HOPKINSON, FRANCIS (1737-1791), American author and statesman, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on the 2nd of October 1737. He was a son of Thomas Hopkinson (1709-1751), a prominent lawyer of Philadelphia, one of the first trustees of the College of Philadelphia, now the University of Pennsylvania, and first president of the American Philosophical Society. Francis was the first student to enter the College of Philadelphia.
from which he received his bachelor's degree in 1757 and his master's degree in 1760. He then studied law in the office in Philadelphia of Benjamin Chew, and was admitted to the bar in 1761. Removing after 1768 to Bordentown, New Jersey, he became a member of the council of that colony in 1774. On the approach of the War of Independence he identified himself with the patriot or whig element in the colony, and in 1776 and 1777 he was a delegate to the Continental Congress. He served on the committee appointed to frame the Articles of Confederation, executed, with John Nixon (1733-1808) and John Wharton, the "business of the navy" under the direction of the marine committee, and acted for a time as treasurer of the Continental loan office. From 1779 to 1789 he was judge of the court of admiralty in Pennsylvania, and from 1790 until his death was United States district judge for that state. He was famous for his versatility, and besides being a distinguished lawyer, jurist and political leader, was " a mathematician, a chemist, a physicist, a mechanician, an inventor, a musician and a composer of music, a man of literary knowledge and practice, a writer of airy and dainty songs, a clever artist with pencil and brush and a humorist of unmistakeable power " (Tyler, Literary History of the American Revolution). It is as a writer, however, that he will be remembered. He ranks as one of the three leading satirists on the patriot side during the War of Independence. His ballad, The Battle of the Kegs (1778), was long exceedingly popular. To alarm the British force at Philadelphia the Americans floated kegs charged with gunpowder down the Delaware river towards that city, and the British, alarmed for the safety of their shipping, fired with cannon and small arms at everything they saw floating in the river. Hopkinson's ballad is an imaginative expansion of the actual facts. To the cause of the revolution this ballad, says Professor Tyler, " was perhaps worth as much just then as the winning of a considerable battle." Hopkinson's principal writings are The Pretty Story (1774), A Prophecy (1776) and The Political Catechism (1777). Among his songs may be mentioned The Treaty and The New Roof, a Song for Federal Mechanics; and the best known of his satirical pieces are Typographical Method of conducting a Quarrel, Essay on White Washing and Modern Learning. His Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings were published at Philadelphia in 3 vols., 1792.
His son, JOSEPH HOPKINSON (1770-1842), graduated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1786, studied law, and was a Federalist member of the national House of Representatives in 1815-1819, Federal judge of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1828 until his death, and a member of the state constitutional convention of 1837. He is better known, however, as the author of the patriotic anthem " Hail Columbia " (1798).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)