BENJAMIN FRANKLIN HOPKINS


From History of Dane County, Wisconsin, publ. by Western Historical Company, Chicago, 1880, page 529-532

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN HOPKINS was born in Hebron, Washington County, N.Y., April 22, 1829. His early life was spent on a farm in Granville, in the same county. He received such an education as was afforded by the schools at his own home, and though the opportunities were rather limited, he made excellent use of his time, and was deemed a good academic scholar. Farming was not to his liking; though, being put to it in his boyhood, he was diligent and useful in this employment. His mind was too active for a farmer's life, and craved the more stimulating pursuits of the business world.

For a time, he was clerk in a country store, and showed a wonderful aptitude for this position. While yet a youth, the telegraph was brought into use. This wonderful process by which persons communicate with each other from all parts of the country - of annihilating time and distance as it were - was captivating to young HOPKINS, and he at once obtained a situation to received instruction in the mysterious process of telegraphing. He soon became an accomplished operator. Then, at the age of twenty, having read of the great and growing West, he became convinced that it presented an inviting field for the development and growth of the mind of a young man. In October 1849, he came to Wisconsin. He had been attracted to Fond du Lac, having friends residing at that point, and made his first stop in the State at that place. He remained there but a short time, as, in November in that year, we find him in charge of the telegraph office at Madison, a place that presented unusual charms for him, and which was ever afterward his home. As a resident of that place, Mr. HOPKINS was ever foremost in promoting its best interests. He gave to it the benefit of his counsel, was active in labor and liberal with his means in the advancement of any project having for its purpose the improvement of Madison, in adding to its business or to its beauty. The citizens of the capital city appreciate his valuable services and have great cause for lamenting his early death. His many acts of benevolence and kindness will be long remembered by her people. He acted nobly and well a citizen's duty, during his entire residence in Madison.

Commencing his career in Wisconsin as a young man, without means and without friends, the complete success that attended Mr. HOPKINS in his private as well as in his public life, give conclusive evidence of his ability, shrewdness and keen foresight in all things. He began that career as an operator in a telegraph office. In this position as in all others in after life, he was accomplished in the execution of his work, attentive to every duty, gentlemanly, and very obliging to all with whom he came in contact. Previous to this time, the telegraph had proved very unsatisfactory to the people of Madison. On his taking charge of the office, a marked change took place. The business was performed promptly and well, and the new operator soon became one of the most popular young men in the village. The business of the office was small, occupying only a portion of the time of Mr. HOPKINS. The salary was also small. He was not long in discovering that he was able to accomplish more than merely to attend the duties of that position. Madison was then a small village; but the keen perceptive faculties of Mr. HOPKINS soon convinced him that it must become a place of considerable importance, and that real estate must increase in value. He economized in all things, and, as soon as he had accumulated a small amount of money, he invested it in lots or lands. There was an immediate advance, and Mr. HOPKINS would sell when a good offer was made and invest the proceeds again.

The first public enterprise with which Mr. HOPKINS interested himself was the organization of the Madison Mutual Insurance Company. In the winter of 1851, he drew up the charter of that institution, procured its passage through the Legislature, and, in April of that year, the company was duly organized with him as its Secretary. He served in this capacity five years, and was active in his efforts to promote the interests of the company, and establish for it a reputation for responsibility and promptness. In this, he succeeded in a most satisfactory manner. He was a Director and member of the Executive Committee, of the company from the day of its organization to the day of his death, and took a leading part in its management during the whole time. He was Vice President for six years, commencing with 1882.

In 1855, he took an active interest in the incorporation of the Madison Gas Company. He procured the passage of its charter in the winter of that year, and the company was fully organized in the spring, with him as its Secretary. At the end of five years, he was the owner of most of its stock.

Mr. HOPKINS was not only a public-spirited man, but he was also a benevolent and kind-hearted man. He never turned a deaf ear to the wants of his fellows, but opened his purse liberally to the needy, as hundreds in the community can testify.

In the matter of public improvements, and the building of churches and other institutions, he was a free giver. No subscription paper passed him without his name opposite a liberal sum of money.

He was a patriotic man. At the commencement of the late rebellion, no man, in a private capacity, was more active in aiding to organize troops for the defense of the country, or more liberal, in proportion to his means, in the supplying of money in support of the dear ones at home, than was the subject of this sketch. He did not enter the service, as it was the opinion of his physician that it would not be safe for him to do so. For many years previous to the war he had been a great sufferer from inflammatory rheumatism, and it was felt that he could do more good at home, without endangering his life. But he was not an inactive supporter of the Government in the time of its peril. He was constantly devising measures for the comfort of the soldiers and for their families at home.

Perhaps the most pleasing and satisfactory labor of his life, to himself, was performed immediately after the close of the war; and certainly it has proved a great blessing to the State. Have reference to his efforts in establishing the "Soldiers' Orphans' Home." He took an early, active and leading part in this great benevolent institution, fraught with such untold blessings to the orphan children of Wisconsin's soldiers.

The institution was put in operation, and Mr. HOPKINS was a leading member of the Board of Trustees, from the commencement, so long as he lived. He was efficient in promoting its affairs, and took a lively interest in everything pertaining to this noblest of our State charities.

He was a politician in its best and most enlarged sense. He was versed in the science of government and skilled in the execution of his plans. In early life he belonged to the great Whig party, and entered actively into the work of advancing its interests, and continued to act with it so long as the party had an existence. On the organization of the Republican party, he became identified with it, and, during the balance of his life, was one of its leading members.

His first political office was that of Private Secretary to Gov. BASHFORD in which position he served with marked ability and fidelity, and to the great acceptance of the people, during the years of 1856 and 1857. In the fall of 1861, he was elected to the State Senate, in which body he distinguished himself as a ready debater and as a legislator of great efficiency. He had no sin. In both of these cases, he was elected in districts where his party was in a large minority; but his popularity with the people was very great, and he was rarely defeated in a popular election.

Mr. HOPKINS was an ambitious man - ambitious to be of use to the world. His efforts were well matured and systematized. He first accumulated a fortune in private business, and then devoted himself to the public service. His ambition led him to seek place - not merely for the sake of place, but to enable him to do a greater good than could be accomplished without it. He was a man of wonderful tenacity of character, and, when he put his mind upon doing a thing, was not easily turned from his purpose. This characteristic was clearly demonstrated in his efforts to obtain a seat in Congress. He aspired to that position in 1862, but failed to reach it till 1866.

Mr. HOPKINS had just completed his first term in Congress and been re-elected when disease took a strong hold upon him. During the time he served in Congress, he stood high in the estimation of the members as a man of unusual sagacity and as possessing remarkable abilities.

His greatest strength was in his superior knowledge of men. He made this his study, and was a very successful student. His manner was pleasing, and he readily won the esteem of all with whom he came in contact. This gave him immense power; and this power was manifest in the marked success that attended all his efforts. For the length of time he served in Congress, few men, if any, ever made a prouder or more successful record than did the subject of this imperfect sketch. Although cut off in the prime of life, and in the midst of his usefulness, he leaves a name and fame that but few persons can hope to attain.

As a public speaker, Mr. HOPKINS was fluent and pleasing. His talent in this direction was natural. He was not an educated orator. It was only in the few latter years of his life that he made any effort in this direction. His progress, after he did commence, was very marked. In the campaign of 1868, he spoke in a large number of places in his district with decided success. In Congress, he made but few speeches; though when he did address the House it was with good effect, and he received marked attention from the members. He was one of the youngest men in that body, but in influence stood among the first. He was affable and courteous to his associates; a keen observer of events; an accurate judge of men; a warm and sincere friend.

Socially, he occupied a high position. He was the life of all circles in which he participated. Pleasing in manners, fluent in conversation, jovial in his nature, Mr. HOPKINS was a brilliant ornament in the social walks of life.

In personal appearance, Mr. HOPKINS was a noble specimen of manly grace and elegance. In height, he was about five feet and ten inches, erect in form, dark hair and complexion, with large, expressive eyes. Until within a few months of his death, his appearance indicated the most perfect health.

Mr. HOPKINS was twice married. His first wife was Miss Ethalinda LEWIS, with whom he was united on the 25th day of May, 1853. She died in about two years after marriage. His second wife was Miss Mary E. WILLEUTT, whom he married on the 14th day of September, 1857. He left no children. He enjoyed home, and provided liberally for its pleasures and its comforts.

At the close of the first session of the Forty-first Congress, in the spring of 1869, Mr. HOPKINS returned to his home in Wisconsin with his health much impaired. His condition was not deemed alarming, either to himself or his friends. Being a member of the Committee on Pacific Railroads in the House, he was permitted to pass over that road, then recently finished, to the Pacific Coast, with a limited number of friends of his own selection; and during the summer he made up a party of some thirty chosen companions and took the trip to San Francisco, visiting many prominent points on the way, and in various parts of California. The journey was performed in considerable haste, and, in his enfeebled condition of health, was too much for him to endure; and, although one of the objects of his taking it was for the improvement of his health, the reverse was probably the effect from it. Soon after his return from California, business called him to Washington, from which place, in the month of September, he returned very much prostrated. He immediately put himself under medical treatment, and for a time, his friends had entire confidence in his recovery to perfect health.

He was confident that he would be able to resume his seat in Congress during the month of December. Soon after this, he experienced a relapse, and one side became partially paralyzed. There was a slight rallying from this prostration, but only sufficient to kindle a hope in the minds of his friends to be immediately blasted. The best of medical skill and the kindest attention that friends and relatives could bestow were of no avail. Death had marked him as an early victim, and no human power could save him. He died January 1, 1870.


Transcribed and contributed to this site by Carol

 

 

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