Portraits of Prominent RI Revolutionary War figures
- Portraits of Prominent RI Revolutionary War figures
Excerpt from: Esek Hopkins Papers at the Rhode Island Historical Society
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.
Nathanael Greene, (born August 7, 1742, Potowomut, Rhode Island [U.S.]—died June 19, 1786, Mulberry Grove, Georgia, U.S.) American general in the American Revolution (1775–83). After managing a branch of his father’s iron foundry, Greene served several terms in the colonial legislature and was elected commander of the Rhode Island army, organized in 1775; he was made a major general in 1776. Greene served with George Washington in the Siege of Boston (1775–76), in the fighting in and around New York City (1776), and in the retreat across New Jersey after the British capture of Fort Washington (November 1776). He also led troops at Trenton (December 1776) and, the following year, at Brandywine and Germantown. After briefly serving as quartermaster general, Greene succeeded General Horatio Gates as commander in chief of the southern army in October 1778. Opposed by a superior force under Lord Cornwallis, Greene developed a strategy that relied on mobility and maneuver. Irregular forces kept the British extended, while Greene preserved his small main army as a “force in being” to lure Cornwallis further away from his coastal bases. Greene ultimately risked dividing his own force, encouraging the British to divide theirs as well. His strategy led to General Daniel Morgan’s victory at Cowpens, South Carolina (January 17, 1781). Although Greene was defeated at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina (March 15, 1781), the British were so weakened by their victory that Cornwallis abandoned his plan to conquer North Carolina and instead marched north into Virginia. Taking the offensive, by the end of June Greene had forced the British back to the South Carolina coast. On September 8 Greene engaged the British under Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Stewart at Eutaw Springs, where the British were so weakened that they withdrew to Charleston. He held them there during the remainder of the war. Greene contributed significantly to restoring civil government and public order to a south wracked by years of guerrilla war. Committed to the rights of property, he opposed the dispossession and persecution of loyalists. South Carolina and Georgia recognized Greene’s achievements by liberal grants of land and money. He settled in 1785 on an estate near Savannah—ironically the former property of a loyalist official. As quartermaster general, Greene was accused of profiteering when inflation required paying more than authorized for goods. He supplied the southern army in part by cosigning notes with a contractor whose bankruptcy and death left Greene responsible. Greene denied charges of impropriety, which remain unproven in an 18th-century context of boundaries between public and private affairs that were at best hazy. He did his unsuccessful best to liquidate the debts until his early death in 1786 from what might well have been a stress-induced heart attack. Nathanael Greene, however, is not remembered for his bookkeeping, but as Washington’s designated successor and a strategist without peer on the American side of the Revolution.
John Sullivan, (born February 17, 1740, Somersworth, New Hampshire [U.S.]—died January 23, 1795, Durham, New Hampshire, U.S.) early U.S. political leader and officer in the American Revolution who won distinction for his defeat of the Iroquois Indians and their loyalist allies in western New York (1779).
An attorney, Sullivan was elected to the New Hampshire provincial congress (1774) and served at the First Continental Congress, in Philadelphia, the same year. In June 1775 he was appointed brigadier general in the Continental Army and aided in the siege of Boston. The following year he was ordered to Canada to command the retreating American troops after the death of their commander at the disastrous Battle of Quebec (December 31, 1775). Sullivan shortly rejoined General George Washington and, after being promoted to major general, participated in the Battle of Long Island (August 1776), where he was taken prisoner. Exchanged in December, he led the right column in Washington’s successful attack on Trenton, New Jersey (December 1776), but a night attack on Staten Island in August was unsuccessful.
In 1779 Sullivan was commissioned to lead an expedition in retaliation for British-inspired Indian raids in the Mohawk Valley of New York. With 4,000 troops he routed the Iroquois and their loyalist supporters at Newtown, New York (near present Elmira), burning their villages and destroying their crops. He thus earned the thanks of Congress (October 1779), but ill health forced him to resign from military service soon afterward.
Sullivan continued in public service for 15 years, however: as a delegate to the Continental Congress (1780–81), state’s attorney general (1782–86), New Hampshire governor (1786–87, 1789), presiding officer of the state convention that ratified the federal Constitution (1788), and U.S. district judge (1789–95).