The son of a powerful lawyer and politician, Francis Hopkinson was born in Philadelphia in 1737. He received his college education from what is today the University of Pennsylvania. He later went on to study law and open up his own practice. In 1763 he began to work as a customs collector in Salem, New Jersey, but failure at this job lead him to travel to England in search of another post. He met Ben Franklin while he was there, and while unsuccessful in his search for a job, he did study with Benjamin West, a prominent artist.
Upon his return to Philadelphia, Hopkinson opened a store and later landed a job a customs collector in New Castle, Delaware. In 1774, he moved to Bordentown, New Jersey, and began to practice law. He also began to sat on the legislature at this time. He served on the Continental Congress for only four months in 1776, and became most well known for the caricatures he drew of his colleagues. After leaving the Congress, Hopkinson continued to be involved in politics (judge of the admiralty court of Pennsylvania and Federal circuit judge for the eastern district of Pennsylvania), but he also became increasingly attracted to the arts. He wrote many humorous poems and essays, composed “My Days Have Been So Wondrous Free, ” the first secular musical composition, and in 1781 he finished the “Temple of Minerva, ” the first operatic work composed by an American composer.
Hopkinson died at the age of fifty-three while he was still serving as a Federal circuit judge. He was buried in Philadelphia’s Christ Church Burial Ground.