Biography of Right Rev. John H. Hopkins
Chittenden County, VT Biographies

HOPKINS, THE RIGHT REV. JOHN HENRY, D.D., LL.D., Oxon., was the first bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the diocese of Vermont. He was consecrated in St. Paul's Chapel, New York city, on October 30, 1832, along with Bishops Smith, Mcllvaine, and Deane. He moved to Burlington in November following, and resided there until his death on January 9, 1868, thirty six years after his consecration.

John Henry Hopkins was born in Dublin, Ireland (of English parentage), on January 30, 1792. He was brought by his parents to Philadelphia at the age of eight, and there educated. At twenty two he became an iron master, near Pittsburgh, and during his engagement in this calling he married, in May, 1816, Miss Melusina Muller, who had come from Hamburg, Germany, with her parents some years before. Music, art, and culture were the attractions that first brought them into an acquaintance, which ripened into engagement and marriage, and the bonds of wedded love continued for fifty two years. During this most happy union thirteen children were born to give zest and interest to their lives. The names of these in order of birth were Charlotte Emily (Mrs. Rev. Dr. Charles Fay), Matilda Theresa (Mrs. Rev. Dr. Norman W. Camp), John Henry, Edward Augustus, Melusina Elizabeth, Casper Thomas, Theodore Austin, Alfred Dreneas, Clement Eusebius, William Cyprian, Charles Jerome, Caroline Amelia (Mrs. Thomas H. Canfield), and Frederick Vincent. Of these, eleven reached maturity and nine are now living (1866).


Closing up the iron business in 1817, Mr. John Henry Hopkins studied law, and was admitted to the Pittsburgh bar in an unusually short time. He practiced his profession with ardor and increasing success for five years, when in 1823 he was led to consider the claims of the sacred ministry, chiefly by the singular fact that the members of Trinity parish extended an unanimous call to him to take charge of their church at a time when he was away from home at court. He had already been very active in aid of that church as organist, and had cooperated in all the work of the parish, which was a very feeble one. But when he was surprised by so unusual and urgent a call he felt constrained to change his profession to that of


Mr. Hopkins had studied theology for the love of it, for some years, so he passed his examination for the diaconate in less than two months, and was ordained deacon by Bishop White in Trinity Church, Philadelphia, December 14, 1823. But such was his zeal for the work that in making this change he gave up a lawyer's annual income of $5,000 for $800.

And now began a career of success most phenomenal. The vestry at once took measures to build a new church. In five months more Mr. Hopkins was ordained to the priesthood and took full charge of the parish. He studied Gothic architecture sufficiently to design a superb church building which was built in 1824, and he made the plans for it and superintended its erection. Next he established a boarding school for girls and boys in his own house, in which he fitted up a pretty little chapel and called it an "oratory." He found time to establish new parishes in six towns, Meadville, Butler, Mercer, Erie, Blairsville, and Cottoning, and to educate seven young men for the ministry, and all this in the seven years of his rectorship of Trinity Church, Pittsburgh. The above parishes have every one of them been permanent, and have been doing the work of Christ for sixty one years, while Trinity parish has become the head of the diocese of Pittsburgh, and has recently substituted for the elegant Gothic building of wood, built in 1824, a magnificent Gothic edifice of stone, of more than twice the size of the old one. As Mr. Hopkins's ardor grew he began to crave additional facilities for educating young men for the ministry, and he wished to establish a theological school. The new Bishop (H. U. Onderdonk) opposed the idea of such a school in Pittsburgh, and desired that it should be built at Philadelphia. And now Boston gave an earnest call to Mr. Hopkins to become the assistant minister of Trinity Church in that city. He required pledges that $10,000 should be raised for a theological school there. The pledges were given, and in faith on these (which, alas, were afterward repudiated!) Mr. Hopkins actually abandoned all his splendid work in Pittsburgh and went to take the charge in Boston. There his popularity at once filled the church, but the people were so afraid to lose him as a preacher, if they should build the theological seminary - in which he was to be a professor without salary that he found it impossible to raise the means to carry out the darling idea of his life. The diocese of Vermont elected him its first bishop in May, 1832, and so after a visit to the State he accepted the office.


The Right Rev. Bishop Hopkins was consecrated in October, 1832, as above stated. He became the rector of St. Paul's Church, Burlington, at once, and so continued for twenty six years. From 1833-1838 he established the two branches of the Vermont Episcopal Institute, twice enlarging his own dwelling for that purpose, as the schools grew. The second enlargement developed a magnificent building, having a facade 255 feet long, presenting two gable fronts, decorated with Ionic fluted columns, each thirty feet high, and three feet diameter, and also showing a smaller portico decorated likewise with pillars. The south wing (now demolished) was the long desired theological school. Between them was his own residence, and all were under one extended roof. But alas! threatened war with England in 1837 and the utter disaster of the failure of the United States Bank in Philadelphia, which created a panic the most severe our country ever knew, combined to ruin thousands of enterprises throughout the land, and among them the institute. In 1839 all these superb buildings (worth $40,000) were sold for a debt of $10,000 at auction by foreclosure of mortgage. Two of them yet stand at the foot of Church street, but they are much reduced in size, for they have been private property forty seven years.

But St. Paul's Church prospered and grew, and during the following eighteen years Bishop Hopkins (as in Pittsburgh) drew the plans and superintended the work of two successive enlargements. He had once published a work on Gothic architecture, and now he beautified St. Paul's with ripened taste and judgment. Among other things he painted with his own hand the six beautiful tablets that still adorn its chancel walls, and which tell in Scripture language (1), the story of the creation of the world; (2), the fall of man; (3), the plan of redemption; (4), the establishment of baptism; (5), the Lord's supper; and (6), the prophecy of the judgment day. Each letter of the hundreds of words there painted is three inches high and painted in three colors, and a lovely symbolical angel's head surmounts each tablet. At the end of this eighteen years (during which he removed to Rock Point farm, and brought up his family in seclusion and in exceedingly straitened circumstances) he found opportunity to enlist the diocese and (afterward for three years) his many friends in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and St. Louis, in subscribing $48,000 for the church work in Vermont. With this he bought Rock Point for a bishop's residence and for a reestablishment of his old plans of the Vermont Episcopal Institute, for boys and for theological students, and with a view, also, to establish a girls' school at some future date. He began to collect funds in 1857, and the institute was opened (as it now stands) by his son, Rev. Theodore A. Hopkins, in September, 1860, and was conducted by him with distinguished success for the next twenty one years, to 1881. An effort is now being made to raise $60,000 to establish the girls' department, which, if it shall succeed, will after all be only carrying out one more beneficent scheme of this truly God fearing, indefatigable, self denying and noble Christian bishop.

In 1860 Bishop Hopkins accepted charge of Trinity Church, Rutland, and raised $8,000 there and built them a church after his own plans. which was finished in 1865, and which is an ornament to the town and State. So also he supplied the plans for the new church in Brandon, which is of conspicuous beauty. But his final and noblest work as to church building was in the third enlargement of St. Paul's, Burlington, in 1867, when he added a transept and an exquisitely paralleled ceiling, an apsidal chancel, and a gallery resting on clustered pillars which extended from the ceiling to the floor.


All through his rectorship Bishop Hopkins kept building up St. Paul's Church. He had two confirmations yearly, and his pastoral work was nearly incessant. Yet through all the years of such activities as these he found time to write and publish the following works, of an average of 400 pages each:

(1), Work on Gothic Architecture; (2), Christianity Vindicated; (3), The Primitive Creed; (4), The Primitive Church; (5), The Church of Rome; (6), Twelve Songs for Family Use; (7), First Letter to Bishop Kenrick; (8), Second Letter to Bishop Kenrick; (9), The Novelties That Disturb Our Peace; (10), Lectures on the British Reformation; (11), The True Principles of Restoration to the Episcopal Office; (12), The Second Advent; (13), The Vermont Drawing Books, in Six Lithograph Numbers; (14), The Vermont Drawing Book of Flowers; (15), The Vermont Drawing Book of Figures; (16), The History of the Confessional; (17), Bible Commentary on the Pentateuch (not published); (18), The Gorham Case; (19), Milner's End of Controversy Controverted; (20), the same, second volume; (21), Remonstrance to the Church Journal; (22), The American Citizen; (23), The Bible View of Slavery; (24), Autobiography in Verse; (25), History of the Church in Verse; (26), The Law of Ritualism; (27), The Pope not Antichrist.

Besides these he composed tunes to 336 psalms and hymns, besides various overtures for piano and orchestra. He also wrote poetry. He was renowned for his eloquence as a preacher, and over twelve buildings, schools, churches and residences testify to his skill as an architect.

Three years before his death Bishop Hopkins became the presiding bishop of the whole Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. This was in January, 1865. He presided, therefore, in the House of Bishops during the general convention of that church held in Philadelphia in October of that year, and after the war was most influential in recruiting the Protestant Episcopal Church South with that of the North during the year 1866. He presided at New Orleans at the consecration of Bishop I. P. B. Wilmer, and at Louisville, Kentucky, at that of Bishop Cummins. His visit to the South turned out to be a perfect ovation, so eager were the Southerners to welcome him. He also presided at the consecrations of Bishops Clarkson, Quintard, Randall, Kerfoot, Williams (of China), Cummins, Tuttle and Young; while before he became presiding bishop he assisted in the consecration of Bishops Henshaw, John Williams (of Conn.), Lee (of Iowa), Potter (of New York), Clark Gregg and Stevens, seventeen in all.

In 1867 Bishop Hopkins attended the first Pan-Anglican conference ever held in England, and this in his character as presiding bishop of the church in the United States. There he met with the most distinguished consideration from the English bishops and from the Archbishop of Canterbury. Eighteen years before this remarkable council of all the churches in the Anglican communion in the world was really invited to assemble by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Hopkins, of Vermont, had suggested it, and that at a date (1849) when he did not dream that he should ever again see England. It was indeed a notable providence that he should live to attend the first council so called together, and that, too, as the presiding bishop on this side of the water. He was most conspicuous in all that council, and this, his last official action outside his own diocese, was the most brilliant occasion of his life. After his return to Burlington in November, 1867, he lived but two months, dying of congestion of the lungs on January 9, 1868, in the seventy sixth year of his age and the thirty sixth of his episcopate. His funeral was one of the most remarkable of any ever attended in Burlington. Bishops came from far and near. His body lay in the vestibule of St. Paul's Church one day, and the whole city filed past the coffin to take the last look of a countenance so dear to all. He rests in peace under an elaborate monument in the cemetery at Rock Point, which lies between the institute of his creation and the home of his love. Contributions to the amount of nearly $3,000 poured in from every State in the Union and from nearly every parish in Vermont for the monument, and it stands there, planned by his eldest son, John Henry, and paid for by the contributions of loving hearts.

History of Chittenden County, Vermont
Edited by: W. S. Rann
D. Mason & Co., Publishers
Syracuse, New York. 1886

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