Born in a small farming town near present Scituate, RI, Hopkins began to follow the sea shortly after his father's death in 1738. Married to the daughter of a well-to-do shipmaster, he was a prosperous sea-captain, traveling to every corner of the globe. Like many other New England seamen, he commanded a privateer during the war between France and Great Britain. Between voyages, he was involved in local politics, serving several times as a deputy to the General Assembly. While he turned from sea to farming in 1772, he again returned to naval affairs when the General Assembly of Rhode Island felt it necessary to protect the coast against Great Britain. On Oct. 4, 1775, Esek was put in charge of all of the colony's military forces with the rank of brigadier general. When a fleet was organized by the Continental Congress to protect American commerce, Hopkins was appointed its commander-in-chief. Highlights of his command include a successful attack against New Providence, Bahamas, where a large supply of British ammunition was housed. Following seizure of the island and its military stores, Hopkins successfully seized a British armed schooner and a brig on his return voyage. However, in an encounter with the British ship Gasglow in Long Island Sound, the American vessels were severely damaged and unable to prevent the enemy's escape. This failure, paired with a shortage of manpower due to widespread illness and a delay in government pay, made it impossible for Hopkins to man the two new ships which had been built in Providence. Although two vessels of the fleet, one of them commanded by John Paul Jones, made excursions against the enemy, the navy as a whole remained idle and, in December 1776, was blockaded in Narrangansett Bay by the British Fleet. Suspended from command in March 1777, Hopkins went on to serve as deputy to the General Assembly from 1777-1786 and, in 1783, was made collector of imposts. He was also a trustee of Rhode Island College, now Brown University, from 1772 until his death in 1802.