Stephen Hopkins, Historical Figure

Sup nerds it’s time for the inaugural @Disability History Squad tag.

Today I’m gonna teach you smol a thing about Cerebral Palsy and Stephen Hopkins.
So, some Cerebral Palsy background: if you participated in the community Project for Awesome video we created, you might have some knowledge, but in case you don’t: It’s a disorder that occurs as a result of some form of brain damage before, during, or soon after birth. It affects everyone who has it differently and to varying degrees, but essentially, your muscles that are affected don’t want to do the muscle thing. It’s estimated that a person with CP has to exert 3-5 times the same amount of effort of an able-bodied person to get their affected muscles to do whatever they’re trying to do. It’s also the most common disability diagnosed in childhood, and I’m not the only person in Tuataria who has it.

CP is also not a new thing in any capacity. It was officially named and defined in the 1800s, but was diagnosed (under other terms) and referred to long before then. Historical figures with CP were often described as having “palsy of the [insert limb/part of body that can be affected by CP here].” One of those historical figures is Stephen Hopkins.

“Who the heck is Stephen Hopkins?!” You might be asking. He was an astronomer who went on to become a Governor of the Colony of Rhode Island, a Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. When he signed the Declaration, he had to sign it by guiding his right hand with his left in order to complete his signature, and he was quoted as saying, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not.”

President John Adams adored Hopkins, and described him as:

“… Governor Hopkins of Rhode Island, above seventy Years of Age kept us all alive. Upon Business his Experience and judgment were very Useful. But when the Business of the Evening was over, he kept Us in Conversation till Eleven and sometimes twelve O Clock. His Custom was to drink nothing all day nor till Eight O Clock, in the Evening, and then his Beveredge was Jamaica Spirit and Water. It gave him Wit, Humour, Anecdotes, Science and Learning. He had read Greek, Roman and British History: and was familiar with English Poetry particularly Pope, Tompson and Milton. And the flow of his Soul made all his reading our own, and seemed to bring to recollection in all of Us all We had ever read. I could neither eat nor drink in those days. The other Gentlemen were very temperate. Hopkins never drank to excess, but all he drank was immediately not only converted into Wit, Sense, Knowledge and good humour, but inspired Us all with similar qualities.”

He, like all founding fathers, was highkey kinda shitty overall, but he was one of very few with liberal (for that time period, ofc) views on slavery. He was a slave owner, but he treated his slaves well and even introduced an anti-slavery bill in 1774.

Stephen Hopkins was a slave owner, like several of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, and he mentioned five in his 1760 will consisting of a negro man, woman, and three boys. These were bequeathed to close members of his family with instructions for their care that were highly unusual for any slave owner. The woman was named Fibbo (or Phibo, Phebe) was to go to his wife Anne and be treated “so that Servitude may not be a Burthen to her”; the man was named Saint Jago and was to go to his oldest son Rufus and be treated “so that his Life may be rendered easy and comfortable.” The will was never proved because Hopkins lived another 25 years, and circumstances changed its provisions.

On October 28, 1772, Hopkins manumitted Saint Jago, and wrote the following in the manumission document:

“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 [sic] inconsistent with his Holy and Righteous Will.”

Hopkins felt that the bondage of self-sufficient “rational creatures” was against God’s will; he also thought that unconditional freedom for some slaves would be irresponsible on his part. To this end, he refused to manumit his slave woman, even though it cost him his membership in the Quaker meeting. His rationale was that “she had Children that needed the Immediate Care of a Mother.” It appears that Hopkins’ remaining slaves were not freed until after his death, but at least two of them (Primus and Bonner Jr.) had been living semi-independently for several years before his death.

In short, disabled people have been active, involved, productive, and positive members of society for as long as we’ve been allowed to be [gestures broadly to the area of disability history where not much happened because everyone was killed off or committed to abusive asylums and group homes].

And with that, feel free to ask me any questions you may have about Stephen Hopkins, Cerebral Palsy, disability in general, etc. :sparkles:

(Sidebar that I am but one disabled person and do not speak for the Literal Millions of Disabled People Out Thereā„¢ because we are not a monolith of singular opinions lol).