Do You Know About Stephen Hopkins?

Do you know that Stephen Hopkins, RI Declaration Signer, served on and off between 1755 and 1766, as Governor of Rhode Island and was involved in a defamation lawsuit? While he was governor, he wrote and published a pamphlet, in 1757, regarding an issue in the French and Indian War.  In this pamphlet, he was defending the Committee of War and complaining of the disposition of some men, who are attempting to obstruct the execution of different measures.  Samuel Ward responded to it with a bitter and personal reply. In his reply, he states, “I shall therefore conclude with observing, that when the Governor of a Colony had so little regard to his Character as to print absolute Falsehood, and is so fond of his Post as to stick at nothing to keep it, the world will judge what sense of duty he has of his Duty to God and his Country.”[1]  Soon after Ward’s reply was printed, the Governor was defeated in the next election.

On June 20, 1757, Governor Hopkins files suit for libel in Worcester County, Massachusetts, after he had previously thought of dueling Ward deciding death would be too good for Ward.  In his suit, he states that Ward intentionally slandered him and knew what he was saying was false.  He did it intentionally to “defame the plaintiff and deprive him of the good opinion of the said freeman and thereby caused him to be displaced from the office of Governor…”[2]  The suit comes to trial in September of 1757, but the outcome is in favor of the defendant Ward.  Governor Hopkins would appeal to the Superior Court of Judicature, but they eventually dismiss the suit as being unprepared and pays Samuel Ward £22.13.9.[3]

[1]Hopkins V. Ward, ‑‑An Ante‑Revolutionary Lawsuit” The Monthly Law Reporter (1848‑1866) 22, no. 6 (10, 1859): 327.

[2]Hopkins V. Ward, ‑‑An Ante‑Revolutionary Lawsuit” 327.

[3] For those unfamiliar with how the British write monetary amounts, the stated amount reads as 22 pounds, 13 shillings and 9 pence.