Declaration of Independence Signer. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, at the age of 14, he was the first student to enroll in the Philadelphia Academy, and the first to be given a diploma by the College of Philadelphia (now known as the University of Pennsylvania). He studied to become a lawyer, but for many years, did little legal work. More interested in the arts, he preferred to draw pictures, wrote poems, and composed songs. In 1759, he wrote "My Days have been so Wondrous Free," the first non-religious song written by an American colonist. In 1767, he opened a store in Philadelphia, and soon afterwards, married Ann Borden (she was the granddaughter of the man for whom Bordentown was named); they would have five children. A few years later, the family moved to Bordentown, New Jersey, where he became a successful lawyer. In June 1776, he was elected to the Second Continental Congress, where he voted for independence. Congress also named him to head the Navy Board, and to serve as treasurer of loans. During the war, Hopkinson wrote songs, poems, and essays poking fun at the British. As head of the Navy Board, he organized a plan to float explosives in kegs down the Delaware River, to blow up British ships. While the plan failed to work, the American public would sing "The Battle of the Kegs," his humorous song about the scheme. When the new country needed a flag, he would claim that he designed the first Stars and Stripes; although this is disputed, with some historians claiming he did design it and others claiming Betsy Ross designed it. He did design the Great Seal of the State of New Jersey in 1776, as well as the seals of many of the cabinet departments of the new United States Government. When the British Army invaded New Jersey in 1777, they ransacked his home, but he and his family were not there. He was Judge of the Admiralty for Pennsylvania from 1779 to 1789, and Judge of the United States Court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania from 1789 until his death in 1791 from complications of a stroke. He died at age 53.
Bio by: Kit and Morgan Benson