Today we are sharing two portraits, recently added to our collection. Published only a year apart, these mezzotint engravings of John Hancock and Commodore Esek Hopkins depict key figures in the Revolutionary War. Information for each print is listed below. For more portraits or Revolutionary War prints and maps, visit our website or stop by our Georgetown gallery. We hope you enjoy these striking pieces of Americana.
John Hancock became involved in the Revolution as a result of his disagreements with English custom officials regarding his mercantile business in Boston. At the time of the Stamp Act and the Boston Massacre, he was an outspoken leader among patriots and held elected offices in both the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the Continental Congress. His militant beliefs, as well as his position as president of the Continental Congress, made him newsworthy in both England and the colonies.
Numerous portraits were published on both sides of the ocean depicting this important Revolutionary figure. In his anxiety to distribute the first print depicting Hancock, the London print-seller Charles Shepherd issued a porthole portrait (the above print) of the great patriot after a painting by Littleford. The image bears a passable resemblance to Copley’s portrait of Hancock, but it is unlikely that Shepherd ever saw the painting in person, therefore it is more reasonable to assume that it was based on a verbal description. Shepherd published another portrait of Hancock on the same day, which depicts him as a double-chinned gentleman holding a letter. This portraits bears even less resemblance to Copley’s portrait, therefore it is safe to conclude that Shepherd published both works without ever seeing a likeness of Hancock. This early print is one of the most important portraits of Hancock, and one of the rarest pieces of early Americana.
An attractive portrait of Commodore Hopkins, with two Continental ships shown in the background. The first Navy Jack, a flag with a rattlesnake on it bearing the motto “Don’t Tread on Me” (or in the case of this print, “Don’t tread upon me”), is shown at left and may have flown aboard the Alfred, flagship of the newly commissioned Continental fleet. At right flies the Pine Tree Flag, here titled “Liberty Tree An Appeal to God”.
Esek Hopkins was born in Rhode Island on April 26, 1718. As a young man he began a career at sea, captaining merchant vessels and, during the French and Indian War, acting as a successful privateer. After the American Revolution broke out in 1775, Rhode Island appointed Hopkins as commander of its military forces. Later that year he became Commander in Chief of the very small Continental Navy. In mid-February 1776, Commodore Hopkins sailed from Philadelphia under orders from the Continental Congress to attack British maritime forces in Virginia. Facing a British fleet much larger in numbers and better outfitted, Hopkins instead elected to continue sailing south to Nassau and protect his fledgling Navy of just eight merchant ships. On March 3rd, he seized Fort Montagu and then advanced to the poorly-defended town, executing the first amphibious warfare operation. His fleet seized all gunpowder and munitions- supplies desperately needed by the Continental Army. On April 4, 1776, while returning home, his Continental ships encountered and captured two small British warships, but then failed to capture the HMS Glasgow two days later. Hopkins’ conduct of his operations produced considerable controversy and he was dismissed by Congress in 1778. He served in the Rhode Island legislature until his death in 1802.