Hopkinson writes his sister in 1776, inquiring about her husband's production of saltpeter
Rare Revolutionary War-dated ALS signed “Fr. Hopkinson,” three pages on two adjoining sheets, measures 12.5 x 8 open, March 29, 1776. Letter to his sister, Nancy Coale, in part: “I have been pleasing myself all Winter with the fond Hopes of paying you a visit in the Spring, but now the Time is come I find so many Difficulties in the way, that I know not how to break thro them all. The Critical Situation of Public Affairs & my own uncertain Circumstances are principal Obstacles. I hope, however, my dear Sister will not doubt the Reality & Warmth of my Love altho I cannot give a Proof of it in the way I could wish. I am far from giving up entirely the Expectations of seeing you in a few weeks—it is my earnest Desire—and if I can, with any Propriety accomplish it shall certainly do myself & you that pleasure.
We are exceedingly anxious to hear from you expecting the Time draws nigh in which you hope to increase your Family. May God grant you a happy Delivery!—You know not the tender Cares & heart-felt Pangs this new Connection will create—But it is the Lot of human Life, that every Acquisition of Joy brings with it the Seeds of much Sorrow—I hope the latter will never thrive in your Garden.—When I think of my dear, my darling Jemmy—Ifeel one of those Touches of Grief which Nature can least bear—But no more of this—
Nancy is well & desires her Love to you & the Doctor—you have heard no Doubt how ill she has been this winter, & that I have lost another Son, but as it lived but one Day the parting was the easier.— I wonder much my Brother Tommy hath never favoured me with a Line since he left us—I hope he is well & in Prosperity—pray give our Love to him & assure him of our good wishes—I had called my last little Boy Tommy.
I hear the Dr. is engaged in a Salt Petre Works—how does he go on? I hope he has good Success—I too have been fiddling at it—but in a very small way.—I hope our good Sister Jenny is well—but I will write a Line to her.—Once more our Love to the good Doctor. Compliments to all your & our new Relations particularly to Mr. Thomas Cole.” Hopkinson adds a brief postscript, “Mr. & Mrs. Borden desire their affectionate Regards to you & yours & to Sister Jenny.” Removably encapsulated in a mylar sleeve. In very good condition, with scattered staining and foxing, and professional repairs to small areas of paper loss along folds.
At the start of the War for Independence, Pennsylvania’s Frankford Mill served as the lone American manufacturer of gunpowder. On February 23, 1776, Continental Congress resolved to remedy this shortage by promoting the production of saltpeter across the United Colonies; saltpeter being an ingredient in a recipe for ‘nitre,’ or potassium nitrate, one of three gunpowder essentials. Although Hopkinson attests to “fiddling at it—but in a very small way,” civilian urgency is plainly captured. Three months later, Hopkinson was elected to represent New Jersey in the Second Continental Congress, approving and signing the Declaration of Independence soon thereafter. In addition to his legal career, Hopkinson was also an acclaimed composer, with the somber mention of “Jemmy” recalling a song he had written nearly twenty years earlier entitled ‘With Jemmy on the Sea,’ one of the earliest American compositions. An affectionately penned letter deriving from a notable chapter in both the life of Hopkinson and the narrative of the American Revolution.