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Francis Hopkinson (September 21,[Note 1] 1737 – May 9, 1791) was an author and composer. He designed the first official American flag,[1] Continental paper money, and the first United States coin. 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 also later served as a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania after the ratification of the United States Constitution.

Francis Hopkinson
Francis Hopkinson.jpg
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania
In office
September 26, 1789 – May 9, 1791
Appointed byGeorge Washington
Preceded bySeat established by 1 Stat. 73
Succeeded byWilliam Lewis
Personal details
Francis Hopkinson

(1737-10-02)October 2, 1737
Province of Pennsylvania,
British America
DiedMay 9, 1791(1791-05-09) (aged 53)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Resting placeChrist Church Burial Ground
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
ChildrenJoseph Hopkinson
FatherThomas Hopkinson
RelativesJames Johnson
EducationUniversity of Pennsylvania (A.B., A.M.)
AwardsMagellanic Premium (1790)


Education and careerEdit

Coat of Arms of Francis Hopkinson

Born on October 2, 1737 (Gregorian), September 21, 1737 (Julian) in Philadelphia, Province of Pennsylvania, British America,[2][3] 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.[2] He was the first native American composer of a secular song in 1759.[3] 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.[3] He entered private practice in Philadelphia, Province of Pennsylvania from 1761 to 1766.[2] He was Collector of Customs in Salem, Province of New Jersey in 1763.[2] Hopkinson spent from May 1766 to August 1767 in England in hopes of becoming Commissioner of Customs for North America.[4]:133 Although unsuccessful, he spent time with the future Prime Minister Lord North, Hopkinson's cousin James Johnson and the painter Benjamin West.[4] He was a merchant in Philadelphia, Province of Pennsylvania, who sold varieties of fabric and port wine, starting in 1768.[5] He was Collector of Customs for New Castle, Delaware Colony from 1772 to 1773.[2] He resumed private practice in Bordentown from 1773 to 1774.[2] He was a member of the New Jersey Provincial Council from 1774 to 1776.[2] He was a member of the Executive Council of New Jersey from January 13, 1775, to November 15, 1775.[3] He was admitted to practice before the bar of the Supreme Court of New Jersey on May 8, 1775.[3] He was elected an Associate Justice of that court in 1776, but declined the office.[3] He was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress (Continental Congress) from June 22, 1776, to November 30, 1776.[2][3] He was a signer of the United States Declaration of Independence.[3] He was a member of the Navy Board in Philadelphia from 1776 to 1777.[2] He was Treasurer for the Continental Loan Office in Philadelphia from 1778 to 1781.[2] He was Judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania from 1779 to 1789.[2] He was a member of the Pennsylvania Convention which ratified the United States Constitution.[4]:chapter VI:325[3]

Federal judicial serviceEdit

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.[2] He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 26, 1789, and received his commission the same day.[2] His service terminated on May 9, 1791, due to his death in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,[2] of a sudden apoplectic seizure.[4]:449 He was interred in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.[6][3]

Personal lifeEdit

Hopkinson was the son of Thomas Hopkinson[4]:30 and Mary Johnson Hopkinson.[4]:16 and 448 He married Ann Borden on September 1, 1768.[4]:164 They would have five children.[4]:449 and 450 He was the father of Joseph Hopkinson, who was a member of the United States House of Representatives and also became a federal judge.[3]

Cultural contributionsEdit

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).[7]

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.[8]

At his alma mater, University of Pennsylvania, one of the buildings in the Fisher-Hassenfeld College House is named after him.[9]



  • 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


Musical compositionsEdit

  • Collection of Plain Tunes with a Few from Anthems and Hymns. Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1763.
  • Temple of Minerva. (The First American Opera)[10] Printed by Benjamin Carr, 1781.
  • Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano. Printed by T. Dobson, 1788.[11]
    • No. 3: "Beneath a weeping willow's shade"

Flag controversyEdit

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

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.[12]

Hopkinson is recognized as the designer of the Flag of the United States, and the journals of the Continental Congress support this.[13] 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 £2,700, 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.[14] 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.[4]:240–249 This referred to Hopkinson's work on the Great Seal.[15] He served as a consultant to a committee working on the design of the Great Seal.[16][17] Fourteen men worked on the Great Seal, including two other consultants – Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere (first Great Seal committee) and William Barton (third committee).[18] No known committee of the Continental Congress was ever documented with the assignment to design the national flag or naval flag.[19]

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 sketches of the Great Seal of the United States and his design for the Admiralty Board Seal.[20] The rough sketch of his second Great Seal proposal has 7 white stripes and 6 red stripes.[21] The impression of Hopkinson's Admiralty Board Seal[22] 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.[23] 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.[24] This is bolstered by his original sketch[25] that showed asterisks with six points.

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.[26] 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.[27]

Hopkinson's letter and responseEdit

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."[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.[23] A parallel flag for the national flag was most likely intended by Hopkinson with white, outer stripes[23] 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).[29] Ironically, the Navy flag was preferred as the national flag.

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)[30]], and therefore cannot claim the sole merit of them and not entitled in this respect to the full sum charged."[31] 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.[32] Therefore, he would not be eligible to be paid for the Great Seal.[16] Furthermore, the Great Seal project was still a work in progress. The Seal was not finalized until June 20, 1782.[33]

Great Seal of the United StatesEdit

Francis Hopkinson provided assistance to the second committee that designed the Great Seal of the United States. Congress created the second committee on March 25, 1780.[34] Before he worked on the second committee, Hopkinson had designed the Great Seal of New Jersey with assistance from Pierre Eugene Du Simitiere in 1776.[35]

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 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 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.[36][37][38]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hopkinson was born on September 21, 1737, according to the then-used Julian calendar (old style). In 1752, however, Great Britain and all its colonies adopted the Gregorian calendar (new style) which moved Hopkinson's birthday 11 days forward to October 2, 1737. See George E. Hastings, The Life and Works of Francis Hopkinson. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1926), p. 43.


  1. ^ Leepson, Marc; DeMille, Nelson. Flag: An American Biography. St. Martin's Griffin. p. 33. ISBN 978-0-312-32309-7.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Francis Hopkinson at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k United States Congress. "Francis Hopkinson (id: H000783)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Hastings, George (1926). The Life and Works of Francis Hopkinson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  5. ^ Hastings, pp. 157 and 158.
  6. ^ Francis Hopkinson at Find a Grave
  7. ^ Charles Wells Moulton, ed. (1902). The Library of Literary Criticism of English and American Authors: 1785–1824. Buffalo, NY: The Moulton Publishing Company. p. 131.
  8. ^ Francis Hopkinson biography at the Library of Congress Performing Arts Digital Library; accessed 30 September 2015.
  9. ^ "Hopkinson | Fisher College House". Retrieved 2016-06-02.
  10. ^ "Pennsylvania Center for the Book on Hopkinson and his writings".
  11. ^ "Seven Songs for the Harpsichord or Forte Piano". Early American Secular Music and its European Sources, 1589–1839. Archived from the original on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2009-05-05.
  12. ^ Zall, Paul M. (1976). Comical Spirit of Seventy-Six: The Humor of Francis Hopkinson. San Marino, California: Huntington Library. p. 10.
  13. ^ Furlong, William Rea; McCandless, Byron (1981). So Proudly We Hail. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 101.
  14. ^ Williams, Jr., Earl P. (October 2012). "Did Francis Hopkinson Design Two Flags?" (PDF). NAVA News (216): 7–9. Retrieved 16 February 2017.
  15. ^ Williams, Jr., Earl P. (Spring 1988). "The 'Fancy Work' of Francis Hopkinson: Did He Design the Stars and Stripes?". Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives. 20 (1): 48.
  16. ^ a b "Journals of the Continental Congress --FRIDAY, OCTOBER 27, 1780".
  17. ^ Buescher, John. "All Wrapped up in the Flag",, accessed August 21, 2011.
  18. ^ Williams, Jr., Earl P. (June 14, 1996). "A Civil Servant Designed Our National Banner: The Unsung Legacy of Francis Hopkinson". The New Constellation (newsletter of the National Flag Foundation). Special Edition #7: 8.
  19. ^ Canby, George; Balderston, Lloyd (1909). The Evolution of the American Flag. Philadelphia: Ferris & Leach. p. 48.
  20. ^ Williams (2012), pp. 7-9.
  21. ^ Patterson, Richard Sharpe; Dougall, Richardson (1978) [1976 i.e. 1978]. The Eagle and the Shield: A History of the Great Seal of the United States. Department and Foreign Service series; 161 Department of State publication; 8900. Washington : Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs, Dept. of State : for sale by the Supt. of Docs., U.S. Govt. Print. Off. p. 37. LCCN 78602518. OCLC 4268298.
  22. ^ Moeller, Henry W., Ph.D. (January 2002). "Two Early American Ensigns on the Pennsylvania State Arms". NAVA News (173): fn. 41 & 42.
  23. ^ a b c Williams (2012), pp. 7–9.
  24. ^ Williams (2012), p. 8.
  25. ^ "The eagle and the shield : a history of the great seal of the United States".
  26. ^ Canby and Balderston, pp. 110–11.
  27. ^ Cooper, Grace Rogers (1973). Thirteen-Star Flags: Keys to Identification. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press. p. 11.
  28. ^ Leepson, p. 33
  29. ^ Joint Committee on Printing, U.S. Congress (2007). Our Flag (Rev. ed.109th Congress, 2nd Session ed.). Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. ISBN 978-0-16-076598-8.
  30. ^ Hastings (1926), p. 241-242.
  31. ^ Williams (1988), p. 47.
  32. ^ Williams (1988), p. 48.
  33. ^ "The eagle and the shield : a history of the great seal of the United States".
  34. ^ Patterson and Dougall, p. 32.
  35. ^ Hastings, p. 217.
  36. ^ "$50_note_1778".
  37. ^ "Continental Currency: September 26, 1778".
  38. ^ Patterson and Dougall, p. 68


External linksEdit

Legal offices
Preceded by
Seat established by 1 Stat. 73
Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
William Lewis