Esek Hopkins



Occupation 1

First Commander in Chief of the US Navy

Occupation 2



Rhode Island


NA/New England region


Maritime Republic (1751-1815)








Naval officer� In 1738� Esek went to sea. Like many Providence seafarers, Hopkins sailed primarily to the West Indies. He did well, proving to be both an astute businessman and a skillful seaman, and within a few years rose to command

[In 1764-1765, Hopkins mastered the brigantine Sally on a slaving voyage from Providence to West Africa in the employ of Nicholas brown and Company. The undertaking proved to be financially disastrous, with most of the human cargo lost during an insurrection at sea and through malnuitition. This was Hopkins's only known slaving voyage. Hopkins was the brother of Stephen Hopkins, a governor of Rhode Island and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He was also a trustee of the College of Rhode Island (in 1804 and thereafter,Brown) from 1782 to 1802. RMc]

Esek Hopkins was typical of many New England captains. During wartime when normal trade was disrupted, he turned his attention to privateering. During the French and Indian War (1754-1763) he commanded a Rhode Island privateer that managed to take a number of French prizes�

As royal authority collapsed in Rhode Island in the spring of 1775, the General Assembly made plans to defend the colony against British attack. The members were particularly concerned about the colony's vulnerability to attack from the sea. On 14 June 1775 the assembly authorized the equipping of two small vessels to patrol the Rhode Island coast. On 26 August they instructed their representatives in the Continental Congress� to call for the creation of a Continental fleet. After some debate the Congress agreed and appointed a committee to prepare a report. First known as the Naval Committee and later the Marine Committee, this body was dominated by New Englanders� The committee appointed Esek Hopkins commander in chief of the embryo navy with the title of commodore.

Through the fall and winter of 1775-1776 Hopkins and the committee worked to assemble ships and men at Philadelphia. By early January 1776 eight vessels were present and ready to sail. On 5 January Hopkins was ordered to sail into the Chesapeake and there attack and destroy the ships of John Murray, Lord Dunmore, which were harassing the shores of Maryland and Virginia. He was then to cruise along the southern coast, ridding it of the enemy. After completing those missions, he was to lay a course for Rhode Island and clear those waters as well.

On 17 February 1776 Hopkins, with his squadron of eight vessels, set sail from the Delaware. Believing that British forces in the Chesapeake and along the southern coasts were too strong for his squadron, Hopkins, relying on the discretion granted in his instructions, decided not to follow his congressional orders but rather to set a course for Nassau in the Bahamas. On 3 March he landed a force of 270 men. With little difficulty they captured Forts Nassau and Montagu, taking a large number of cannon and munitions. Hopkins loaded these supplies aboard his vessels and headed for Rhode Island.

Off Block Island the American squadron encountered the British frigate Glasgow. In the ensuing battle the superior American force did little to distinguish itself. Neither Hopkins nor his captains had any experience fighting as a unit. The Glasgow's commander, on the other hand, Captain Tyringham Howe, was a Royal Navy veteran, who deftly maneuvered his vessel among the Americans, taking them on one at a time and then managing to flee to the nearby safety of Newport�

Congress, increasingly unhappy with the general performance of the navy and with Hopkins in particular, was ready to take further action against him. Their opportunity appeared early in 1777 when a letter arrived, signed by every officer aboard Hopkins's flagship, complaining about the commander in chief. One of the complaints accused him of publicly ridiculing Congress. Hopkins was suspended from command. He was left in this uncertain state until January 1778, when the Congress peremptorily voted that he be "dismissed from the service of the United States�"

Hopkins never went to sea again� He died in North Providence.

Related Images

external image head4_esek_hopkins_1776.jpg
Date: 1776
Image Id: 359

Related Vessels

__Alfred__, Sally,

External Links

Website depicting the slaving voyage of the Providence-based brigantine __Sally__ in 1764-65. Voyage undrewritten by the Brown Brothers -- Nicholas, Joseph, John and Moses.

Record ID: 107