Cautions regarding the orphan argument

While I accept the argument that has George Hodgson arriving as an orphan after the ship had been seized by pirates or privateers, I will also acknowledge that it has critics.

The primary source appears to have been the Jeremiah Mills manuscript handed down in the Mills family as well as multiple Hodgson lines. The difficulty here is in the authorship: in the rough and tumble conditions of pioneer life, Jeremiah had been read out of Deep River Monthly Meeting, 12th Month 7, 1807, for “taking too much strong drink and fighting” and, despite the family’s petition of 6th Month 4, 1829, to rejoin, he was never readmitted to the Society of Friends. In 11th Month of that year, after his death, his wife Deborah and daughters Rachel and Ruth were received.

Note, however, that the orphan version was also handed down within the Hodgson family members who migrated to the Midwest fairly early, and published in 1885 by descendants in Illinois.

The fact that we eventually find this story being told by descendants of all four of Orphan George’s sons gives it more credence in my eyes than if it had cropped up only in Jeremiah Mills’ notations.

A version even makes it back to Lurgan, Northern Ireland, by way of a Harlan source. Even so, a word of caution: there is a possibility that all of the versions somehow point back to copies of Jeremiah’s manuscript; thus, instead of four or more independent accounts, we would actually have only one.

With the Illinois account, however, there is a likelihood that the authors had listened to people who heard the story directly from George.

Again, though, the proof is missing. I suspect that something solid regarding young George’s presence on the voyage itself might be found in Albert Cook Myers’ archives, held at the Chester County Historical Society, 225 North High Street in West Chester, Pennsylvania 19380; at the time of my visit in the late 1980s, access was limited to two boxes a day, by previous written request (they are kept in a nearby warehouse); this project would likely require at least two weeks of diligent research on what could as easily turn out to be a wild-goose chase.

Such are the difficulties faced here. Much genealogy is, indeed, a matter of searching for that needle in a haystack.

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