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Francis Hopkinson - One of America's Founding Fathers

Posted on Sunday, January 12, 2020

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Birth: October 2, 1737
Death: May 9, 1791 (age 53)
Colony: New Jersey
Occupation: Author, Composer, Merchant, Lawyer, Politician, Judge
Significance: Signed The Declaration of Independence (at the age of 38); and credited with designing the first official American Flag

Francis Hopkinson portrait hanging in the Second Bank of the United States Portrait Gallery

Francis Hopkinson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. Born in Philadelphia, Hopkinson attended the College of Philadelphia (now the University of Pennsylvania) and obtained a Master of Arts degree in 1760. Hopkinson worked for a time as a composer, becoming the first person born in the American Colonies to compose a secular song. But Hopkins also began studying law and ran a private law practice in Philadelphia starting in 1761.

In 1768, he again changed careers and started a mercantile business that imported fabric and wines to Philadelphia. Hopkinson also became involved in politics, holding offices in Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey. While living in New Jersey, Hopkinson once again began practicing law in 1773, and as tensions worsened between the American Colonies and Great Britain, Hopkinson became a leading voice for Independence in New Jersey.

In 1776, the New Jersey legislature was frustrated that none of the their delegates to the Second Continental Congress supported Independence. In June of 1776, New Jersey recalled all of their delegates to the Second Continental Congress and selected five new delegates that were known to favor Independence. Hopkinson was one of the five new delegates, and he arrived at Independence Hall to on June 22, 1776, just in time to vote for Independence. Hopkinson also signed The Declaration of Independence.

After signing The Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776, Hopkinson remained in the Continental Congress for about a year. During this time, Hopkinson is credited with designing many symbols of the new nation, most prominently the United States Flag. Hopkinson is also said to have designed paper money and the first United States coin, as well as the Great Seal of the United States. It is unclear however how much these designs can be attributed to Hopkinson or to other collaborators. And some believe that Hopkinson's design of the flag was simply a standardization of a flag design that had already existed, perhaps even designed in part by the woman famously known in America as the creator of the first American Flag, Betsy Ross.

After leaving the Continental Congress, Hopkinson remained in his hometown of Philadelphia and worked as a judge for the rest of his life, until his sudden death in 1791 at the age of 53. Hopkinson was buried in Philadelphia at Christ Church Burial Ground.

Francis Hopkinson in Philadelphia

Hopkinson lived virtually his entire life in Philadelphia since it was the city where he was born and raised and where he attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. Hopkinson briefly lived in New Jersey in the early 1770s, and it was New Jersey which Hopkinson represented in the Second Continental Congress. While serving as a member of the Second Continental Congress, Hopkinson again lived in Philadelphia and worked at Independence Hall, where he signed The Declaration of Independence. Hopkinson then lived in Philadelphia for the rest of his life, and he was buried in the City of Philadelphia at Christ Church Burial Ground. A plaque commemorating Hopkinson for signing The Declaration of Independence can be found on Signers' Walk on the 600 block of Chestnut Street (between 5th and 6th Streets). Signers' Garden pays tribute to the Founding Fathers, including those such as Hopkinson, who signed The Declaration of Independence. Signer's Walk, Signers' Garden, Christ Church, Christ Church Burial Ground and Independence Hall are all visited on The Constitutional Walking Tour!

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