Collection: John Henry Hopkins

ARTIST: Br. Robert Lentz, OFM


John Henry Hopkins was born in Dublin, Ireland. Immigrating in 1800 to Philadelphia, he began his education under the able tutelage of his mother. Reading Shakespeare before the age of nine, he demonstrated early in his life unique intellectual, artistic, and musical skills, which later were to punctuate his influence in diocesan and national church life.

In Hopkins was found the unusual combination of erudition and devotion. He introduced Gothic architecture to Episcopal church building, read the works of the Church Fathers in the original Greek and Latin, and was a compassionate and faithful pastor. His deepest desire and unremitting vision, however, was to establish a diocesan seminary. This hope led him to Boston in 1831, but when support for a seminary was withdrawn, he consented to his election in 1832 as the first Bishop of Vermont. His lifelong dream eventually was realized in 1860 with the opening of the Vermont Episcopal Institute at Rock Point on Lake Champlain, outside Burlington.

Bishop Hopkins was an avowed high churchman, but he was foremost a churchman of principle. In 1827 he declined to become a bishop because his vote would have decided the election in his favor. He told his son that had he voted for himself he would have lived out his days wondering whether his will or God’s had been done. He served as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church from 1865-68 and his urging led to the inception of the Lambeth Conference, an every-decade gathering of all bishops in the Anglican Communion, which continues today.

The reliance of Bishop Hopkins on the virtue of hope during his episcopate was demonstrated repeatedly amidst financial depressions, mass emigration from Vermont to the burgeoning west, personal bankruptcy, and sensational church controversies. He is depicted holding Trinity Church, Rutland, of which he was both the architect and, from 1860-61, Rector. The Greek surrounding him reads, “Blessed John Henry.”

His feast day is January 9.

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In 1801, a young John Henry Hopkins (1792-1868) immigrated with his family to the United States from his birthplace in Dublin, Ireland. John Henry was educated primarily by his mother, and took early employment in the iron industry in western Pennsylvania. He began reading for the law in his mid-20s, and was admitted to the bar in Pittsburgh in 1818. He established a successful law career in Pittsburgh, but when a vacancy opened in his parish church, Trinity Church, Hopkins was elected to fill it. He had never thought about pursuing the ministry, but he considered the church's vote to be a sign of Divine Will, and decided to read for orders.

He was ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church in 1824, and in 1832 was elected to be the first bishop of Vermont. During his episcopate in Burlington, Vermont, Hopkins established the Vermont Episcopal Institute, which most of his children attended. He served as Bishop of Vermont for 36 years, and as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church for 13 years. He was one of the most prominent bishops in the Anglican Communion. Aside from his ecclesiastical duties, he wrote the first book on gothic architecture in the United States, drafted the first plans for the University of the South, composed music, was a skilled engraver and artist, and wrote more than a dozen theological works.

In 1816 Hopkins married Melusina Mueller (1795-1884), whose family had emigrated from Germany in 1805, and together they had 14 children, 11 of whom survived to adulthood. Melusina's sister, Amelia Mueller, lived with them and helped raise the children. The eldest son, John Henry Hopkins, Jr., (1820-1891) followed his father's calling and became an Episcopal minister. He is now best known, perhaps, as the composer of "We Three Kings of Orient Are," but he was also an author and important figure in the Episcopal Church.

Their third son, Caspar Thomas Hopkins (1826-1893), was not inclined to the ministry and tried many occupations. Shortly after his graduation from the University of Vermont in 1847, he started a periodical called "The Vermont State Agriculturalist." In 1849, Caspar moved to California, attracted by the many opportunities and stories of the Gold Rush state. In 1853 he married Almira Burtnett (1828-1875), and they had a daughter Frances Isabella or "Belle" (1854-1941). After testing out several endeavors, including trading, sailing, and exploring southern Oregon, Caspar finally settled on a career in marine and fire insurance. In 1861 he established the first insurance company on the Pacific coast, the California Insurance Company, and served as its president for 35 years. For the most part, Caspar was unlike his religious, conservative father, but the two shared a love for intellectual and artistic pursuits, especially music and writing. Caspar also participated in the more secular worlds of politics (he wrote a civics textbook entitled Manual of American Ideas, 1872) and scholarship, as an active participant in societies like the small, invitation-only Berkley Club. Caspar remained in California until his death on October 4, 1893.

The collection of Hopkins Family Papers covers three generations and consists of correspondence, genealogical and other family-related manuscripts and printed documents, journals of artwork, manuscript and printed music, photographs, broadsides, pamphlets, monographs and periodicals, and maps. Of the 300 letters, about 32% were written by Caspar Thomas Hopkins, and about 55% were written to him, mostly by family members. He wrote constantly about his diverse life adventures, such as his 1849 voyage to California via Mexico, his career in San Francisco from the days of the Gold Rush to the 1880s, and his exploration of the Umpqua River in southern Oregon -- topics which are recorded not only in his correspondence, but in the articles he later wrote for publication in various newspapers and magazines.

Other materials that pertain to Caspar are typescripts of his autobiography, 17 papers he presented to the Berkley Club from 1873-1889, clippings, reviews and correspondence regarding his book A Manual of American Ideas, and some of his writings, including plays, treatises, and speeches.

Though many of the items are by or about Caspar, this is very much a family collection. Caspar's prominent father, Bishop Hopkins, wrote only 28 of the letters, but he created the six sketchbooks that are filled with pencil, pen and ink, and watercolor drawings of landscapes, people, places, and architectural designs. In particular, the set of 19 flower engravings that Hopkins made for his book The Vermont Flower Book, 1834 contain uncolored and colored plates engraved by Bishop Hopkins and hand-colored by his children.

The Hopkins were a musical family; the collection includes two boxes of printed sheet music and manuscript music, some of which was composed by Bishop Hopkins, and later arranged by Caspar. The collection also contains some of the Bishop's sermons, a biography of him written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr., and a 14-page travel journal for the fall of 1825 written with sketches of places visited on that trip, including the earliest drawings of the newly opened Erie Canal, and Niagara Falls before it was a popular tourist attraction.

John Henry Hopkins Jr. (1820-1889) wrote 48 of the letters about his experience as a member of the clergy, touching often on pedagogical subjects which ranged from arguments on why Lincoln was a bad president to theological discourses, some even written in Latin. He also wrote two of the books in the collection: Poems by the Wayside, and Carols, Hymns & Songs. Some of his manuscript music is laid into a second copy of the book of carols, hymn, and songs.

The Hopkins women are well represented among the letter-writers. Melusina Mueller Hopkins, the wife of Bishop Hopkins, wrote about 50 letters, most of which were to Caspar. In these letters is biographical information about Caspar's siblings, his father, and other family news. Caspar's wife Almira Burtnett Hopkins wrote 27 letters, and his daughter Frances Isabelle Hopkins Hinckley (1854-1941) wrote 21 letters. Others were Amelia Muller (Melusina's sister), and a few letters from Caspar's sisters Caroline Hopkins Canfield and Matilda Hopkins Camp. Of special note are a series of 5 watercolors of flowers painted by Elizabeth Fitzackerly Hopkins, the mother of Bishop Hopkins, and two bound volumes of German music, c. 1800, that were brought to America in 1805 by Melusina's sisters, Charlotte and Teresa. The music includes a first printing of Beethoven's "Adelaide Matthisson."

In addition to the materials mentioned above, the collection also includes about 50 photographs; genealogical information; 2 broadsides; 2 maps; about 40 books, pamphlets, and periodicals written by various members of the family; a phrenological chart of Caspar Hopkins by Dr. Worster; and playbills and songs of another of John Henry's sons, Jerome Hopkins, who was an actor and musician in New York and Vermont. Perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of the Hopkins family was the wide extent of their collective talents and experiences. As a result, this extremely valuable collection touches on many interesting historical subjects, including the Episcopal Church, the insurance business in California, shipping, Vermont in the 19th century, California during and after the Gold Rush, gothic architecture, classical and religious music, education, and family life during the 19th century.