Variations on America

Versions of Orphan George’s arrival in America through an ill-fated ocean crossing have come down through many lines of his descendants.

In the first one I encountered, the Ancestral Line of Nancy J. Overstreet (mimeographed, August 1957), compiler Glen C. Walker observes:

Geo. Hodgson (1701-1774) was the son of English Quakers. The family, consisting of the parents and three sons, sailed from an Irish port for America in 1710. And when the landing was made several weeks later at Philadelphia, nine-year-old George was the only surviving member.

Correspondent Arthur Hodgin of Richmond, Indiana, found another version: “Eli HODGSON and Zamri HODGSON wrote A Concise Statement of the Descendants of George Hodgson, Extending Through Eight Generations, Numbering 1416. The book was published at Ottawa, Illinois, in 1885. In their preface they state”

… as a work of this kind, which is intended to be a true record, so far as is now known of the family and descendants of George Hodgson, since his emigration to this country …

 There is a tradition that, during the last decade of the seventeenth century, a family by the name of Hodgson, whose christianed names have not been ascertained, emigrated from England to some part of Ireland, where they remained ten or twelve years, and then embarked on a ship bound for America. During the passage the whole family died from some prevailing pestilence, except one child, a son, George, nine years old, who landed at Philadelphia about the year 1710. Nothing further is known of him except that he was married and lived in Pennsylvania until 1750, when, with a family of seven children, some of whom were then grown, he moved and settled near Guilford Court-House, North Carolina. The family seems to have remained in that state for about a half century, which includes the Revolutionary period, and the formation of the new government and constitution. A number of them, with others, forming a small colony, emigrated into new territory, northwest of the Ohio river. They were the first to chop a real road through a wilderness from Cincinnati, a distance of fifty miles northeast, and settled in Clinton Co., Ohio. Others, and perhaps all, were known to have emigrated eventually into the newer states and territories. They have been preeminent in emigrating towards the setting of the sun ..

Arthur then turns to another quotation from their book, chapter 1, where some of the facts vary from the previous statements:

George Hodgson, whose descendants are recorded in this work, was born in Ireland, of English parents, about the year 1701. The names of his parents and other members of the family are unknown. He emigrated to America when he was nine years old and settled in Pennsylvania, where he afterwards married. The name of his wife was not known. He left six children, named George, Richard, Joseph, John and two daughters, whose names are unknown, but are known to have married two brothers, surnamed Hiatt, some of whose descendants are known, but the intermediate names are missing. Nothing more is known of his descendants except the fourth child

“It was this fourth child,” Arthur writes, “John HODGSON, from whom Eli and Zimri descended and it is about his descendants that the book is written. Eli and Zimri HODGSON were descended from Thomas HODGSON whose parents were John and Mary (Mills) HODGSON.” The “Richard” they note is apparently a misreading of “Robert,” from whom Arthur descends. He continues:

“Isaiah DILLAN wrote the Ancestral Record of the Dillon, Hodgson, Fisher, and Leonard Families in 1909 at Normal, Illinois. He descended from Hurr HODGSON, a son of [Robert] HODGSON and his second wife, with the same name as his first, Rachel MILLS.” One paragraph in his introduction is as follows:

The Hodgson family are of English descent. They went from England to Ireland and from there to America. One George Hodgson, number 1941 in this record, sailed with his parents from Ireland to America, and was at landing the only survivor of the family, and only nine years of age. We are informed from the Hodgson record that he settled in Pennsylvania, from there he went to North Carolina, where he was married to a Mary Thatcher and raised a large family. We know nothing more of his wife but little of his children, except their fourth child, named John, number 1988, who married Mary Mills. It is from this union that we trace the Hodgson family. It is interesting to notice how often the children and grandchildren of John Hodgson, No. 1988, intermarried with the children and grandchildren of Daniel Dillon, No. 525.

“Isaiah Dillon also states in his introduction,” Arthur writes, “that ‘while older people were living it would have been an easy matter to have obtained the desired information to make a satisfactory record dating back further than it is possible to do now. The older people are long since gone. None of them are left to tell the story. Now we are dependent upon meagre family records and tradition for the desired information.’”

Arthur admits: “Obviously, Isaiah Dillon did not have access to all the records in 1909 that we have today and he seemed to have relied extensively on the information in the book written by Eli and Zimri HODGSON.” Later in his letter, he comments:

“The date ‘1701’ as the year of birth of George HODGSON has not been proven nor has the age of nine, as has been ascribed to George when he is said to have arrived in America ‘about 1710.’ Another researcher has used that information and added a more precise date – ‘Jan. 6, 1701.’ The source of that information was the Institute of American Genealogy, Chicago. I have not written to the author or the institute for further verification, but intend to do so. However, I suspect that the precise dates are still unknown, and that some of the Institute’s data [were] obtained from a researcher who had submitted his genealogy for publication.”

A further note of caution needs to be made about the date of George’s birth. Quaker records would not have recorded January but rather First Month or Eleventh Month; at the time, under the Old Style calendar, First Month would have been in March, not January. The fact that we have the date recorded as 1701/02 (and elsewhere as 1700/01) hints at the possibility the original source was Eleventh Month 1701, that is, in what would now appear as January 1702. Thus, what initially appears to be a solid fact becomes less definite under examination.

The questions continue. Did a “prevailing pestilence” obliterate the remainder of young George’s family? Smallpox did, in fact, infect a number of passengers on their way to America, often with its fatal result.

But there was another menace on the North Atlantic at the time, as Jeremiah Mills (born 1784 and husband of Deborah Hodson, George and Mary’s granddaughter) related in a handwritten account that appears in Paul Mills’ Mills Family History: Quaker and Other Early Arrivals (Woodburn, Oregon; no date) and, via another copy handed down in that family, in The Guilford Genealogist (Summer 1994):

But now I will speak of a breedy race. I mean the Hodsons or Hodgsons, as they used to write their name. The first I heard of them they came from Europe in the days of Blackbeard the sea-pirate. The vessel being taken that brought the first of the names over. I cannot tell the blood but I think the mixture of English, Irish, and perhaps some Scotch. Grandfather Hodgson and his wife were dead and gone before recollection.

Each of these accounts has young George and his family sailing for America several years before Blackbeard (whose real name is believed to be Edward Teach) turned pirate and terrorized American shores in his Queen Anne’s Revenge (1716-1718) – an activity, incidentally, that had the apparent backing of the governor of North Carolina, who is believed to have shared in the booty. But Blackbeard was by no means the only freebooter in those waters. After all, Captain William Kidd, who had plundered the seas 1697-1698, had been hanged in 1701. And, as Hugh F. Rankin describes in The Golden Age of Piracy (Williamsburg, Virginia; 1969), “Actually, Kidd was little more than a pale facsimile of some of the other pirates of his day.” Through letters of marque, which permitted privateers to plunder vessels of other nations, the crowned heads of Europe had institutionalized freebooting as a way to increase their own wealth, hamper the competitive trade of other countries, and guarantee themselves a source of both seamen and vessels in times of war. Both James I and Charles I of England financed plundering expeditions of their own – even ordering the pirates to fly the colors of the Royal Navy! It should be noted that Sir Francis Drake and other “Sea-Dogs” of this period were little more than pirates and seldom appeared to take much heed of which flag a vessel flew. Yet, until the oppressive measures of the 1720s began to be applied and Captains George Lowther and Edward Low, both of whom sailed and plundered off the capes of Virginia, began to apply barbarity that outraged even other pirates, much of the plundering seemed to observe an unwritten code of propriety. For example, Rankin reports one case: “Luke Knott, the Quaker captain of the West River, and his crew were held captive for nine days while the pirates plundered his ship. … For his troubles, and in return for his silence, Knott was presented with ten chests of tea, ten rolls of tobacco, gold dust, and a number of Portuguese moidores. Gold was likewise distributed among the crew.” This 1719 event, however, failed to keep Knott from maintaining his principles, for he “not only forced his men to give up the gold given them in return for their silence, but he likewise surrendered the presents that had been bestowed on him. Subsequent events proved that his honesty did not pay. Because of his forthrightness, Knott was forced to give up his seafaring career, ‘on Account of Pirates threatening to Torture him to Death if he ever falls into their hands.”

In his Hodgins … Kindred Forever, Lester Hodgins suggests that George’s father was Edward Hodgin of Armagh. He places the voyage of Edward “with his wife and large family … in the early 1720s, or perhaps somewhat earlier,” and then states “some unspecified tragedy took place at sea and only one child of the Hodgin family reached Pennsylvania. His father, mother, sisters and brothers all died at sea. American records list the boy as George ‘Hudson.’” (This version puts George’s birth in 1702, which may reflect an attempted adjustment for Old Style dating.)

Another version is conveyed by Arthur D. Hodgin, who writes in a 1986 letter:

Closer to home, a photocopy of a typewritten paper titled ‘Genesis of Robert Hodgson’ was sent to me a few years ago. The paper is undated and may have been typed from an original written copy. I do not know who wrote the paper, although the top, written as though it might be an afterthought, is the name Rufus Hodgin. The page is signed J(ehu?) Hodgin, L–, Oregon. I haven’t been able to decipher the name of the town in Oregon in which the author evidently lived. 

 This paper was written by a person who was researching, or had some knowledge of, ancestors from whom I descend. Some of the information is called “traditional family history,” but includes statements … that do not seem to be accurate. …

The paper reports:

ROBERT HODGSON: First Generation. Robert Hodgson was an officer in the British army serving in Ireland, and was “convinced” – converted  under ministry of George Fox, probably not far from the year 1650, though the date is unknown, and presumably left the army. Left at least one son, George Hodgson.

There is a traditional history in the family of the later generations that he came to Massachusetts and being persecuted there by the Puritans on account of his religious faith, moved on to New Amsterdam (now New York), and still finding no favor, came to Pennsylvania, where he was granted a tract of land containing ten square miles on the Sassafras Creek, a branch of the Susquehanna.

GEORGE HODGSON: Second Generation. George Hodgson, the founder of the family in America, came to Pennsylvania about the year 1660 (some say 1657) and settled in Pennsylvania. He married there one Sarah Thatcher, who bore one son, John Hodson, and perhaps other unknown brothers and sisters of said John. The ancestry of his wife is unknown. George was a Quaker minister and missionary in the comparatively unsettled province.

JOHN HODGSON: Third Generation. John Hodgson, the son of the said George Hodgson, married one Mary Coffin, whose ancestry is unknown, and lived and died on the Pennsylvania homestead. He had a son Robert Hodgson, and perhaps other children. There is a tradition that he had a son whose name is unknown, that remained in Pennsylvania.

ROBERT HODGSON: Fourth Generation. Robert Hodson, the son of the John Hodgson, became a Quaker minister. He married one Rachel Mills …

This curious account – however mangled it becomes when compared against facts available to us today – may represent an oral memory of the family’s origins. Obviously, Robert the Missioner is included in this version; his son, Robert, married a Sarah – Borden, not Thatcher.

George, however, married the Thatcher: Mary. Her ancestry is well documented.

Their son, John, married a Mary Mills – not Coffin, a prominent Nantucket line. This version, then, tangles two of George and Mary’s sons. John, incidentally, has no son named Robert.

Neither George nor fourth-generation Robert was a recorded Friends minister.

This account does find a parallel in the version John K. Hodgin preserves from his great-grandfather, David, whose tombstone is inscribed, “An Honest Man – The Noblest Work of God.” John relates, “He was known for his honesty. He meticulously quoted sources in all his writings. … David was a teacher in North Carolina. He received his education at New Garden Boarding School (later named Guilford College). To avoid imprisonment for refusing to serve in the Confederate Army, he left his wife in N.C. and went to Indiana in 1864 and returned when the war was over. I’m sure that it was during this time that he met up with Robert W. Hodson. Upon his return, he served two terms in the N.C. House of Reps.” In David’s version, from his great-uncle, Robert W. Hodson of Plainfield, Indiana, the narrator says that Robert the Missioner “came to Pennsylvania in 1682, removed from Long Island, procured a grant from Wm. Penn of ten (10) square miles on Sassafras Creek, a branch of the Susquehanna, had a son John who had two sons, Robert and George. Robt. remained in Pa. where his descendants now are. George came to North Carolina, where many of his descendants still live.”

Here is a variation in which Robert the Missioner remains on Long Island, rather than settling in Rhode Island, and later moves to Pennsylvania.

The tantalizing clue, which had not seemed relevant to me until John K. Hodgin brought it back to my mind, involves the reports of the 1682 grant of ten thousand acres (in some accounts) or ten square miles (in others) by William Penn to Robert Hodgson. The tract is sometimes described as being on the Susquehanna River and north of Philadelphia. Because the Susquehanna is west of Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania portions of the Susquehanna were still Indian territory at this time, this reference seemed illogical. But a Sassafras River flows into Chesapeake Bay just south of the Susquehanna’s mouth on the opposite shore, and reaches across Maryland into Delaware, which was indeed under William Penn’s proprietorship, available for settlement in 1682. (The exact Maryland-Delaware border wouldn’t become definite until Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon drew their straight lines separating Maryland from Pennsylvania and Delaware, 1763-1767.) The Sassafras was also just below the Bohemia River, which is mentioned in the movement of Robert the Missioner’s son, Robert – and is also just below the town of Warwick, with all of that name’s Rhode Island connotation’s with Robert’s mother.

John K. Hodgin included one other tidbit, drawn from the Mormon Family History Center’s computerized pedigrees. There, George Hodgson’s father is listed as John Hodgson, born about 1675 in Doncaster, Yorkshire, England – not far from Lincolnshire.

John K. Hodgin has also uncovered other versions. One, from Harold Harkness, who obtained it from a neighbor who may have been a Shelly, states that the line descends from a George Hodgson (born between 1655 and 1670), who left England for Ireland “on account of the persecution of the Quakers.”

Another account, used by Judge Rufus Hodgin in 1926, takes an interesting turn. While following Robert the Missioner’s sufferings, he then moves on to the William Penn tract “on the Sassafras River.” Again, in this version, Robert comes from Long Island, not Rhode Island. However, Rufus states that Robert “had a son, John, who had two sons, Robert and George. Of the history of Robert we know little, though we have some intuitions he may have been a sea captain.”

The intuitions, unfortunately, appear to be lost.

But Robert Perry Johnson, an authoritative North Carolina genealogist and himself a Hodgson descendant, spent much effort in the of linking Orphan George to Robert of the Woodhouse, but failed.

Affiliated with the Irish history are Hollingsworth-Hodgson connections. For example, between 1672 and 1688 the Lurgan Meeting minutes repeatedly name George Hodgson and Ann Hodgson. Apparently drawing on this and other material, Junia Borum Roberts (Saga of an Old American Family Borum 1619-1958, found in the Albert A. Wells Memorial Library in Lafayette, Indiana) presents this version:

Henry HOLLINGSWORTH, son of Valentine HOLLINSWORTH, of New Castle County in Delaware, went back to Ireland to marry Lida ATKINSON of Sego, County of Armagh, Ireland. 36 people witnessed this marriage on 22, 8m, 1688 including Ann HODGSON. Returning to America with the HOLLINGSWORTHS were John and James Hodgson, sons of George and Ann HODGSON. James went to Chester Co., PA, and John went to Edenton, Chowan, NC … By 1700 … emigration of another son of Ann and George HODGSON and his family. When the ship landed in North Carolina, the only survivor of the family was George a boy of nine years. He grew to manhood in the Chowan region, married Ann THACHER and went to South Carolina.

What is interesting with this account is that opens the possibility of George and Ann Hodgson having sons James and John. Related versions in circulation place John in Edenton. While a John Hodgson is prominent in the Colonial government of North Carolina, neither his age range nor his actions fit what would be expected from George and Ann’s lineage.


2 thoughts on “Variations on America”

  1. wow! i am currently trying to piece together the george/john/robert hodgson mess and you have helped not a whit, LOL….but very very interesting, thank you! i live in portland oregon, my next stop is george fox university to see if they have anything of help =)

    1. Please stay tuned as I present my Hodgson / Hodgin / Hodson lines over the coming year.
      I’ve felt it’s important to consider the varied claims for the origins of the George Hodgson who settled in Guilford County, North Carolina, before offering my own arguments and supporting evidence for the most plausible case I see.
      You have to wonder if maybe the tangled oral accounts, when they were finally written down, contain a detail or two we’d otherwise lose altogether, even when most of the other facts are in error.
      Still, it’s often felt like looking for a needle in a haystack, and any help is appreciated.

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