What do Jamestowne, the Mayflower and Shakespeare have in common? The answer is Stephen Hopkins: a Jamestowne settler, Mayflower passenger and survivor of the wreck of the Sea Venture, reputed to be the basis for Shakespeare’s comedy, The Tempest.
Hopkins (1581-1644), second son of John Hopkins (1550-1593) and Elizabeth Williams (b. and d. unknown), was baptized at All Saints church, Upper Clatford, Hampshire, England 30 April 1581. In 1603/4, he married his first wife, Mary. By 1608, they had three children, when Hopkins’ life took a dramatic turn; he was hired by the Reverend Richard Buck and charged with the reading of the Psalms and Chapters at Sunday services for the Virginia Company.
On 2 June, 1609, he boarded the Sea Venture with Jamestowne Governor Sir Thomas Gates, , Admiral Sir George Somers, and Christopher Newport, who previously was Captain of the Susan Constant that brought the first settlers to Jamestowne in 1607. On 28 July 1609, the Sea Venture was separated from the remainder of the third supply fleet during a hurricane. For three days the vessel was tossed by monstrous waves, became sailless and took on water. Just as hope seemed lost, Somers spotted land and Newport beached the ship on the coast of the “Isle of Devils” – Bermuda.
Life on Bermuda proved to be so easy that when Somers and Gates ordered two smaller ships built from the wreckage of the Sea Venture and local cedar to take the survivors to Jamestowne, some crew members refused to cooperate. Their leader was Stephen Hopkins. He was apprehended and tried for mutiny. Sentenced to death, he pleaded for his life so eloquently that he was pardoned.
The story of the Sea Venture is said to be the inspiration for The Tempest by William Shakespeare, when it first appeared on the London stage in November 1611. The episode when drunken, power-hungry butler Stephano tries to depose the island’s ruler, Prospero, may be based on Hopkin’s mutiny.
Finally, on 24 May 1610, the shipwrecked party with Stephen Hopkins and 140 others arrived at Jamestowne after having been marooned for nine months on Bermuda. There, Hopkins witnessed the results of Jamestowne’s Starving Times of 1609-10, when only 60 out of a population of 240 colonists had survived. He remained in Virginia until 1614, when the death of his wife forced his return to England. He worked as a shopkeeper and married Elizabeth Fisher in 1617/8.
Still longing to return to the New World, he, his wife and three children joined the voyage of the Mayflower in 1620. His wife gave birth in route to a son named Oceanus. Hopkins signed the Mayflower Compact on November 11, 1620. In Plymouth, he served an ambassador between the settlers and Native Americans and as an aid to the Governor. In later life he became a shopkeeper and died a wealthy man between 6 June and 17 July 1644. He had 10 children, 37 grandchildren and about 330 great-grandchildren.
This biography was submitted by Mary Jane Simpson, Central North Carolina Company Historian, and later supplemented by Frederick Cron, Registrar of the First Colorado Company.
Descendants of Stephen Hopkins who belong to the Central North Carolina Company include Dr. John Blue Clark, Jr. and Mr. Samuel M. Hobbs.
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