About the year 1703, Mr. Joseph Wilkinson, a son of Capt. Samuel Wilkinson, Esq., of Providence, came to live in the northwest part of Scituate, known by its Indian name, Chapumishcook. He married Martha Pray, a grand-daughter of one of the first settlers in the town. There was a crooked road leading from Providence to this neighborhood at this time. The first barn built in what is now Scituate was erected by him. He also brought the first cow into the town, and a piece of meadow where he pastured his cow, a little north, running into Foster, where the first hay was cut had been created, it is supposed, by a beaver dam in the vicinity, causing an overflow of water and rotting the trees so that they fell down and gave an opportunity for the grass to grow.
Mr. Wilkinson was a surveyor, and much employed in this work in the town. In a deed of 1738 the surveyor's return was made under his hand. His residence was on the estate improved afterward by his great grandson, John Harris, Esq., in the most northern turnpike, a pleasant spot and a valuable farm. At the raising of his barn men came from Smithfield and Glocester to assist the Scituate people in its raising. When they had raised it they all sat down upon a large log and drank metheglin, a beverage made of honey and water and fermented, often enriched with spices. Some eighty years ago an old man named Hopkins, nearly eighty years of age, who was at the raising, and had a fresh recollection of the event, came along, and related it to the family resident there, and stated his participation in it. The barn had been taken down a little while before he came.
The house now standing on this farm is quite a large one, as are also the barns. The house has been twice repaired and enlarged by additions, but no part of the old Wilkinson house is retained in it. Two magnificent chestnut trees are standing in a lot opposite the house, of apparent great age.
Some anecdotes connected with his wife, whose maiden name was Martha Pray, illustrate the perils and heroism of the early settlers. Her husband, being absent at work some two miles off, she discovered a bear upon a sweet apple tree, shaking off the fruit that he might devour it on the ground. As it was the only tree of the kind they had, and highly valued Mrs. Wilkinson not a little regretted the absence of her husband, whose gun kept loaded for such emergencies, was in its place on the pegs at the side of the wall. The apples continued to fall and rattle on the ground, and there was no other help at hand but the gun, which Martha, in a fit of desperation, took into her hands and going out the door which stood open, she took aim and fired. Dropping the gun on the ground immediately after the discharge, alarmed and trembling at what she had done, she ran back into the house and shut the door, afraid to look back and see what she had done, or the effect of the shot. When Mr. Wilkinson returned home, and was informed by his wife of what she had done, he went out to the tree and found the bear dead on the ground, so that his faithful and resolute wife had not only saved the cherished apples, but had secured some good meat as a supply.
This young married couple had also to guard their sheep by night from bears and wolves by putting them in log enclosures near the house. On one occasion they were awakened by a bear rolling the logs away in order to get at the sheep, and had to get up and drive him away.
Another incident called for his wife's coolness, courage and wisdom. Roving Indians sometimes called at the houses of the first settlers -- a large party called at Mr. Wilkinson's house when none but his wife was at home. From their appearance, as she could not understand their language, she guessed that they wanted food, and she gave them all the provision she had in meat and meal. They took it and withdrew into a field near, made a fire and cooked and ate what had been given them, with great relish. It was no small relief to Mrs. Wilkinson, though she manifested no alarm, when they took departure.
They came back after a few days and brought some fine venison, which they left, apparently as a return for Mrs. Wilkinson's favors, and as an expression of their grateful sense of her kindness. In this way a friendship was created with the Indians, and they were often welcome and happy inmates of the Wilkinson household, and brought their baskets, moccasins and manufactures to barter off for food and other things which they wanted.
Mr. Wilkinson appears prominent in the first town meeting of Scituate after it was set off from Providence. He is called Lieut. Wilkinson, was elected a member of the Town Council and chosen Deputy.
Mr. William Hopkins, the only child of Major William Hopkins, of Providence, married Ruth Wilkinson, daughter of "Capt. Samuel Wilkinson, Esq.," as he was styled in public records, and immediately after his marriage removed to a farm in Scituate in the neighborhood of Lieut. Joseph Wilkinson, the brother of his wife. His house was small, but the land was good -- probably not much cleared for tillage -- in 1765, or thereabouts, when he took the place.
He is not much spoken of in the town records, and probably did not seek office but gave himself steadily to the work of his farm and the care of his family. His memory is chiefly connected with some of his children who became illustrious and reflected great honor on their parents, and on the state and nation. William was the first born. He went abroad, and was presented at the court in England, and so took the favor of the King from his fine manly appearance, that he was appointed Major by him. A part of the coat he wore at court has been preserved by his descendants, and I have seen it on exhibition at one of the late antiquarian exhibitions in Providence. His other children were Stephen, John, Eseck, Samuel, Hope, Abigail and Susanna.
Eseck, soon after the death of his father in the summer of 1738, a stout, tall and handsome young man, then in the twentieth year of his age, bid adieu to the old homestead and journeyed to Providence and became a sailor, soon rising to the position of Captain. He married when he was twenty-five years of age, Miss Desire Burroughs, daughter of Mr. Ezekiel Burroughs, of Newport, and took up his residence there. His conspicuous services in the war of the revolution, as the first commodore of the navy are well known. His fleet, consisting of the ships Alfred, Capt. Dudley Saltonstall, and the Columbus, Capt. Whipple, the brig Andrew Doria, Capt. Nicholas Biddle, and the Cabot, Capt. John B. Hopkins, son of Eseck, and the sloops Providence, Fly, Hornet and Wasp, put out to sea Feb. 17, 1776, with a smart north-east wind, and cruising among the Bahama Islands, captured the forts at New Providence, Nassau. This was a very fortunate affair, for the heavy ordinance and stores taken proved quite acceptable to the country. He captured two British armed vessels on his return.
The Commodore, or Admiral, as Washington addressed him, met with difficulties
in creating an efficient navy, and his force was wholly inadequate to protect
the long line of coast and meet the vessels of the English navy, and he
soon resigned and engaged in private armed vessels, as did his lieutenant,
the famous John Paul Jones. He was successful in capturing many British
vessels. In the collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society
is a French engraving of him, which has a splendid figure and a handsome
open countenance. It was circulated in France and this country in
the early part of the war. The Commodore's family clock has been
presented to Brown University, by his grand-daughter, Miss Elizabeth Angell.
He died in 1802, and was buried at North Providence.
Stephen Hopkins was still more distinguished than the Commodore. He was born March 7, 1707. But little is known of his boyhood, but he must, with the other sons of William, been early taught to labor on the farm.
There were no schools in his day, but his mother was a woman of marked talents and character, and no doubt instructed him in many things. It has come down to us that he inherited his abilities from her. His uncle Wilkinson, the surveyor, probably instructed him in that art, for we find him, still a youth, engaged in surveying. A strong passion for reading characterized his mature life. I was permitted to examine his library, which was large and valuable for the time. It would be interesting to know what books he read when a boy -- procured at home, or obtained from connections and friends, -- scarce, they probably were, and mostly of religious character, but we may be sure he searched them thoroughly. Other means of culture were at hand. The conversation of parents, of visitors at his father's house, with visits to other families, added to his store of knowledge. Letters were arriving from England; men and boys were returning from voyages at sea. Rhode Island being quite a maritime place, a minister would occasionally arrive from aboard and preach at a private house. If the school master passed through the place he may have said something. What other means had the boy Stephen Hopkins of education? Nature spread before him a beautiful panorama. His father's house, built on high land, overlooking a wide extent of country, presenting a succession of wooded summits, rounded in the blue sky, the aspect of the heavens, radiant at night, and the seasons,
"Whither the blossom blows, the summer ray
Russets the plain, inspiring autumn gleams,
Or winter rises in the blackening east."
all teaching some important lesson, and moulding the character: Thus grew up that youth, who became fond of poetry, and the author of some fine pieces, which have been preserved. I have stood upon the spot where the birth place of this signer of the Declaration of Independence drew out my thoughts to consider the localities of the place as sending their influenes to act upon his childhood. The foot-worn paths to the well, to the barn, and to the road, on account of a change of houses, the old one being much smaller, and built a little on the one side of the present structure, are not discernible. The garden in front of the house, on the opposite side of the road, and the family burying place, just outside of the garden walls, reach back to ancient times. The graves of successive residents are there, but no lines are on the stones that mark the last resting place of William and Ruth Hopkins, the parents of Governor and Admiral Hopkins. Would it not be well for the town of Scituate, on this centennial year, to put up in that ground a monument of honor and gratitude to the memory of those parents?
Stephen Hopkins married, June 27, 1726, Sarah, the youngest daughter of Major Silvanus Scott, of Providence. He married early, being only nineteen years of age -- his wife was about the same age. To create a home and a support for the newly married ones, the father of Stephen made him a gift of seventy acres of land, and his grandfather, Thomas Hopkins, bestowed upon his "loving grandson," as the will reads, an additional grant of ninety acres. The grandfather of Sarah was Mr. Richard Scott, of Providence, "gentleman," the term used to show his quality.
Four years after this marriage, the portion, now Scituate, was set off from Providence, and Stephen Hopkins, then only twenty-three years of age, was the Moderator chosen. This fact is significant of the very high opinion entertained of him in his native town, as a man of business and competent to preside over public meetings. Joseph Brown was chosen Town Clerk for the first year, an office which included the registration of deeds, and Stephen Hopkins was elected the year after, and this office he held for ten successive years, and then resigned.
Mr. Hopkins removed to Providence in 1744, and purchased an estate on South Main street, at the corner of what is now Hopkins street, named after him, but formerly Bank lane, because the first bank in Rhode Island was located at the foot of it.
He engaged in commerce at Providence, but was soon called to fill important places in the State, as Chief Justice and Governor -- appointed to the Judgeship in 1739. No man was so often chosen as Moderator of Town Meetings in Providence. He assisted astronomers in making observations on the transit of Venus, at Providence, having a high mathematical reputation. His zeal for liberty led him in early life, and later, to write and publish papers on the "Rights of the Colonies," and to hold correspondence with distinguished patriots in various parts of the land. His memory was very retentive, and his capacity great. He died July 13, 1785.
Stephen Hopkins may stand forth as a representative of Block Island. Born and educated there amid hardships and perils, and believed in and honored by its people; his whole life, as it were, spent within its boundaries, and in its service, in the critical and forming period of its history, he represents its people.
Connected with the early settlers of this colony, on both the paternal and maternal sides; his birth reaching back to its simplest or rudest condition, and forward to the close of the American Revolution; his long, active, conspicuous life, spent among its people, moving and acting among them in constant and intimate contact with all classes and denominations, in domestic relations, business operations, and political and religious actions; assisting in framing, interpreting and executing their laws, and trusted by them with almost every office in their gift, we may consider him as a fair specimen of native growth, showing all the capabilities of soil and culture.
It is to the honor of Rhode Island that she produced Stephen Hopkins; that he was the son of immigrants who selected her territory for a home, and that he was cradled, nurtured, approbated, exalted, and kept in public service so long, with her full consent and honest pride. The existence of such a man under such circumstances may certify, as a volume of true history may declare, to the character of her settlers and the influence of her institutions. There were true men and women who sought an asylum and built their homes on the Narragansett Bay; and they were not wanting in mental power, moral principle and heroic devotion to duty.
If these settlers maturing in their own native soil, and from their own native seed, had produced no other evidence of their worthiness to take an honorable place with the other New England colonies, the production of Stephen Hopkins would of itself suffice. He was a working man, beginning early and continuing late, covering half a century with his record of diligence.
His farming and mercantile operations absorbed much of his time and thought and strength. The business of surveying in the rough country in which he lived involved much hardship and labor, and he had much of it to perform. He was early engaged in attempts to develop the resources of the State in mining. His public life made him the servant of all; and he was a close and severe student, filling up all the spare hours of his life with reading.
The town records of Scituate attest that he was familiar with drudgery, and his committee labors in Congress won for him the praise of John Adams, as a business man. He owed much to his fine natural gifts, to the reputation and assistance of his family connections, and to the open field which Rhode Island offered at the time to a man of talent, tact and ambition -- all three of which he possessed. But he, nevertheless, was indebted to his close application, indefatigable labor, and resolute persistence in toil, for his advancement. He thought it not beneath him to perform well the humblest duty to execute faithfully the smallest trust, to excel in little things, and he never dreamed of idleness as his portion, or conceived that he could float into public favor and maintain influence without exertion. He had a small and obscure position, like a rill on a wooded mountain side, but he worked himself out of it, despite of obstacles, and became like a river growing wider and wider as it proceeded from its source to the place where it passed into the sea.
He was one of the people at all periods of his history. He had long been placed over them in office, but he never outgrew his place among the, and never lost his sense of fellowship and sympathy with the toil, exposure and privations of the humblest citizen. His heart beat responsive to the hearts of men; he was ever fighting their battles, considering them as his own; therefore it was that he had such a weight of influence -- such a power of directing movements, and dared to act with so much decision. As an illustration of his readiness to bear his part in all the burdens of the people we find his name, in 1757, heading a list of thirty-six men -- his son George one of them -- who were ready to march against the French and Indians, who had invaded the northern frontier, possessed themselves of Fort McHenry, and were carrying death and devastation on their way. The tidings of their retreat prevented the party from setting out.
In the taking of the Gaspee, in which his son, John B. Hopkins, took a leading part, Mr. Hopkins being Chief Justice he asked the advice of the Assembly what course he should pursue if the British government should demand the men who destroyed her. He was told to use his own discretion, to which he answerd, -- "Then, for the transportation for trial, I will neither apprehend any person by my own order, nor suffer any executive officer in the colony to do it."
In the North Burial Ground, of Providence, is his grave; and there his State has erected a monument to his memory, on which, with other commendations, is inscribed these words: "His name is engraved on the immortal record of the Revolution, and can never die."
The children of Stephen Hopkins were Rufus, the first child, born Feb. 10, 1727; John, the second son, was born Nov. 11, 1728. Ruth, the eldest daughter, was born in 1729, and named after her grandmother Hopkins. She died in infancy in 1731, and was buried in Scituate. Lydia, the fourth child, was born in 1732, and probably died young.
Silvanus the third son, was born Oct. 16, 1734. Simon was born Aug. 25, 1736, and George, the seventh and youngest child, was born in 1739.
All the sons except Simon, who died while a lad, were sailors, going to see while boys, and all became masters of vessels but Silvanus, who became mate at eighteen, and would have been captain soon after, had he lived. Rufus was so far successful that he invested five hundred pounds in the Hope furnace, Scituate, 1766, and became its superintendent. This furnace cast cannon which were used in the army and navy during the revolutionary war. There were two cannon usually cast at one time, and they were afterwards bored.
While living at the furnace he received the appointment of Judge, which he held for several years. He was one of a committee appointed by Congress, Dec. 14, 1775, to superintend the building of vessels of war. He was concerned in the first cotton factory put up near the Hope furnace in 1807. Silvanus, one of his sons, was the first agent of the Hope Manufacturing Company. Rufus Hopkins died in August, 1809, at the house of Mr. Andrew Ralph, and was buried in the North Burial Gound, Providence. He is said to have greatly resembled his father, and the likeness in the picture of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, purporting to be that of Gov. Hopkins, is his.
Capt. John Hopkins, the second son of Stephen, in 1753, sailed for Cadiz, Spain, and died there July 20th, with the small pox, aged twenty-four years. Silvanus, the third son of Stephen was killed by Indians after he was cast away on the Cape Breton shore. Of the remaining children, Simon died at Providence, at the age of seven years, and George, the youngest, who married Ruth Smith, was lost at sea in the year 1775, with the vessel he commanded.
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