John “Jack” Hopkins – Steward of Pennsylvania College Before and After the Battle

Tom Elmore

Sergeant Major
Member of the Year
Jan 16, 2015
When Jack Hopkins died on July 19, 1868, the entire faculty and student body of Pennsylvania College in Gettysburg turned out for his funeral, and the college proclaimed, “That we desire to place on record our appreciation of his long and devoted services – his strict integrity and honor – his uniform and gentlemanly deportment among the students – our high esteem in which he was held by all connected with the college.” An image of Jack:

Born in 1806 in Maryland, either as a slave or free Black (he was listed as mulatto on the 1860 census), Jack came to Gettysburg in the early 1840s, where he met and married native resident Julia Ann. In 1847, Jack was hired as steward of the college, and served as its principal custodian for the next 20 years. His duties included cleaning, lighting fireplaces and ringing the college bell for events. Students respectfully referred to him as the “Vice President.”

In 1857, Jack and Julia moved into one-story frame house in town (219 S. Washington Street) that was purchased from Abraham Brien, who went on to farm some land just south of town on Cemetery Ridge. Three children followed – John Edward, Wilson and Mary (in the coming war, John Edward Hopkins served in Company F of the 25th U.S. Colored Troops). In early 1860, a spacious two-story brick house was built for Jack and his family very close to the main campus buildings - it stood until 1928: However, Jack still kept his house in town, perhaps renting it out.

With the impending invasion in the summer of 1863, it was not safe for African-Americans to remain in the area, so Jack took his family out of harm’s way. A woman named Amanda Little who might also have been residing there at the time likewise vacated the premises. When the family afterwards returned to their home, they found it had been ransacked, their personal possessions and probably stored property belonging to the college gone. The list included 19 quilts, 8 blankets, 11 “comforts,” 5 feather beds, 20 yards of imported carpet, 18 yards of “Raj” carpet, a dozen china cups and saucers, a clock and livestock. Most of these items no doubt went toward the comfort of up to 700 Confederate wounded who occupied the field hospital set up in the college buildings. Amputated limbs and old dressings littered the grounds. It must have been a truly monumental task for Jack and his helpers to get the place ready for the return of the student body in late September 1863. More than two decades after the war, the library still had many blood-soaked volumes on its shelves, which had once served as pillows for the wounded.

Other sources:
State Claims, Adams County Historical Society, Gettysburg
The Pennsylvania College Book, 1832-1882, ed. by E. S. Breidenbaugh, Philadelphia: Lutheran Publication Society, 1882, p. 92

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JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
Yes, thank you! It's extremely difficult, finding information on Gettysburg's African American community- and such an important story.

Little off thread, sorry, have been looking for years for information on those kidnapped and taken south. No idea who they were or if any were able to make it back ( if you've bumped into information, love to see a thread? )

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