirited in the extreme, and had continued for several years. This with the political issues of the day had wrought the parties up to the highest pitch of political animosity, which was finally quieted by an official communication from Gov. Hopkins to the legislature then in session declining a re-election. Ward was also dropped, and Josiah Lynden was elected Governor in 1768, by an overwhelming majority of over 1500. Nothing was more averse to the wishes and feelings of Hopkins than the strife and dissentions sic which arose at this time, and his magnanimity in withdrawing his name from the canvass, and the pacific nature of his communication wherein he lamented the dissensions and the exasperated feelings of partisans, only elevated him in the estimation of his fellow citizens, and really enthroned him in their hearts.

In the alarming period of the French and Indian War in 1757, Gov. Hopkins greatly exerted himself to strengthen the English and Colonial army by promoting volunteer enrollments in Rhode Island. The siege of Fort William Henry by the Marquis de Montcalm, and its surrender to the forces under that general, with the subsequent cruel outrages and murders committed by the savages of the French army produced the most intense excitement among the inhabitants of Rhode Island. The British force had sustained a series of disasters during the campaign, and nothing seemed to impede the progress of the victorious Montcalm. The English settlements in the North were unprotected, families were being murdered or hurried away by savages into captivity. The people were thoroughly aroused to a sense of their danger. An agreement to meet the invaders was entered into by the people of Rhode Island, to which Gov. Hopkins was the first to affix his name. A company of volunteers was raised, consisting of some of the most distinguished men of Providence; and Hopkins was chosen commander, and was about to march to the scene of action, when by an unexpected withdrawal of the French, the Canadians and the Indians, it then becames sic unnecessary.

Hopkins was always a friend to liberal education. "The first meeting of the corporation for founding and endowing a College or University within the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England in America," says Guild, "was held at Newport, on the first Wednesday in Sept., 1764. From this point therefore, the commencement of the College properly dates. At this meeting the following gentlemen, twenty-four in number, as appears from the records, were present and qualified themselves by taking the Oath prescribed by the Charter namely:  Hon. Stephen Hopkins, Hon. Joseph Wanton, Hon. Samuel Ward, John Tillinghast, &c. The Hon. Stephen Hopkins was chosen Chancellor; John Tillinghast, Treasurer; and Dr. Thomas Eyres, Secretary."

Governor Hopkins always manifested a lively interest in this enterprise.  Much difficulty had been experienced in procuring a charter.  It was finally secured—the Legislature of Rhode Island being induced to grant the prayer of the friends of liberal education.  By the Constitution the corporation is made to consist of two branches, viz:  Trustees and Fellows, with distinct and separate powers.  The trustees are thirty-six in number, of whom twenty-two are to be Baptists, five Quakers, five Episcopalians, and four Congregationalists.  The number of Fellows is twelve.  Eight are to be Baptists, and the rest of any denomination.  The President must always be a Baptist.  "The Quakers," says Guild, "were represented by Stephen Hopkins, John G. Wanton, Edward Thurston and Nicholas Easton.  No name is more prominent in the history of this period than that of Hopkins and few men of any period have exerted so wide an influence upon the destinies of the country.  For nearly forty-five years, as Chief Justice, Governor, Member of Congress, Legislator, or Representative, he was engaged in some kind of official duty connected with the town, the State, or the national Congress.  His name appears among the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.  The office of Chancellor of the corporation, to which he was elected at this first meeting, he held until his death in 1785, a period of twenty-one years.  He was a warm personal friend of President Manning, and, by his extensive learning and genuine love of literature proved a most efficient coadjutor in all the plans and efforts of the latter for the usefulness of the College.*

In 1765, he was elected chairman of a committee appointed at a special town meeting held in Providence, to draft instructions to the General Assembly on the Stamp Act. He was not Governor that year. The resolutions reported were the same that Patrick Henry introduced into the House of Burgesses of Virginia, with an additional one stating that "we are not bound to yield obedience to any law or ordinance designed to impose any internal taxation whatever upon us, other than the laws and ordinances of Rhode Island." These resolves passed in the Assembly, including the above, which had been rejected in Virginia. In this year he commenced the "History of Providence."


*New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania and Maryland were represented. See Lossing's Hist. U.S., p. 151.

Note.—The commencement chair of Chancellor Hopkins is now in the "Rhode Island Hall," Providence. It has the appearance of being a home production, and from similar patterns at certain old homesteads, I entertain but little doubt of its origin. It is an arm chair with square legs, the back made of half-inch boards covered with leather, stamped with some sort of die for ornament, fastened with copper nails, the head of every third nail being an inch in diameter. The seat is leather and ornamented like the back. This was used at Commencements in conferring degrees, and is called "The First Chancellor's Chair."

*Guild's Manning & Brown University, p. 65

See Mass. Hist. Coll., Vol. IX, p. 197.


Through the efforts of Joseph Brown, apparatus for observing the transit of Venus, which occurred June 3, 1769, was procured from London. The advantages that were likely to accrue to astronomy, and consequently to navigation and chronology, says Dr. Manning, was the procuring cause of this munificence on the part of Mr. Brown. Gov. Hopkins aided in taking these observations, and the street called Transit Street, was named in commemoration of this event. The observations were taken on the hill where the street is laid out. When we consider his public engagements, and his private commercial and mercantile affairs, we can hardly imagine how he could find time for literary and scientific pursuits. The secret of the whole matter is, he was systematic in every department of business, and consequently, was never hurried for want of time.

After the parties which had so long distracted and divided the Colony had subsided, and tranquility had been restored, he appeared again in the legislature. He represented Providence in 1772-3-4 and 5. In 1773 he emancipated his slaves, and had in his last will and testament, which was drawn and executed before that date, decreed them liberty at his decease. The year following he secured an act in Rhode Island prohibiting the import of negroes, and thus put an end to this accursed traffic.

He represented the Colony in the General Congress with Samuel Ward in 1774 and 5. In the former year he was again appointed Chief Justice, holding at the same time the three honorable and important offices of Representative of Providence in the General Assembly, Delegate to the General Congress and Chief Justice of Rhode Island. He attended the first Congress that ever met as a national council in Philadelphia, and discharged his duty with an honorable fidelity, which met the approbation of his constituents. He was President of Commissioners to devise the defence sic of New England. This body first met in Providence and afterwards in Springfield, Mass. They did much to promote the cause and secure the liberties of the Colonists, and were efficient in carrying into immediate effect all the measures for the for the public security, recommended by the Assemblies in the several provinces. While in Congress he urged decisive measures. Some of the members being desirous of further delay, in the hope of reconciliation, Hopkins remarked, in all the fire of youth in his zeal for the emancipation of of his country, "The time is fully come when the strongest arm and the longest sword must decide the contest, and those members who are not prepared for action had better go home!" He was seventy years of age at this time, and was active and unwearied for the public good. His colleague in 1776, was William Ellery, a decisive, bold and fearless man, and when the Declaration of Independence was presented for signatures, the bold hand of Ellery and the trembling lines of Hopkins exhibit a contrast only in appearance. The same fearless determination inspired the heart of each.

On the naval committee Hopkins was placed next after John Hancock, the chairman and greatly assisted in the formation of the navy. His knowledge and experience in commercial matters were here brought into exercise. His brother Esek had already won a name as an expert navigator, and commander, and the naval committee had full confidence in his ability had full confidence in his boldness and ability to take command of the first armed fleet. John Adams who was associated with Hopkins on this committee says, "The pleasantest part of my labors for the four years I spent in Congress from 1774 to 1778, was in this naval committee. Mr. Lee and Mr. Gadsden were sensible men, and very eheeful sic, but Gov. Hopkins of Rhode Island, above seventy years of age, kept us all alive. Upon business his experience and judgment were very useful. But when the business of the evening was over he kept us in conversation till eleven sometimes twelve o'clock. His custom was to drink nothing all day until eight in the evening, then his beverage was Jamaica spirits and water. It gave him wit, humor, anecdotes, science and learning. He had read Greek, Roman and British history and was familiar with English poetry, particularly Pope, Thomson and Milton, and the flow of his soul made all of his reading our own, and seemed to bring in recollection in all of us all we had ever read. I could neither eat nor drink in those days, the other gentlemen were very temperate. Hopkins never drank to excess, but all he drank was immediately not only converted into wit, sense, knowledge and good humor, but inspired us all with similar qualities."

He was a member of the committee which drew up and reported the articles of confederation. All through the struggle for independence he was a firm and unflinching supporter of the cause of the Colonies, and wrote by order of the General Assembly "The rights of the Colonies examined," a masterly production which was reprinted in London. His advice to his fellow-citizens was—

—"Your cause is just,
Strike for freedom, strike and trust."

Among the great men of those trying times none were more often consulted, none more revered and honored than Stephen Hopkins.

There were younger men, who were more active physically, but for sound judgement sic and real genuine wisdom, he was—

"Conspicuous, like an oak of healthiest bough,
Deep rooted in his country's love.  He stood
And gave his hand to virtue, helping up
His countrymen to honor and renown,
And in his countenance sublime, expressed
A nation's majesty, and, yet was meek
And humble."

He was a firm believer in the religion of Jesus Christ. The evidences of christianity were to him more than external—but convincing the reason, they reached the heart and shed abroad an internal light and conviction, which left no room for doubt.

The benign influence of these principles pervaded his entire life, public and private.

                                  "He gave
Example to the meanest of the fear
Of God, and all integrity of life
And manners; who august, yet lowly; who,
Severe, yet gracious; in his very heart
Detesting all oppression, all intent
Of private aggrandizement; and the first
In every public duty."

He was a projector and patron of the free schools of Providence which are to-day among the most valued institutions of the state. In 1784, Rhode Island college conferred him the title of LL.D. The testimony to his intellectual greatness and his literary and scientific achievements is ample and a few quotations from his contemporaries and other persons are here inserted.

"This gentleman," says Dwight, in the "Lives of the Signers," "furnishes another instance of the power of a strong mind, and application to study, by which a want of enlarged means for acquiring an early and systematic education, is overcome—many of which may be seen in these biographical sketches of these truly great men, who exerted a commanding influence in the struggle for American Independence. By indulging his desire after knowledge, with a close application to books, he stored his mind with much general information, and became to a good degree a scholar, a man of science and general literature.

He mingled considerably in public debate, but though he always spoke to the point on every subject, he was by his brevity sure never to weary his hearers. He was in his time a noted mathematician, and rendered great assistance in observing the transit of Venus which occurred in 1769."

Another biographer thus remarks:  "From the vigor of his understanding, and the intuitive energy of his mind, he had established a character not only prominent in the annals of his country, but in the walks of literature. Possessing a powerful genius, his constant and assiduous application in the pursuit of knowledge eminently distinguished him in the first class of literati. A leading and active promoter of literary and scientific intelligence, he attached himself in early youth to the study of books and men, and continued to be a constant and improving reader—a close and careful observer, until the period of his death. Holding all abridgements and abridgers in very low estimation, it is cited, in exemplification of his habitual deep research, and indefatigability with which he penetrated the recesses instead of skimming the surface of things, that instead of depending upon summaries and contracted authorities, he perseveringly perused the whole of the great collection of both ancient and modern history, compiled about half a century ago, by some distinguished scholars in Europe; and that he also read through all of Thurloe's and other ponderous collections of State papers."

Dr. Manning, president of Rhode Island College, writing to Rev. Dr. Rippon of London, July 22, 1785, says:  "Last week we buried our venerable Chancellor Stephen Hopkins, Esq., LL.D., for many years Governor of the Colony, and one of those distinguished worthies who composed the First Congress. He was one of the greatest men our country has reared. At the first meeting of the Corporation he was chosen Chancellor, and continued in that office till his death. In him the College has lost a most venerable member and officer, and for myself, a particular friend."

Mr. Guild, Librarian of the Brown University, says:  "Dr. Manning's brief eulogium upon his particular friend, Governor Hopkins, the first Chancellor of the College, was well deserved. This great and good man closed his long, honorable, and useful life on the 13th of July, 1785, in the 79th year of his age. He professed the principles of the Society of Friends, at whose place of worship he was a regular attendant. He was a firm believer in the christian religion, but not bigoted in his belief; treating all societies of religious people with respect. He was a warm friend of the College and labored zealously to promote its interest."

      —"His—was a national repast;
Exertion, vigilance, a mind in arms,
A military discipline of thought,
To foil temptation in the doubtful field;
And ever-waking ardour for the right."

Near the close of his life he was visited by Gen. Washington, whom he received and entertained with the greatest urbanity.

Several biographers have written his life, but the best is that found in the Sixth Volume of "Sanderson's Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence."

We insert here as a fitting close to this brief sketch the inscription upon the monument erected over his grave in the "North Burying-Ground" in Providence.

(East Side)
Hopkins.
Born, March, 7, 1707.
Died, July, 13, 1785.
(West Side)
Sacred to the memory of
the illustrious
Stephen Hopkins
of Revolutionary fame,
attested by his signature
to the Declaration
of our national independence.
Great in council,
from sagacity of mind;
magnanimous in sentiment,
firm in purpose
and good as great
from benevolence of heart:
he stood in the first rank of
statesmen and patriots.
Self-Educated,
yet among the most learned of men;
his vast treasury of useful knowledge;
his great retentive
and reflection powers
combined with his social nature
made him the most interesting
of companions in private life.
(South Side)
His name is engraved
on the immortal records
of the revolution,
and can never die.
His titles to that distinction
are engraved
on this monument
reared by
the grateful admiration
of his native state
in honor
of her favorite son.



Biography No. VII — Jonathan Maxcy, D.D.

Rev. Jonathan Maxcy, D.D., was born in Attleboro, [now Bristol Co.,] Mass., Sept. 2, 1768. Early in youth he showed a love for books, and was noted for excellence in scholastic attainments. He entered Brown University, and graduated at the early age of nineteen, and on that occasion distinguished himself by delivering a poem on the future prospects of America, and the valedictory oration, both of which were highly applauded. Directly after graduating, he was appointed tutor in the College, which position he filled with great acceptance four years, or until 1791, when he was chosen pastor of the Baptist Church in Providence. In 1792, he assumed the duties of the Presidency of the College, having been elected President pro tempore, being only twenty-four years of age. In 1797, he was formally elected President, as appears from the records of the Corporation. "The splendor of his genius and his brilliant talents as an orator and divince," says Dr. Blake, "had become widely known, and under his guidance the college acquired a reputation for belles-lettres and eloquence inferior to no Seminary of learning in the United States." "His voice," says the Hon. Tristam Burgess, one of his most devoted and admiring pupils, "seemed not to have reached the deep tone of full age; but most all to resemble that of those concerning whom our Lord, the Savior of the world said 'of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.' The eloquence of Maxcy was mental. You seemed to hear the soul of the man, and each one of the largest assembly in the most extended place of worship received the slightest impulse of his silver voice as if he stood at his very ear. So intensely would he enchain attention, that in the most thronged audiences you heard nothing but him and the pulsations of your own heart. His utterance was not more perfect, than the whole discourse was instructive and enchanting."

In the year 1802, having resigned his office, Dr. Maxcy was appointed President of Union College, Schenectady, [now Schenectady Co.,] N. Y., as successor of the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Edwards, deceased. In reference to this appointment, we find in Forsyth's Memoir of the Rev. Dr. Alexander Proudfit, a curious and interesting letter from the Rev. J. B. Johnson, then of Albany and a trustee of the college, objecting to Maxcy on the ground of his being a Baptist, and hence that his influence as such would be unpropitious to the prosperity of the Institution, the support of the College being derived chiefly from those who were opposed to the Baptist persuasion, and, perhaps, had no inconsiderable prejudice against them.

The frivolousness of this objection is the more apparent when it is remembered that Union College does not claim to be of any particular denominational cast, but welcomes all of whatever persuasion to her fountains of literature. Another objection was, that he appeared to the writer to be a violent politician, judging from a Fourth of July oration delivered by him, which had been praised as containing some very brilliant expressions and keen sarcasm against the Anti-Federalists. (Those who have read the oration, can judge for themselves how much importance is to be attached to this objection. The orator merely reveals his own political views, and pays a slight compliment to his political opponents.)

A third and more serious objection was the unsoundness of his theological views, of which the following extract from the preface to his sermon on the death of Manning, re-published in June, 1796, was quoted for illustration:  "The only thing essential to christian union," says Maxcy, "is love, or benevolent affection. Hence it is with me a fixed principle to censure no man except for immorality.

A diversity of religious opinions, in a state so imperfect, so obscure, and sinful as the present, is to be expected. An entire coincidence in sentiment, even in important doctrines, is by no means essential to christian society, or the attainment of eternal felicity. How many are they, who appear to have been subjects of regeneration, who have scarcely an entire comprehensive view of one doctrine of the Bible? Will the gates of Paradise be barred against these because they did not have the penetrating sagacity of an Edwards, or a Hopkins? Or shall these great theological champions engross heaven and shout hallelujahs from its walls, while a Priestly, a Price and a Winchester, merely for a difference in opinion, though pre-eminent in virtue, must sink into the regions of darkness and pain?"

A more unfortunate quotation could scarcely have been made. Breathing as it does the spirit of charity to all of whatever religious faith, the narrow views usually attributed to Baptists meets its own refutation. It is nothing strange that Dr. Maxcy, notwithstanding these objections, was chosen President of the college. Previous to this event, when only thirty-three years of age, Harvard University conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity, such was his celebrity as a scholar and divine. Here at Schenectady he officiated with an increasing reputation until 1804, when he accepted the unsought appointment of South Carolina College, with the fond anticipation of finding a warmer climate more congenial to his physical constitution.

Over this latter institution he presided almost without a precedent in popularity, during the remainder of his useful life.

In his person Dr. Maxcy was small in stature, but of a fine and well proportioned figure. His features, says his biographer, were regular and manly, indicating intelligence and benevolence, and especially in conversation and public speaking they were strongly expressive. Grace and dignity were also combined in all his movements. His writings, or "Literary Remains," edited by the Rev. Dr. Romeo Elton, were published in 1844, in a handsome octavo volume. Eight years later a selection from his "Remains," consisting of collegiate addresses, was published in London, making a pleasant little duodecimo volume of one hundred and ninety-one pages. This was also edited by Dr. Elton.

Dr. Maxcy was married to Susanna Hopkins,* daughter of Commodore Esek Hopkins, of Providence, a name associated with the American navy and the history of the Revolution, (and the grand-daughter of William Hopkins and Ruth Wilkinson, his wife.) Besides several daughters, they had four sons, all liberally educated. One of whom, the Hon. Virgil Maxcy, was killed by the explosion of the great gun on board the United States steam-ship Princeton, during a pleasure excursion on the Potomac.

Dr. Maxcy died at Columbia, South Carolina, June 4, 1820, aged fifty-two years, leaving the alumni of three different colleges to regret his early death—a devoted wife and family to weep his loss—and a country who loved and honored him to mourn over his departure in the midst of a life of virtue and usefulness. No painted canvas, or sculptured marble perpetuates the likeness of Dr. Maxcy; but "so long" says Elton, "as genius, hallowed and sublimed by piety, shall command veneration, he will be remembered in his country as a star of the first magnitude."


* The following is copied from 2. Book of Marriages, p. 167 Providence:

    Jonathan Maxcy,
[BRACKET]
  Cornelia Manning, b. Jun. 11, 1792.
            and
  Amy Hopkins, b. May 8, 1794.
    Susanna Hopkins.
  Desire Burroughs, b. February 19, 1796.


  Esek Hopkins, b. March 16, 1799.


  Stephen Hopkins, b. February 6, 1801.

Virgil sic was undoubtedly a younger son.



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