Do You Know About Francis Hopkinson?


Did you know that Francis Hopkinson, Pennsylvania Signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a multi-talented man wrote music and satirical pieces, along with producing pieces of art and inventing or improving items?  Some of the items he improved or invented were the harpsichord pic, ships logs, and a shaded candlestick.  He was also a poet and wrote several different pieces such as:

Give Me Thy Heart
Give me thy heart as I give mine,
Our hands in mutual bonds will join,
Propitious may our union prove,
What’s life without the joys of love?
Should care knock rudely at our gate,
Admittance to obtain,
Cupid shall at the casement wait,
And bid him call again!
Give me thy heart as I give mine
Our hands in mutual bonds will join,
Propitious may our union prove,
What’s life without the joys of love?

His other satirical writings would address the teaching of English through grammar, the learning of the Latin and Greek languages, along with his contempt for some of the arts and sciences that were being taught in colleges.

Writing was not the only thing he contributed to the cause or the country at large.  He was also an artist who could draw and paint.  His pre-1776 artistic contributions include; designing the seal for the American Philosophical Society and the New Jersey State Seal.  In 1777, he submits a design for the flag of the United States and it was accepted.  There are no sketches of his flag existing today, that we know of, but the original descriptions state that there would be 13 alternating red and white stripes with a 13-star blue field.  The stars were originally meant to be in rows and six-pointed, similar to the Union Jack.  Some accounts say that Betsey Ross suggested the stars be changed to five points, but these accounts cannot be verified.  This particular flag design has been incorporated into other designs, which he is credited, such as the Navy Flag, for its use of red stripes, and the Great Seal of the United States, which has the flag design within it.  Unfortunately, other than Hopkinson’s bill to the Congress, we cannot verify for certain he was the designer of the flag but it has been accepted by historians that he designed it.  In his bill, he asks for “a Quarter cask of the Public Wine”[1] Congress refuses to pay him though because they say he did it as a Treasury employee and, therefore, had already been compensated.  Hopkinson would resubmit the bill. The matter would be dropped when he submitted his resignation from the Treasury.  When he worked on the Great Seal of the United States, he was part of a series of teams which worked on separate sections of the seal.  His team’s contribution was the six-pointed star about the eagle’s head, and the olive branch, as well as the shield with the stars and stripes.  He also would submit designs for U.S. currency. He also liked to draw caricatures of his fellow Congressman while sitting in the Continental Congress.[2]

In addition to his artistic skills, Hopkinson wrote the first American opera.  His interest in music began back in 1754 when he studied the harpsichord and learned to play the organ.  In 1757, he performs Alfred a Masque by Thomason & Malet but he revised some of the music and composed other original pieces for his program that evening.  He then went on to publish Seven Songs, which is a collection of psalm tunes.  It was noted in some books, that, he was possibly the first publisher of a book of music.  In 1765, he published a translation of the Psalter for the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of New York.  He would continue to write songs throughout the 1760’s and has a large volume of work.  He built a keyboard for Benjamin Franklin and wrote the earliest American secular song called My Days Have Been So Wonderous Free.[3]

Francis Hopkinson was more than a signer of the Declaration of Independence, he was a well-rounded American who contributed to society in a variety of ways.  He is truly an inspiring American that needs to be introduced to young people.

[1] Kiernan, Denise, and Joseph D’Agnese. Signing their lives away: the fame and misfortune of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence 92

[2]Kiernan, Denise, and Joseph D’Agnese. Signing their lives away: the fame and misfortune of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence

[3] Kiernan, Denise, and Joseph D’Agnese. Signing their lives away: the fame and misfortune of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence

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