The Story of Stephen Hopkins – Determined To Live Free

Who was the only person to settle in both the Jamestown and Plymouth colonies? Stephen Hopkins

Stephen Hopkins was a clerk to a church minister in Winchester, England during the late 1500’s and early 1600’s. He was married and had three children.

Among Stephen’s church congregation were members of the Virginia Company – the group of adventurers who had established a settlement in Jamestown. A second voyage was planned and Stephen’s Virginia Company friends thought he would make a good clerk for the new Jamestown governor – Sir Thomas Gates – who was to go.

In June, 1609, Stephen joined the venture and sailed with Gates and other new settlers on the Sea Venture. He left behind his family, since Jamestown had not yet been made safe for them.

Sadly, the Sea Venture ran aground on Bermuda during a violent storm and the ship’s company was marooned. After a failed attempt to send a longboat to the mainland for rescue (in which all eight hands were lost), the remaining crew began to build more substantial boats that could take them to Jamestown safely.

During the construction period, Sir Gates governed the ship’s company as if he were already their Governor. Stephen objected, questioning Gates’s authority.

Stephen was arrested and tried for mutiny. He was convicted and sentenced to hang. While many of the ship’s company protested Stephen’s sentence, it wasn’t until he stood at the gallows that a pardon was granted. In his last words, it is reported that Stephen asked how they could make his wife a widow over such a trivial matter. And, it appears that he struck a deal never to criticize Gates again. It worked.

By May 10, 1610, the boats were ready and all hands set out for Jamestown. They arrived safely on May 21, without apparent further objection from Stephen. If this story sounds familiar, it is very much like the theme of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, published in November, 1611.

Stephen worked in Jamestown, dutifully sending his wages back to his wife in England. Then, in 1614 he got a letter from London informing him that his wife had died. He took the next ship back to reunite with his children and see to their continued growth. There he stayed until 1620, marrying his second wife Elizabeth, when the taste of freedom was again too strong to resist.

Stephen heard about the Mayflower voyage and, since his children were grown, he signed up to go. This time he was able to bring his wife along. After three brutal months at sea, the Mayflower arrived and the settlers prepared to disembark. Their last act before going ashore was to write the Mayflower Compact – a basic constitution for the Plymouth settlement. Stephen was one of the 41 who signed it.

Stephen’s familiarity with Native American ways and language from his time in Jamestown stood him in good stead in the years that followed. He was a member of many of the groups that explored the surrounding countryside and his house was the site of the first formal meeting with Massasoit, Chief of the Wampanoags.

Stephen took up the tanning trade (leather) and opened a shop to profit from his wares. He also served as an assistant to the Governor of Plymouth. He and Elizabeth lived happily together until the early 1640’s when she died. Stephen died a few years later in 1644.

Stephen Hopkins is the only known person to have settled in both Jamestown and Plymouth. He is a tribute to the determination to live in freedom that our ancestors fought so hard to achieve and preserve. We are indebted to him for his strength and perseverance.

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