HOPKINS, ESEK (1718-1802), the first admiral of the United States navy, was born at Scituate, Rhode Island, in 1718. He belonged to one of the most prominent Puritan families of New England. At the age of twenty he went to sea, and rapidly came to the front as a good sailor and skilful trader. Marrying, three years later, into a prosperous family of Newport, and thus increasing his influence in Rhode Island, he became commodore of a fleet of seventeen merchantmen, the movements of which he directed with skill and energy. In war as well as peace, Hopkins was establishing his reputation as one of the leading colonial seamen, for as captain of a privateer he made more than one brilliant and successful venture during the Seven Years' War. In the interval between voyages, moreover, he was engaged in Rhode Island politics, and rendered efficient support to his brother Stephen against the Ward faction. At the outbreak of the War of Independence, Hopkins was appointed brigadier-general by Rhode Island, was commissioned, December I 77S> by the Continental Congress, commander-in-chief of the navy, and in January 1776 hoisted his flag as admiral of the eight converted merchantmen which then constituted the navy of the United States. His first cruise resulted in a great acquisition of material of war and an indecisive fight with H.M.S. " Glasgow." At first this created great enthusiasm, but criticism soon made itself heard. Hopkins and two of his captains were tried for breach of orders, and, though ably defended by John Adams, were censured by Congress. The commands, nevertheless, were not interfered with, and a prize was soon afterwards named after the admiral by their orders. But the difficulties and mutual distrust continually increased, and in 1777 Congress summarily dismissed Hopkins from his command, on the complaint of some of his officers. Before the order arrived, the admiral had detected the conspiracy against him, and had had the ringleaders tried and degraded by court-martial. But the Congress followed up its order by dismissing him from the navy. For the rest of his life he lived in Rhode Island, playing a prominent part in state politics, and he died at Providence in 1802.
See Edward Field, Life ofEsek Hopkins (Providence, 1898) ; also an article by R. Grieve in the New England Magazine of November 1897.
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)