1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

    List of finding aids

    R.I.H.S. Library page

    R.I.H.S. home page

 Esek Hopkins Papers

 Naval captain of Providence, R.I.

 Papers, 1755-1786

 Size: .5 ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 491

 Processed by: Elizabeth Delmage, August 2005

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            Esek Hopkins (1718-1802) was born April 26, 1718 in Chapumiscook (Scituate), RI and was one of nine children born to William (c.1685-1738) and Ruth Wilkinson Hopkins (c.1685-1738). He was the brother of Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785), who served as governor of Rhode Island for ten terms between 1755 and 1768 and was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Hopkins spent his childhood on his parents' farm until he left at the age of twenty to pursue a career as a sailor. He quickly rose up the ranks and became a prominent master mariner by the time he married Desire Burroughs (c.1722-1794) of Newport in 1741, with whom he had eight children: John (1742-), Heart (1744-1825), Abigail (1746-), Samuel (1748-1750), Amey (1751-), Stephen (1753-1761), Susanna (1756-), and Esek (1758-1777). Hopkins flourished as a captain and soon became highly successful and involved in privateering, Rhode Island's most profitable enterprise during the years before the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783).

            As war between Great Britain and the American colonies grew more imminent, Rhode Islanders feared a British invasion through their harbors; since, the American colonies did not provide any naval protection against the British. Therefore, R.I. was one of the first colonies to provide naval protection for itself and Esek Hopkins was asked to command the colony's naval forces. Rhode Island delegates impressed upon Congress the need for a navy of equal strength to the Continental Army and in October 1775 they appropriated funds for a new navy and soon appointed Esek Hopkins, now in his sixties, to be the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy. Hopkins did have some success as the Commander but he and the American Fleet were forced to compete for both supplies and men with privateers, who traveled along the seas and fought and captured enemy vessels on their own. Hopkins' navy failed to meet Congress' expectations and by October 16, 1776, Congress made a vote of censure against Hopkins and he went before a Naval Committee with John Adams (1735-1826) as his defender. Unfortunately, this was not enough and Commodore Hopkins was dismissed from the Navy on January 2, 1777. After his dismissal from the navy, Hopkins settled near Providence and he continued to serve his country as a member of the state general assembly. Hopkins died February 26, 1802 at his home farm at the age of eighty-two.

Return to top

Scope and content:

            This collection includes account books, records and correspondence from Esek Hopkins' career as a privateer and later as the first Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Also included are the court records from a trial between Esek Hopkins and Christopher Hatch that took place in the summer of 1785 regarding the alleged smuggling of grindstones.

Return to top


            These papers were donated in four separate gifts. The first was in 1837 (#1837. 5. 1 and #1837. 5. 2) by Wheaton H. Baker, which included the original letterbook and correspondence of Admiral Hopkins and is labeled as, Hopkins Papers Volume 1 1776-1777. Also included were the papers that were bound into Volume 2 as a scrapbook and have since been disbound. The second donation was in 1854 (#1854. 1. 1) by Elizabeth Angell of Esek Hopkins's Account Ledger, 1750-1752. The third donation was in 1865 (#1865. 16. 1-) by Judge Staples and this gift included papers relating to Hopkins, which probably comprised Volume 3 of his papers which have since been disbound. The last donation came in 1895 (#1895. 26) by Richard S. Howland which included documents relating to Hopkins from 1775-1776 along with a bound volume of typed transcriptions by Richard S. Howland which were mostly transcribed from Peter Force's American Archives.

Return to top

Processing note:

            The majority of this collection had been organized into four volumes, three of which were transcribed and published in the following:

            Beck, Alverda S., comp. The Letter Book of Esek Hopkins. Providence: E.L. Freeman

                        Co., 1932.

________. The Correspondence of Esek Hopkins. Providence: Roger Williams Press,


The Letter Book of Esek Hopkins includes copies of letters and orders sent out by Hopkins while he was Commander-in-Chief of the Navy. These papers can be found in this collection in the volume entitled Hopkins Papers Volume 1 1776-1777.

            The second book, The Correspondence of Esek Hopkins, includes Volumes 2 and 3 of the Hopkins Papers, which were part of a large scrapbook of miscellaneous letters and papers, covering the years 1776-1777. These volumes consist of letters received by Esek Hopkins during his command as well as accounts and lists of seamen and military supplies. These documents were most likely removed from the scrapbooks at the time The Correspondence of Esek Hopkins  was published and were placed in chronological order instead of the volume and page number organization they had while part of the scrapbooks. The old citations may be found on the upper right hand corner of the original documents as well as the end of each entry in Beck's book.

            Volume 4 includes typewritten copies of documents in the national archives, most of which can be found in Peter Force's American Archives, which is a nine volume history for all the colonies for the years 1775 and 1776. This publication consists of authentic records, state papers, debates, letters and other notices of public affairs that Force collected himself and completed in 1840.

            The collection was rehoused in August 2005 into archival boxes and folders. All oversized materials were placed into a separate box.

Return to top



Box 1, Folder 1.          Record from the Inferior Court of Common              24 Jun 1755

                                    Re: Esek Hopkins and James Mitchell


Box 1, Folder 2.          Accounts for the schooner, Molly                               1757


Box 1, Folder 3.          Accounts for the sloop, Elizabeth                               1759-1760


Box 1, Folder 4.          Miscellaneous Accounts                                             1764, 13 Jun 1796


Box 1, Folder 5.          Commission to Esek Hopkins and William                4 Oct 1775

                                    West as Commander and Lieut. Com. of RI Militia


Box 1, Folder 6.          Letter from William Rocth                                         18 Nov 1775


Box 1, Folder 7.          Correspondence of Esek Hopkins while                     10 Jan 1776-

                                    Commander-in-Chief of the American Fleet              29 Aug 1776


Box 1, Folder 8.          Correspondence of Esek Hopkins while                     2 May 1776-

                                    Commander-in-Chief of the American Fleet              22 Aug 1776 


Box 1, Folder 9.          Correspondence of Esek Hopkins while                     2 Sep 1776-

                                    Commander-in-Chief of the American Fleet              21 Dec 1776 


Box 1, Folder 10.        Correspondence of Esek Hopkins while                     13 Jan 1777-

                                    Commander-in-Chief of the American Fleet              16 Oct 1777 


Box 1, Folder 11.        Correspondence of Esek Hopkins while                     n.d. (c.1776-1778)

                                    Commander-in-Chief of the American Fleet


Box 1, Folder 12.        Handwritten copies of Esek Hopkins'                        1776-1778



Box 1, Folder 13.        Court Documents from the Esek Hopkins vs.            21 Jun 1785-

                                    Christopher Hatch case                                               9 Sep 1785

Oversized Items:

Box 2, Folder 1.          Account Ledger                                                          1750-1755


Box 2, Folder 4.          Accounts of Goods Sold at Vendue                           Nov 1757


Box 2, Folder 5.          Hopkins' Commission for the brigantine,                   16 Dec 1757



Box 2, Folder 6.          Accounts for the sloop Elizabeth                                1759-1760


Box 2, Folder 7.          Correspondence of Esek Hopkins while                     5 Jan 1776-

                                    Commander-in-Chief of the American Fleet              21 Jan 1777


Box 2, Folder 2.          Hopkins Papers Volume 1 1776-1777 (Letterbook)   Feb 1776-4 Jul 1777


Box 2, Folder 3.          Hopkins Papers Volume 4 1776-1778 -                     10 Jan 1776-

                                    Documents bearing upon the Record of                     23 Jul 1778

                                    Commodore Esek Hopkins (Typewritten)


Box 2, Folder 8.          Correspondence of Esek Hopkins while                     n.d. (c.1776-1778)

                                    Commander-in-Chief of the American Fleet


Box 2, Folder 9.          Handwritten Lists of Letters and Documents             1775-1786

                                    that were included in Volumes 1 and 2 of the

                                    Esek Hopkins Papers


Box 2, Folder 10.        Deed: Caleb Greene to Esek Hopkins                        30 Jun 1777

Return to top


Elizabeth (Sloop)

Hatch, Christopher, fl. 1785.

Hopkins, Esek, 1718-1802.

Hopkins, Stephen, 1707-1785.

Mitchell, James, fl. 1755.

Molly (Schooner)

Providence (Brigantine)

Rocth, William.

United States. Continental Navy.

United States - History - Revolution, 1775-1783.

West, William, fl. 1775.

End of finding aid - return to top