Born September 21, 1737 in Philadelphia, he grew up to become a member of the first class at the College of Philadelphia in 1751, graduating in 1757.
He was a reputed amateur musician. He began to play the harpsichord and, during the 1750s, hand-copied songs and instrumental pieces by many European composers.
He is also credited as being the first American born composer to commit a composition to paper with his 1759 composition “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free.”
He went on to receive his masters degree in 1760.
In 1761, he became secretary to the Provincial Council of Pennsylvania Indian commission, participating in several treaty agreements with the Delaware and Iroquois tribes.
He spent from May 1766 to August of 1767 in England in hopes of becoming commissioner of customs for North America.
Unsuccessful, he returned to Philadelphia and operated a dry goods business.
He married Ann Borden on September 1, 1768, and would have five children.
On May 1, 1772, he obtained a public appointment as a customs collector for New Castle, Delaware.
Then in 1774, he moved his family to Bordentown, New Jersey to become a member of the New Jersey Provincial Council, and was admitted to the New Jersey bar on May 8, 1775.
Francis Hopkinson resigned his crown-appointed positions in 1776 and, on June 22, went on to represent New Jersey in the Second Continental Congress where he signed the Declaration of Independence, becoming a Founding Father.
Hopkinson departed Congress on November 30, 1776 to serve on the Navy Board at Philadelphia.
It is clear that Francis Hopkinson designed the 1777 American Flag while he was the Chairman of the Continental Navy Board’s Middle Department, sometime between his appointment to that position in November 1776 and the time that the flag resolution was adopted June 14, 1777 by the Second Continental Congress.
Tradition holds that the new flag was first hoisted in June 1777 by the Continental Army at the Middlebrook encampment.
Francis Hopkinson’s design for the 1777 American Flag, featuring six-pointed stars arranged in rows.
The Flag Resolution stated:
“Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”
As a result of this resolution, Flag Day is observed on June 14 of each year.
Hopkinson’s design used this staggered pattern of 3-2-3-2-3 using 6 pointed Marian stars. This creates an optical effect of the crosses used in the British flag.
This historical account also contradicts the Betsy Ross legend, which suggested that she sewed the first Stars and Stripes flag by request of the government in the Spring of 1776.
Hopkinson was the only person to have made such a claim during his own lifetime, when he sent a bill to Congress for his work.
He asked for a “Quarter Cask of the Public Wine” as payment initially.
The payment was not made, however, because it was determined he had already received a salary as a member of Congress.
Then, as part of our fledgling nation’s government, Hopkinson became treasurer of the Continental Loan Office in 1778; was appointed judge of the Admiralty Court of Pennsylvania in 1779, reappointed in 1780 and 1787; and helped ratify the United States Constitution during the constitutional convention in 1787.
In the 1780s, Hopkinson modified a glass harmonica to be played with a keyboard and invented the Bellarmonic, an instrument that utilized the tones of metal balls.
In 1788 he published a collection of 8 songs dedicated to his friend George Washington and his daughter called “Seven Songs for the Harpsichord” and voice.
On September 24, 1789, Hopkinson was nominated by President George Washington to the newly created position of judge of the United States District Court for the District of Pennsylvania.
He was confirmed by the United States Senate, and received his commission, on September 26, 1789.
Only a few years into his service as a federal judge, Hopkinson died May 9, 1791 in Philadelphia at the age of 53 from a sudden epileptic seizure.
He was buried in Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia.
Hopkinson, as the designer of the first American Flag, did not get his due in life. At one point, he asked only for a bottle of wine for his efforts, which he never received. So every year on his birthday, members of Christ Church take a bottle of wine to his grave-site and share it to remember his contribution.
Now WE know em