John Hodgson, from soldier to public Friend

My early search for the origins of Orphan George applied markers derived from Joseph Besse’s authoritative A Collection of the Sufferings of the People Called Quakers, for the Testimony of a Good Conscience, covering the years 1650-1689 and published in London, 1753, and later from microfilm abstracts from Quarterly Meetings in the relevant period. From that, it was clear that Hodgson Quakers were indeed centered in the north country of England. In the period 1650-1725, many Hodgsons were recorded in the Meetings of Cumberland, Westmorland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham, and Northumberland – the center of the early Quaker movement, an area approximately seventy miles square.

Besse records one John Hodgson who was seized in 1660, 1664, and 1671 in public witness of his Quaker faith. The 1660 arrest occurred in West Riding, Yorkshire, where he was one of 229 Friends “imprisoned on oaths” – that is, for refusing to swear an oath of loyalty. In 1664, he was seized for worship at Thomas Taylor’s in Sedbergh and committed to York Castle, “50 miles from own dwelling.” From York that radius might also place his residence at the time in Darlington, Durham County, or Settle, in the West Riding of Yorkshire; from Sedbergh, however, the span could also place his home in Lamplugh, Cumberland.

Although other John Hodgsons are recorded in Besse’s minutes, no direct connection appears obvious, unless the family was moving frequently.

Sabron Reynolds Newton has provided much of the following material regarding John Hodgson from her visit to Friends House Library in London and other research.

It begins with a John Hodgson signing a 1658 General Epistle of Friends.

It is followed by two early Quaker tracts, printed in 1659 for Giles Calvert, at the Black-spread Eagle near the west end of Pauls, London. The first is a small quarto of eight pages, with the author’s name appearing at the end of the piece: “Given forth the 8th day, of the 9th Moneth. From a Member of the Army, who wishes them well, but a witnesse in measure, against all deciet therein. JOHN HODGSON.” It is A Letter from a Member of the Army, to the Committee of Safety, and Councell of Officers in the Army, that they may do that which is required of them to be done, that the Lord may delight to dwell among them, and do them good: that they may not be over-turned as others, who have served themselves, and not the Lord.

The other, also an eight-page tract, is Love, Kindness, and due Respect, By way of Warning to the Parliament of the Common-wealth of England, That they may not neglect the great opportunity now put into their hands, for the redemption and freedom of these Oppressed Nations … From a Servant of the Lord, who hath born his Testimonie for the Lord in the day of Apostacy, and hath been a Sufferer for the Testimonie of a good Conscience, by Oppressors, under the name of a Quaker. J. Hodson.

The Friends Historical Society Journal (London, 1950, volume 42), presents an overview of both works, identifies the author of the second piece as John Hodgson, and asks: “Who was John Hodgson the author? The question is not easy to answer. … On the dating evidence it is difficult to believe that the two works were written by the same author.” In his review, Henry Cadbury bases his argument of a number of presumptions, including, “unless we assume that Quaker John Hodgson’s sufferings (due probably to the fact that he ‘could not so much idolize mens persons, and worship the beasts Image, as was required’) were of very recent date, and that he was cashiered in the winter of 1659-60 for insubordination. If this was the case would he not probably have given more particulars concerning events which must have been fresh in his mind?”

We should also note that the Quaker peace testimony had not yet taken form (it would be issued in 1661) and some Friends had continued military service, albeit with some discomfort, in the first decade of the Quaker movement. Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, in fact, was a social and political hotbed that gave rise to a number of influential early Quaker ministers.

Another explanation would have at least one of these two tracts by a former officer, speaking to those who had been his comrades in arms. Subjecting both works to stylistic analysis might be instructive in determining whether they are by one author or two, or how much vetting reshaped the underlying voice.

Newton, however, found another reference to the author of the first tract, “not necessarily a Quaker,” that gave 1684 as the date of his death. Her summary: “Barry Reay [Quakers and the English Revolution, St. Martins Press, 1985] thinks the same John reenlisted, noting that leading Quaker preachers were working actively among soldiers and officers. Alan Cole [‘Peace Testimony in 1659,’ Friends Historical Society Journal, London, 1954, volume 46] reports that some Friends did serve as ‘commissioners for the militia’ during the ‘anarchy period’ of 1659. Cadbury had questioned whether the same individual would have had both ‘sufferings’ and army experiences in this sequence.”

In Sixth Month of 1659, however, a John Hodgson signed a petition protesting the expulsion of Friends from civil and military offices, and asserting they were capable and willing to serve in “any ways tending to the thing that is just, and to the suppression of that which is evil.”

The Quaker John Hodgson is not to be confused with the more visible Captain John Hodgson, whose memoirs provide a history the New Model Army.

As noted earlier, a Quaker John Hodgson was arrested in 1660 in the West Riding of Yorkshire, one of 229 “imprisoned for oaths” – that is, for refusing to swear to an oath – and was arrested again in 1664 from a Meeting at Thomas Taylor’s in Sedbergh, east of Kendal. A third arrest came in 1671.

In 1662 Thomas Aldam, a Quaker, sent greetings from York Castle’s prison to John Hodgson via a Captain Stoddart in London. George Fox had met Capt. Amor Stoddart in 1648 at Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, where Stoddart was “reached.” He saw a roomful of “professors” (priests) giving Fox a difficult time and told them, “Let the youth speak.” He was an officer in Oliver Cromwell’s army through 1651, at least, but by 1655 was apparently free to join in parts of Fox’s tours in Coggeshall (Essex), Colchester, Norwich, Cambridge, Warwick, and Lincoln. Fox took note of his death in 1670 in Enfield, in the north part of London.

In 1674 a John Hodgson is noted in the Whitby and Scarborough Register – a coastal Yorkshire locale for another clustering of Quaker Hodgson families.

Sabron Reynolds Newton notes that Robert Hodgson, the Woodhouse missioner many genealogies have proposed as the root of Orphan George’s lineage in America, had a brother named John. Without suggesting that this John is related to Orphan George, let me acknowledge that a better awareness of this John may help clarify some other early Quaker history.

A 1662 letter cited by Charles Yarnall in “John Bowne” in the Friends Historical Society of Philadelphia Bulletin 2:48 (1908) notes a John Hodgson, from somewhere in England, extending sympathy to Bowne “at prison in Manhattan.” John’s letter ends: “Robert and myself and child are to go on board in the morning betimes. Friends’ love is to thee. Fare thee well.” Newton then asks: was this our Robert? The Woodhouse Missioner had returned to England, where he is recorded in 1660 and 1661; his marriage in Rhode Island would not occur until 1665. And who was John?

As for Bowne: the resident of Flushing, Long Island, had followed his wife, Hannah, in joining Friends. He was acquainted with Robert Hodgson, probably befriending him in 1657. Bowne was banished and shipped off to Amsterdam in 1663, but obtained a pardon from the Dutch West India Company and returned to Flushing.


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