The Pleasant Garden nexus

Regardless of which version of Orphan George’s arrival we accept, a number of intriguing coincidences had led me to wonder whether young George was raised in the household of Robert and Sarah (Borden) Hodgson. This Robert was the only known son of Robert the Missioner and his wife, Rachel Shotten. For now, however, let us consider the following:

1. Robert and Sarah’s family received a certificate of transfer from Chester (Pennsylvania) Monthly Meeting, dated 8th Month 28, 1717, and directed to Newark (Delaware) Monthly Meeting. But there is no record that the certificate was ever presented at Newark, nor is there any evidence that the family was active in the Meeting. At any rate, some of the family drifted away from the Society of Friends: daughter Sarah married Joseph Wood Jr. at St. Stephen Episcopal Church in nearby Cecil County, Maryland, February 17, 1734/5, and others became Presbyterian. Some other Hodgson/Hodson families appear in later minutes of the Delaware Meetings, which are not part of the William Wade Hinshaw abstracts; I suspect that at least some of these originate with Robert and Sarah. At any rate, young George was sufficiently attuned to the Quaker culture that he could move within Friends circles, eventually joining Meeting in North Carolina, and have many of his descendants remain within the Society of Friends to the present.

2. As noted, Robert and Sarah apparently drifted away from active participation in Quaker Meeting once they left Chester. I have examined Chester’s original minutes, hoping that the children might be named and that we might thus find George’s name among them; unfortunately, they are listed simply as “children” or “family.” Minutes from the women’s business session are more legible and correctly spelled than are those from the men’s. Yet the family continued to move within Quaker circles, and their grandson Robert’s family  became active in Hopewell Meeting in Frederick County, Virginia. We are told that young George was raised in a Quaker family; even so, when he married Mary Thatcher, he does not face Meeting discipline – she does, for marrying contrary to discipline (that is, marrying another Quaker) rather than marrying out of unity (a non-Quaker). While on one had, this leaves us with no record of which Meeting he may have been affiliated with, it still indicates that he was accepted as a Friend. We find the children of Robert and Sarah in the same situation.

3. When Robert and Sarah left Chester in 1717, they were directed to Newark (originally “New Work” and pronounced “New Ark”) in Delaware, a community founded by Valentine Hollingsworth, whose wedding was witnessed by George and Ann Hodgson in Ireland. Was there a Hollingsworth-Hodgson relationship at work here? When Robert and Sarah settled on the tract they named Pleasant Garden, Hollingsworths purchased one hundred acres adjacent to it.

4. Hollingsworths were also active at Centre Meeting in Delaware – so named because it was halfway between Old Newark and Old Kennett Meetings. A similar logic was applied in naming Centre Meeting in Guilford County, North Carolina, where George and Mary Thatcher Hodgson were founding members. The Delaware meetinghouse is perhaps six miles from Concord Meeting, and within a 10-mile or so radius of Birmingham, New Garden, and Old Kennett Meetings, as well as Old Swede’s Church in Wilmington and the Hodgson Pleasant Garden estate. As Friends settled increasingly to the northwest of Newark, the Meeting itself shifted, to become what is now known as Old Kennett (so named to avoid confusion with Kennett Square Meeting). In North Carolina, a Concord Meeting was set off from Centre Meeting and included Hodson/Hodgin families.

5. Robert and Sarah named their estate Pleasant Garden. A village in Guilford County’s Fentress Township, about four miles from Centre Friends meetinghouse, is also called Pleasant Garden. Considering that later maps indicate a number of Hodgin/Hodson homesteads nearby, I wonder if the name itself came down in family stories, inspiring the village name. Fred Hughes’ early settlers’ map of Guilford County indicates Pleasant Garden Methodist Church was established there in 1792. The name, I would assume, had already been attached to the locale.

6. If young George were indeed taken in and raised by Robert and Sarah, those hearing him relate the story could have easily confused the names of his parents and grandparents, as could have happened in later telling of the story.

7. Naming patterns can be informative when doing genealogical research in this era. In his Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (Oxford University Press, 1989), historian David Hackett Fischer states: “Eldest sons in the backcountry,” meaning the Hodgson northern British/Ulster Irish culture, “tended to be named after grandfathers, and second or third sons after fathers.”

According to this model, then, we might expect George Hodgson’s father to be named John, if their first son is the John who survived to adulthood. But his birth, two years after their marriage, allows the possibility of an earlier child, who may have carried George’s father’s name. According to naming practices, when such a son died in childhood, the name would sometimes be reapplied when another was born, and so we also have a possibility that George, Robert, or Joseph was George’s father. Again, more complete information on George and Mary’s children would be a help.

One custom we find in this period is that given names cluster along lines of descent; thus, nuclear families having a preponderance of same first names are more likely to been related than those differing dramatically. As a consequence, we find that George and Mary named a son Robert and a daughter Sarah – perhaps after Robert and Sarah Hodgson at Pleasant Garden, Pennsylvania. Among the sons of Robert and Sarah of Pleasant Garden are Joseph and John. George, of course, named one son after himself. In this model, only Susanna is unaccounted for. More tellingly, I wonder why none of George and Mary’s children are named Mary and why none of the names appear to be from her side of the family.

8. Another point to be considered, though, from Fischer, involves the span of kinship that would have been available to young George:

From the perspective of an individual within this culture, the structure of the family tended to be a set of concentric rings, in which the outermost circles were thicker and stronger than among other English-speaking people. Beyond the nuclear core, beyond even the extended circle, there were two rings which were unique to this culture. One was called the derbfine. it encompassed all kin within the span of four generations. For many centuries, the laws of North Britain and Ireland had recognized the derbfine as a unit which defined the descent of property and power. It not only connected one nuclear family to another, but also joined one generation to the next.

Beyond the derbfine lay a larger ring of kinship which was called the clan in North Britain. We think of clans today mainly in connection with the Scottish Highlands. But they also existed in the lowlands, northern Ireland and England’s border counties where they were a highly effective adaptation to a world of violence and chronic insecurity

This would suggest that if young George did arrive in America as an orphan, and if his grandfather and Robert the Missioner were brothers or first cousins, he and the Robert at Pleasant Garden would have been within the derbfine – presumably giving him a strong claim on Robert’s assistance.

Although none of this is conclusive, we should observe that most of Robert and Sarah’s immediate family appears to have remained in the eastern Pennsylvania-Delaware-Maryland nexus, rather than migrating westward or on to North Carolina. George Hodgson, meanwhile, found himself in the Carolina Piedmont among some of the Hollingsworth and Wright descendants, in addition to many of his wife Mary’s relatives.

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