Each week throughout 2020, I’ll be looking at a flag (and accompanying municipal symbol) of one of Rhode Island’s cities and towns. This week, Hopkinton.
Hopkinton is situated in southwest Washington County, bounded to the north by Exeter, Richmond to its east, Westerly and Charlestown to its south, and Connecticut to its west. It’s the last part of RI travelers going south on I-95 are likely to pass through, and concurrently the first part of RI people going north are likely to see. This kind of makes it RI’s western gate, (Pawtucket would be the eastern gate in this metaphor).
Sadly, I don’t have a lot of history on Hopkinton. The Preservation Commission’s document is a preliminary sketch, the Town website offers little history, and the Hopkinton Historical Association doesn’t seem to have a basic overview available. So, keep that in mind. I don’t know much about Hopkinton, but I already know less than I do from other places.
Like Charlestown and Richmond, Hopkinton was carved out of Westerly, though it was the last of the towns to form, splitting from Westerly in 1757. The town named itself after the Governor of Rhode Island at the time, Stephen Hopkins. While Hopkins is an intriguing figure in his own right, the most important thing you should remember about him is that he signed the Declaration of Independence.
Hopkinton has somewhere between two and fifteen villages depending on how you count. Like most western RI towns, those villages are mill villages, usually named after the nearby textile mill.
The eastern and southern borders of the town are delineated by the Pawcatuck River and its northern branch, the Wood River. There are, by my count, at least nine hills in the town. There are also numerous ponds, though most are of human origin.
What Has Hopkinton Got Now?
Hopkinton has arms, granted to it by the Tercentenary Commission.
The Commission emblazons them as follows:
Sable a chevron ermine between three pistols or, on a chief gules a quill pen argent. On a black shield an ermine chevron between three golden pistols, with a silvery quill pen on a red strip at the top. The chief motive of the device is the ancient arms of the Hopkins family, but as there is no evidence that Stephen Hopkins himself used any coat of arms, a chief has been added for difference in accordance with heraldic usage, and this chief is charged with a quill pen, significant of the fact that Hopkins was a signer of the Declaration of Independence.
The town was named for Stephen Hopkins.
While this closely matches the arms of the Hopkins family, there appears to be another difference beyond the red chief with the quill: the ermine chevron. Ermine is a heraldic “fur” which are patterns that represent a particular type of animal’s fur/skin/plumage. Ermine is the one that represents ermines and is black spots on white. Most famously, you see it on the arms and flag of Brittany.
The thing is, the Hopkins family uses a gold chevron with three red roses on it. The closest I could find in my sources to ermine is an “erminois” chevron used by a family that assumed the Hopkins name, but erminois is black spots on gold. Somehow, this chevron became ermine in whatever source the Tercentenary Commission used in the 1930s.
Hopkinton uses these arms as a de facto seal, though, they made some modifications. Here are two versions I found, both in use by the town.
As you can see, in the 80+ years since these arms were created, the Town has slowly changed the primary color of them. They also have some scrolling (not particularly great scrolling) going on to ensure you know it’s Hopkinton. The latter design seems to be used more often, as I found it on Town documents.
I assume Hopkinton has a flag (since all the cities and towns present their flags during gubernatorial inaugurations). But I could not find any direct evidence of one existing, and the Town Clerk never replied to my request for a flag image, though she did confirm that the arms (with a black field) were correct.
I did find this on a recorded video of a Town Council meeting from March:
That framed thing bearing the town arms looks like it’s got the dimensions of a flag (albeit, a small one). It also looks like it has some long text on top (possibly in yellow), and something relatively short just below the shield.
So that’s it for used symbols: arms with varying shades of blue.
Digitizing Existing Designs
From my perspective, the primary flaw of most executions of the Hopkinton arms is that the pistols are nearly unidentifiable as such.
Both these executions I think make it more clear. At left is my work (the pistols, ermine spots, and quill are all self-made). At right is a design using WappenWiki assets; though pistols and quill pens are not common charges, so an ostrich feather and Cossack rifle have been dragooned into use.
Hopkinton uses the scroll to tell you it’s Hopkinton, but a proper seal could do that in a much nicer way, so I’ve designed them a seal in color and black and white:
I used Gadugi as a font, and the ermine spots seemed like a nice unique way to fill the space between the year of incorporation and the town name.
I’ve also developed what I think is potentially the town flag, based on the meeting video from above:
I don’t think this is a good flag. I think that it’s color is out of sync with the Tercentenary version, and even with the other blue version is not good. I think that the use of gold lettering (if that’s what’s there) isn’t a good design decision.
So I think Hopkinton could use a flag that’s 1. builds on the arms and 2. is something that might be more prominently displayed.
Redesigning Hopkinton’s Flag
As always, I’m starting with a basic adaptation of the municipal arms. As we’ve seen in previous designs, chiefs can simply move to the hoist, as though the arms were simply rotated ninety degrees counterclockwise. In this case, however, I’ve kept the rest of the design pointing vertical. If you’re wondering why the number of spots have increased, there doesn’t appear to be any particular symbolic meaning behind there being five on the arms, and while there’s no particular meaning behind the nine spots here, if there are really nine hills in Hopkinton, then the number here matches perfectly.
Designs 2a & 2b
This tricolor is probably a little overstuffed, but I think these flags demonstrate that you can make slight alterations and still arrive at a good flag. The thirteen ermine spots represent one count of the number of villages in Hopkinton. 2a uses the three pistols, 2b drops them because, in my view, they made the design look overcrowded by adding another element and color.
Designs 3a & 3b
These two flags are intended to symbolize Hopkinton as a sort of “gateway to Rhode Island” and also to symbolize the bridges one must cross from most directions to reach the town. The ermine spots here are arranged to represent the villages, with the central ermine spot representing Hopkinton City, the administrative center of the town. Design 3b adds a wavy stripe to represent the rivers of the town.
This last design incorporates the ermine and color choice of the arms, but it strips away everything else for a simple representation of Hopkinton as a place where rivers and roads (and also people) meet, indicated by the pall (the forked ermine line). By stripping away things like quill pens and flintlock pistols, the flag becomes timeless. You can equally imagine this flying from a knight’s lance as well as you can imagine it hanging in a town council chamber. The red stands for the mill buildings and hard work, while the black symbolizes fertile soil for growing plants and community.
As always, let me put in the disclaimer: I don’t live in Hopkinton, I don’t know much about Hopkinton (not sure I learned that much from the research process this time, either). If you think I totally missed the ball, if there’s something you think I could do better, or information I should no, please get in contact.
Hopkinton was tough, and I think it goes to highlight how dragooning the arms of some family distantly connected may not always be the best idea for a town. Civic symbols really work their best when they reference and reinforce something about the character of the place they represent.
Please vote in the poll! I’ll see you next week for Jamestown, when we deal with… sheep.