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Four Years Prior to Signing the Declaration,
R.I.’s Stephen Hopkins Declares His Slave’s Independence (SOLD)
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“…keeping any of his rational Creatures in Bondage, who are capable of taking care of, and providing for themselves in a State of Freedom: is, altogather inconsistent with his Holy and Righteous Will…”

In a clear statement on the morality of slavery, Rhode Island’s Stephen Hopkins manumits his slave, Saint Jago Hopkins, because slavery is a violation of God’s will. Rhode Island would not abolish slavery through gradual emancipation until 1784.

STEPHEN HOPKINS. Autograph Document Signed (twice in text and once at bottom), Providence, R.I., October 28, 1772. Also signed by William Barker, as witness. 1 pp.

Inventory #21073.99       SOLD — please inquire about other items


“Know all men by these presents that, I Stephen Hopkins of Providence in the County of Providence Esquire, taking into Consideration the State and Circumstances of a certain Negro Man Named Saint Jago, who hath lived with me in the Quality of a Servant, or Slave, from his infancy till now; that he is about Thirty Three years old. And calling to mind that, he has always been a very Honest and faithful servant, and that he is duly qualified to provide for, and take care of himself, in a State of Freedom. But, principally, and most of all finding, that the merciful and beneficent goodness of Almighty God; by the blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord: hath by the blessed Spirit taught all, who honestly obey its Divine Dictates, that, the keeping any of his rational Creatures in Bondage, who are capable of taking care of, and providing for themselves in a State of Freedom: is, altogather inconsistent with his Holy and Righteous Will. For these reasons; the last of which is only prevalent, I the said Stephen Hopkins do, Manumit, set Free, and discharge, the said Saint Jago: and by these presents do, freely, fully, and absolutely, for my self, my Heirs, Executors, Administrators, and assigns, manumit, set free, and discharge, him the said Saint Jago: from every kind of Bondage, Servitude, or dependance what-soever. In Witness whereof, I have unto set my Hand and Seal, the Day of the Tenth Month called October Anno Dom 1772.

Signed Sealed and duly executed in presence of

Wm Barker                                           Step Hopkins [seal]

Historical Background

In 1765, Stephen Hopkins authored a pamphlet entitled The Rights of the Colonies Examined, in which he wrote: “Liberty is the greatest blessing that men enjoy, and slavery the heaviest curse that human nature is capable of.” An ardent patriot in the cause of American Independence, Hopkins would also make some strides toward the abolition of slavery in Rhode Island, although not without personal struggle. July 1772 helped launch Rhode Island into the mounting conflict between the colonies and Great Britain. Rhode Islanders, including many influential merchants angered by Britain’s infringements on their trade, had recently burned the HMS Gaspee. Hopkins, at the time Chief Justice of the colony, presided over dispute, and managed to stymie British officials in their pursuit of the arsonists. As a result of his refusal to comply with British demands, none of the 40 or so men involved were ever tried.

Against this backdrop—when thoughts of independence were rooting and the Society of Friends (Quakers) continued to pressure its members to reject slavery—Stephen Hopkins penned this document of emancipation. Two years later, in 1774, he spearheaded a bill in the Rhode Island General Assembly that prohibited the importation of slaves into the colony. A decade later, in February 1784, the General Assembly passed “An Act Authorizing the Manumission of Negroes, Mulattoes, and Others, and for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery.” It stipulated that no persons born in Rhode Island on or after March 1, 1784 were to “servants for life, or slaves.” 

“There are no records of manumissions in the Providence Town Council records in the years leading up to 1784,… [U]ntil the passage of the act…the council had no role in manumissions. It is clear from the stories told by African Americans examined by the town council to determine the place of their legal settlement that before 1784 many slaves were simply told by their masters that they were free or given a piece of paper declaring their emancipation.” (Roots) Coupled with the fact that many of Stephen Hopkins’s papers are thought to have been lost in the Great September Gale of 1815, one can deduce that this manumission document was Saint Jago’s personal copy. Further evidence is provided by an 1899 letter from Mr. Darius D. Farnum of Woonsocket, R.I.:

I have…an autograph paper,–of Stephen Hopkins… It is a manumission paper, whereby he gives to one of his slaves, ‘St. Jago’ by name, his freedom. Aunt Lucy gave me the paper and told me that it was found among her grandfather’s papers, with whom St. Jago had left it for safe keeping, and died without ever calling for it. Her grandfather [Rev. Moses] Farnum [(1730-1780)] is meant, [my] great-grandfather Farnum… He it was who gave the land for it and contributed besides largely toward building the Friends’ Meeting House in Uxbridge, [Mass.] in 1770, and where he preached. Moses Brown used to come to Uxbridge to see him. They were good friends and used to travel together and make religious visits. Moses Brown wrote a touching memorial on the occasion of his death. (Publications, 140)

Although Hopkins freed Saint Jago when pressured by his Quaker associates, his refusal to free other household slaves led to his expulsion from the increasingly antislavery religious meeting. Augustine Jones provides a true copy from the Third Month, 1773, records of the Smithfield Monthly Meeting of Friends, of the resolution to disown Stephen Hopkins.[1] In addition to casting some shadows over Hopkins’s abolitionist zeal, it offers a further glimpse of Rev. Moses Farnum’s work for the cause of African Americans: “The matter concerning Stephen Hopkins holding a negro woman as slave was considered, and as he still refuses to set her at liberty, though often requested, this meeting puts him from under their care, and appoints Moses Farnum and George Comstock to draw up a paper of denial against him and bring to next Monthly Meeting…” (Publications, 140-41). Although it is commonly held that he freed all of his slaves in 1773, this document shows that at least one was emancipated in 1772. Hopkins was also unwilling to forego entirely the institution of slavery; he still held slaves at the time of his death in 1785. He freed most of them in his will, but two slaves, Primus and Bonner, Jr. were not freed until 1788—after they had reached 21 years of age (Roots). Nonetheless, there are no comparable sales records for slave emancipation documents written by Signers of the Declaration of Independence. This piece is also notable for having been signed thrice by Hopkins – two of which are his rare full signature – and sealed.

Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785) Born in Scituate, R.I., Hopkins was a self-educated merchant shipper, surveyor, and colonial Governor. After joining the Revolutionary cause, he signed the Declaration of Independence. Hopkins entered into politics while in his twenties, serving in the General Assembly, and in 1739 – about when Saint Jago was born into slavery – he became Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas. In 1742, he moved permanently to Providence and set up business as a merchant and ship builder. He continued to serve in politics and was a delegate from Rhode Island to the 1754 Albany convention that planned a military and political union of the colonies to help fight the impending French and Indian War (1754-1763). Although accepted by the convention, the plan was rejected by individual colonies and Great Britain. 

In 1762, Hopkins helped found the Providence Gazette. In 1764, he was the first chancellor of the College in the English Colony of Rhode Island (now Brown University) in Warren, R.I, and 6 years later, along with the Brown brothers, was instrumental in relocating it to Providence. Hopkins served as chancellor until 1785. In 1756, he was elected governor of the colony, and held that office, with the exception of one year, until 1764. As governor, he was one of the earliest and most strenuous champions of colonial rights against the encroachments of the English parliament. In 1765, his pamphlet entitled The Rights of the Colonies Examined criticized parliamentary taxation and recommended colonial home rule. Throughout the 1770s, he served in the General Assembly, on the Committee of Correspondence, and as R.I. Chief Justice. In the 1770s, Hopkins served repeated terms in the Continental Congress, during which time he signed the Declaration of Independence and actively participated on a number of committees, notably the Naval Committee, and the committee that prepared the Articles of Confederation.

Saint Hopkins (c.1739-1812) (also referred to as “St. Jago,” “Saint Jago,” and “Sant”). Saint was born into slavery in Rhode Island, as the manumission reads: [he] hath lived with me in the Quality of a … Slave, from his infancy…” However, the term “infancy” in colonial parlance may have applied to young children. Given his name, (St. Jago was the capital of Jamaica) it is possible he was imported from Africa or the West Indies. In 1762, during the French and Indian War (still owned by Hopkins), he is listed as serving on the privateer Blackbird. In 1778 he is recorded as having married Rose King. The 1790 census shows him still in Providence, with a household of 6 freepersons. Census categorized whites by age and gender; for “Negroes” it was not specific. When settling his father’s estate in 1812, his son Samuel printed a notice in the Providence Gazette, to any debtors or creditors. It simply described Saint as a “black Man…late of the Town of Providence.” His will mentions [second] wife Abigail, sons Samuel and Amos, and daughters Rosannah, Elizabeth, and Sally.

William Barker (1731-1798). Like Hopkins, Barker was a Providence Quaker. Both were married at the Smithfield Quaker Meeting in the 1750s. Barker was for many years a Providence chairmaker and wood turner.


Stephen Hopkins -- Saint Jago Hopkins -- Rev. Moses Farnum (1730-1780) -- Moses Farnum (1770-1855) -- Lucy Farnum (1795-1890) -- Darius Daniels Farnum (1827-1914)


Professionally treated by a paper conservator J. Franklin Mowery of the Folger Library.


Arnold, James N. Vital Record of Rhode Island, 1636-1850.

Biographical Cyclopedia of Rhode Island, 99.

Brown, Moses. Testimony of Moses Brown concerning Moses Farnum, 1780.

Cutter, William Richard. “Farnum,” Genealogical and Personal Memoirs Relating to the Families

of the State of Massachusetts, Vol II. New York, 1910, pp. 992-993.

Farnham, Rev. J. M. W. Genealogy of the Farnham Family, 1889, pp. 10-15.

Foster, William E. Stephen Hopkins: A Rhode Island Statesman (Providence, 1884).

“Governor (and Chief Justice) Stephen Hopkins (1707-1785).” Gaspee Virtual Archives

Hopkins, Stephen. The Rights of the Colonies Examined, 1765.

“InDependence: Liberty, Slavery, and Choice at the Stephen Hopkins House.” 

Providence Gazette, August 8, 1812. NewsBank/Readex,

Database: America’s Historical Newspapers.

Providence, Rhode Island Probate 1646-1899.

Publications of the Rhode Island Historical Society, New Series,

vol. VII, no. 2, July, 1899, p. 140-141.

Rhode Island 1790 census; Providence.

Rhode Island Roots, December 2006, p. 193-94.

Rhode Island Soldiers in the Old French & Indian War 1755-1762.

[1] “Friends of Providence in ancient time belonged to [this] meeting.” (Publications, 140-41) Smithfield and Providence, R.I., and Uxbridge, Mass., all shared borders at the time.