“Rhode Island Votes Yes”

Rhode Island delegate to the Continental Congress, Governor Stephen Hopkins, may have trembled* but he did not waver. Who knows why actor John O’Creagh was selected to play Stephen Hopkins in the excellent HBO series “John Adams,” because he does not seem to resemble any known portrait of this estimable statesman, jurist, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. I will say that the casting director did an excellent job of making sure that all those white men in wigs were easily distinguishable from one another . . . and what a cast.

In addition to Paul Giamatti in the title role, the cast includes Tom Wilkinson, Rufus Sewell, Laura Linney, Justin Theroux, the lesser known David Morse — perfect as George Washington — and Stephen Dillane as an enigmatic Thomas Jefferson. (Dillane was Stannis Baratheon on “Game of Thrones,” about which he has very ambivalent feelings. Sounds like he’d rather talk about Jefferson. Or anything else.)

So what did Stephen Hopkins look like? Among his many other accomplishments, Hopkins was the first Chancellor of Rhode Island College (later Brown University) and the college maintains the painting below in its portrait collection.

John Hagen, painting instructor at the Rhode Island School of Design, was chosen among 35 artists by the state in 1980 to paint a new portrait of the real Stephen Hopkins. Hagan relied primarily on the original sketch of Hopkins’s nephew made by Trumbull, which differed somewhat from his image in the group painting. For Brown’s version of the portrait, commissioned in 1999, Hagan made subtle changes to the background, such as seating Hopkins in a Spanish chair owned by the governor and now used by Brown presidents at Commencement. He also placed a view of University Hall in the window rather than the Providence Colony House pictured in the state’s version. Hopkins was chancellor of the college when University Hall was constructed just up the hill from his house.

*On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress performed its supreme act by adopting the United States Declaration of Independence. The aged Stephen Hopkins had to support his palsied right hand with his left as he signed the document, remarking, “my hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

Rhode Island votes YES!

(Visit the Stephen Hopkins House on Benefit Street.)

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