The Woodhouse mission

On the American side of the Atlantic, the initial Quaker messengers soon encountered a hostile reception – perhaps, in part, because of intense confrontations only two decades earlier in which the Puritan orthodoxy of New England was seriously challenged by ministers Roger Williams and Samuel Gorton as well as an Antinomian party led by Anne Hutchinson; her  resettlement to Rhode Island would provide a crucial foothold for the early Quaker movement. Many of Hutchinson’s followers would join the Society of Friends, becoming the nucleus of Rhode Island Monthly Meeting. Many of these early challenges originated in Salem, Massachusetts, which would gain notoriety at the end of the century for its response to charges of witchcraft.

When Richard Smith of Long Island visited England in 1654, he became convinced as a Friend by William Dewsbury, and returned home as the first Quaker in the American colonies. Between then and 1657, the arrival of the earliest Quakers in Boston, in the words of Horatio Rogers, “so wrought up the ministers and authorities of Massachusetts Bay that various repressive measures had been adopted.” Arthur J. Worrall, in Quakers in the Colonial Northeast (University Press of New England, 1980), explains:

Two groups of Quakers arrived in 1656. The first, led by Anne Austin and Mary Fisher, came to Boston in July. The Massachusetts government promptly imprisoned them for five weeks; after checking them for signs of witchcraft, they expelled them in August. A second group of eight Quaker missionaries came to Boston two days after their expulsion. Massachusetts imprisoned this group for eleven weeks and expelled them also, after the clergy had examined and debated with them. The General Court of Massachusetts [the Legislature] passed its first anti-Quaker law, intent on preventing both Friends and their books from entering the colony. Under it any shipmaster bringing in Friends knowingly was subject to a hundred-pound fine. Anyone who imported or possessed a Quaker book was to be fined 5 pounds.

Despite the fact that the colony’s leaders sought to keep the eight Friends incommunicado and the colony thereby free of infection, one old man, Nicholas Upshall, was so eager to speak to them that he agreed to pay the jailer five shillings a week for their board. A small group in Salem Woods, disaffected from that town’s church and the community in general, must have secretly sympathized with these missionaries and may have made contact with them through Upshall’s good offices. For his sympathetic support of the eight Friends, Upshall was expelled to Plymouth

where he would become, in February 1657, the first Quaker missionary, creating a ruckus for authorities by holding Meeting at the residence of John Newland; Upshall would again be ordered expelled.

While the Massachusetts and Plymouth colonies were both based on basically on the same strand of Calvinist theology, there were crucial differences religiously and politically. In the ensuing Quaker controversy, authorities in Massachusetts Bay would be even more intolerant than their Calvinist brethren in either the Plymouth or New Haven colonies. Other public Friends arriving in New England, 1656, were William Brend, John Copeland, Sarah Gibbons, Christopher Holder, Humphrey Norton, Mary Prince, Thomas Thurston, Dorothy Waugh, Mary Weatherhead, plus Mary Clark, Mary Dyer, Jane Gore, Elizabeth Hooten, and Mary Mallins. Some of these were individuals whom Robert Hodgson had already worked with in Friends witness.

Returning to New England, Mary Dyer and Anne Burden [Borden] (later Richardson) reached Boston in January or February 1656. Ruth T. Plimpton’s Mary Dyer: Biography of a Rebel Quaker (Branden, 1994) challenges many of Americans’ cherished images of the Pilgrims and Puritans; in fact, Dyer’s unstinting “proclamation of truth” seriously challenged and eventually curbed their theocratic hegemony. Dyer, who had become a convert to the Quaker movement during a stay in England, was returning to her husband in Rhode Island after a six- or seven-year absence. She was about the same age as Quaker leader Margaret Fell and Sir Henry Vane, who had sat in the Long Parliament with Margaret’s husband, Judge Fell, and had known Dyer at Buckingham Palace. Dyer visited the Fells at Swarthmore Hall in 1654, soon after becoming a Quaker, and it was there she first met George Fox and Christopher Holder. Dyer’s adoptive mother was a lady-in-waiting at court, also a Mary Dyer; the younger Mary Dyer’s husband, William, of Rhode Island, was related to that family. It was, according to Mabel Brailsford in Quaker Women, 1650-1690 (Duckworth, 1915), a long- and well-kept secret that her birth parents were Arabella Stuart, who died a prisoner in the Tower of London, 1615, and William Seymour, her husband, both of them descended through different lines from Henry VII. On returning from exile in France, Seymour became tutor to the eleven-year-old boy eventually crowned Charles II. Perhaps a few in England knew her secret and, after the 1649 execution of Charles I, either hoped or feared she might ascend the throne. There has been speculation that her long absence in England – from her husband and six children, including a baby, in Rhode Island, 1650-56 – was somehow related to this situation.

(Another Stuart who became a Quaker was Jane, 1654-1742, a favorite but natural daughter of King James II; she grew up with half-sisters and eventual queens Mary and Anne, and spent a period in Charles II’s court-in-exile in France. Becoming a Quaker at court, she escaped into anonymity when her father left the throne in 1688, settled quietly in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, where she is buried in the Friends burial ground. Charles II also had an accountant with American Quaker connections: Thomas Brinley, whose two daughters, Anne and Grissel, in 1652 had married William Coddington of Rhode Island and Nathaniel Sylvester of Shelter Island, New York. The two couples sailed for America on their honeymoons, and the Coddingtons took Mary Dyer to Shelter Island, where she made an extended visit with the Sylvesters just before her final Boston arrest.)

Anne Borden, meanwhile, had come to settle her deceased husband’s estate. On their arrival in Boston, both were arrested and cast into prison. Yet these early persecutions only steeled the Friends’ determination.

John Puncheon’s Portrait in Grey (Quaker Home Service, 1984) describes the emerging American situation this way:

New England provided an object lesson of the kind of religious exclusiveness that with all its troubles, Old England had avoided. In spite of the sufferings of the English Quakers, they cannot really show any example of suffering and injustice to match that of the witness made by the correctly so-called ‘Boston Martyrs’.

In 1656 Mary Fisher and Ann Austin arrived in Boston, Massachusetts to proclaim truth. They were promptly imprisoned and illegally deported to Barbados [where Friends appeared in significant numbers after 1656]. The authorities then passed a series of draconian laws penalising any shipmaster bringing Quakers into the colony. Any Friends found there could be flogged, imprisoned with hard labour and deported. If they returned, they were to be flogged again, their right ears were to be cut off, and they were to be deported again. In 1658 a second return after banishment was made a capital offence.

This was a challenge that the Friends could not ignore, and the scene of the story switches to Bridlington, a sea-coast town in Yorkshire, Old England, where one Robert Fowler felt led to build a ship ‘in the cause of truth’ to sail to New England. It would be hard to imagine a smaller and less adequate vessel for this purpose than the one he produced, but he sailed her to London, where he found a number of Friends, three of whom were fated to end up in Boston, waiting for an Atlantic passage. Navigated by little more than faith, the tiny Woodhouse finally made her landfall off Long Island, and her passengers made their various ways to their ministries in America.

Robert Hodgson became one of the Woodhouse passengers.

As Rufus Jones writes in The Quakers in the American Colonies (New York, 1966):

The action of the Massachusetts authorities against Quakers had made shipmasters wary of that kind of passengers. They were very unprofitable cargo. It was evident that they must have a ship of their own if they were to carry out their designs in the New World. Go they must; for, as one of them [Henry Fell, in February 1657] wrote, “the Lord’s word was as a fire and a hammer in me, though in outward appearances there was no likelihood of getting passage.” At this juncture of affairs, Robert Fowler of Bridlington, a Quaker convert of four years’ standing, who had been “one of the first fruits unto God in the east parts of Yorkshire,” felt it laid upon him to build a ship “in the cause of truth,” and as he was building it, “New England was presented” before him. He was a member of Holderness Monthly Meeting, and the ancient minute book of that meeting quaintly says that “the power of the Lord wrought mightily in Robert Fowler, as others who gladly received the word of life,” and it continues, “the Lord anointed them with his Spirit, and that led them unto truth and righteousness, and some were fitted to labour in his vineyard.”

Fowler, of Bridlington Quay, was a master-mariner who had been convinced as a Friend through the efforts of William Dewsbury, who visited places in 1652 on the heels of George Fox’s appearances; Dewsbury lists forty-three “first fruits” on a sweep that took him from Holderness to Malton and on through Cleveland and Scarborough on the Yorkshire shores. Fowler says, in his True Relation, “This vessel was appointed for this service from the beginning, as I have often had it manifested to me; that it was said within me several times, ‘Thou hast her not for nothing’; and also New England presented itself before me.”

Although Fowler’s coasting vessel, the Woodhouse, was small – much too small, as Rufus Jones and John Puncheon point out, for ocean service or the hazardous voyage – eleven Friends “firmly persuaded of the Lord’s call to New England” eagerly awaited passage. They thankfully accepted what seemed to them a “providential ship.” Concerned that such undertakings be supported by all Friends, George Fox arranged to have a committee seek contributions from all parts of the nation; in May 1657 a “general collection was made for the support of Friends in the service of truth.” Treasurers included Anthony Pearson (a line connected to my great-grandfather’s first wife, Josephine Jones) and Anthony Hodgson, both of Durham. A surviving manuscript lists expenses for this voyage, including L. 29 10 0 for provisions, paid to Master for part of his freight 30 0 0, for bedding and other things 12 8 0.

The vessel first sailed from Holderness to London, where Dewsbury boarded the craft off the Downs on June 3, 1657, to give the band a few words of encouragement. Dewsbury was himself fresh out of prison at Northampton, where he had been charged with deceiving people by telling them there was no original sin. Margaret Fell – mistress of Swarthmore Hall (which was already becoming the center of Quaker operations), “the mother of Quakerism,” and future wife of George Fox – wrote of Dewsbury’s visit aboard the Woodhouse: “They are in the power of the Lord and the life did arise in them. … many dear children shall come forth in the power of God in those countries where they desire to go.”

It was a remarkable gang. Half of them would never again see England. Moreover, six of the eleven Friends had already been expelled from Boston:

Christopher Holder, “a well-educated man of good estate,” of Winterbourne in Gloustershire, had already been imprisoned in “ye gayle at Ilchester; in his subsequent missions on behalf of Friends, he would travel the American coast with Robert Hodgson, be branded, have an ear cropped off, and finally share imprisonment with more of Josephine Jones’ ancestors.

John Copeland, like Holder, was well-educated and in the early prime of his life. A native of Selby, Holderness, in Yorkshire, he would in the end settle in Chuchatuck, Virginia.

William Brend of London was “an ancient and venerable man” who had come to manhood in the days of Queen Elizabeth I. Though Boston authorities would flog him nearly to death, he would recover and live on to 1676.

Sarah Gibbons of Bristol would drown when her canoe sank at Providence, Rhode Island, 1659.

Mary Wetherhead, also of Bristol, would also drown with two of her Woodhouse companions in 1658.

Dorothy Waugh had been a serving-maid in the household of early Quaker minister John Camm in Preston Patrick, Westmorland; Camm had been a leader among the Westmorland Seekers, an important precursor to the Society of Friends. Before her Woodhouse voyage, Waugh had been imprisoned in many parts of England: Norwich in 1654; Basingsoke and Cornwall (jailed at Truro) in 1655; Berkshire (jailed at Reading, where Robert Hodgson was attempting to visit) in 1656, before her first visit to Boston, where she was also jailed and expelled, 1656. The presence of Dorothy Waugh both at Reading and aboard the Woodhouse has made me wonder whether there may have been a romantic attraction for Robert Hodgson. Because of the difference in social status – she had been a servant while he had, some suggest, been an officer in the New Model Army – may have presented barriers, although his possible training as a butcher casts a different light on the situation. At any rate, she would subsequently be jailed at New Amsterdam, return to Boston twice by way of Rhode Island and then Barbados (1658), before finally returning to England and marrying William Lotherington of Whitby, Yorkshire. Born in 1636, “She was not as well equipped intellectually as her companions were, and she was apparently not over judicious, but she had an intensity of zeal and considerable power in ministry,” Jones writes, citing a letter by Mary Prince to George Fox: “I was ensnared by D. Waugh, but I am out through the love of God.”

Joining them on the New England mission were William Robinson, from Cumberland but “bred up in London with a merchant”; he would be hanged in Boston, 1659. In addition to Humphrey Norton’s previously listed activities, he had performed service in Ireland, 1655; his New England Ensign of 1659 chronicles the voyage. Mary Clark, wife of London tradesman John Clark, had already suffered much for the faith; she would drown, with Sarah Gibbons and Richard Doudney, who is described as “an innocent man who served the Lord in sincerity,” though the rest of his background is obscure.

Jones describes Robert Hodgson as “an obscure character … There are hints in existing letters that he was not always wise in propagating the truth, and there are some rumors that he ‘headed a rent in Rhode Island,’ but these mutterings of criticism and jealousy must not be taken too seriously, for they are too commonly the sins of the saints to create surprise here.”

Two more Friends, probably Joseph Nicholson and wife of Cumberland, were expected; they would arrive in Boston in 1659. William Robinson writes of waiting with “Robert Hotchin” for their arrival.

Before the vessel left England, some of the crew “were taken by the press-gang, leaving only two men and three boys for the long voyage across the Atlantic on a totally inadequate ship,” Elfrida Vipont Foulds writes in Quaker Life, April 1984. “They set out on June 1st, 1657, ‘with courage,’ as Robert Fowler remembered afterwards. Their courage was strengthened by a visit from ‘our beloved William Dewsbury’ and another Friend.”

Thus, with Dewsbury’s blessing, they set sail. Experienced seamen had warned them against the attempt; crewmen had backed out; Fowler’s better judgment was to call it all off; but George Fox talked them into proceeding. There were stops in Portsmouth Harbor, where a fierce wind forced them to put in; there, Fowler “was able top engage more crew, though one of the sea captains there insisted the Woodhouse was far too small for the voyage.” Other stops occurred at Southampton and the Isle of Wight, during which the eager missionaries started their work; young William Robinson reported in a letter to Margaret Fell that they “went forth and gathered sticks, and kindled a fire, and left it burning” – a quotation found inscribed these days on the mantel over the fireplace in the dining hall at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana. At sea, encountering a large man o’ war, the three large ships bound for Newfoundland deserted them; Humphrey Norton told his shipmates the Lord had said they would be “carried away as in a mist” to safety, and so they should “cut through and steer your straightest course and mind nothing but Me.” They met one trade ship, which took mail back to London for them. Fowler relied on the guidance of Norton, to whom the date of their arrival was revealed – a date that proved true. Rufus Jones writes: “But of all the ships which brought pioneer founders to these shores none ever brought passengers more bravely consecrated to the ideals for which they sailed, and none has left a stranger narrative of divine guidance, than the ship Woodhouse, which brought the original ‘apostles’ of Quakerism to New England. The captain’s ‘log’ is declared to be –

A true revelation of the voyage undertaken by me, Robert Fowler, with my small vessel called the Woodhouse, but performed by the Lord, like as He did Noah’s Ark, wherein He shut up a few righteous persons and landed them safe, even at the hill Ararat.

The manuscript of this ship’s log, endorsed by George Fox, is in the Devonshire House Library in London. In it Fowler states: “We saw the Lord leading our vessel as if were a man leading a horse by the hand.” The journey is filled with “many occurrences of a semi-miraculous sort,” including their evasion of what apparently was a pirate ship when a fog settled upon them. “They are told how to steer even when they know little or nothing of latitude or longitude,” Rufus Jones observes. They were about five weeks at sea, and when they “made land, it was a part of Long Island, far contrary to the expectation of the Pylot … there was a drawing to meet together … and it was said, That we may look abroad in the evening, and as we sat waiting upon the Lord, they discovered the Land, and our mouthes was opened in Prayer and Thanksgiving …”

When their vessel came into New Amsterdam, a settlement of barely a thousand Dutch inhabitants, Captain Fowler and Robert Hodgson paid a visit to the last Dutch Director-General, Peter Stuyvesant, and found him “moderate in both words and actions” – words that would come back to haunt Hodgson. The Woodhouse band then split up, with Hodgson, Waugh, Gibbons, Wetherhead, and Doudney going ashore, “wither they had movings,” and the rest of the party sailing on via Long Island Sound toward Newport, Rhode Island, requiring them to pass through Hell-gate, of which both the captain and Hodgson had received visions presenting it as a danger, according to the log. The ship apparently picked up Richard Smith, the original Quaker in the Americas, from his home in Long Island, and arrived safely at Newport on August 3.

In New Amsterdam, shortly after Fowler and Hodgson had met with the governor, Wetherhead and Waugh began preaching on the streets. The effect of this novel sight upon the Dutch inhabitants was instantaneous and pronounced. As Daisy Newman writes, “Dutch women were expected to be silent on the street,” and authorities had no desire to see their womenfolk catch this odd practice. They soon had the two women in “a noisome, filthy dungeon” – a more than usually vile jail, even for the seventeenth century, according to the sources. After eight days, the Dutch officials brought the two women out of the dark hole and sent them with their hands tied behind their backs to that “sewer of heretics,” Rhode Island, to rejoin their companions. The Dutch authorities were, to some extent, reacting to anti-Quaker warnings from Boston.

Two Dutch ministers, Joannes Megapolensis and Samuel Drisius, recorded the arrival of the Quakers:

On August 6th [or 12th] a ship came from the sea to this place, having no flag flying from the topmast, nor from any other part of the ship. … They fired no salute before the fort. When the master of the ship came on shore and appeared fore the Director-General, he rendered him no respect, but stood firm with his hat on his head as if a goat[!] … At last information was gained that it was a ship with Quakers on board. … They left behind two strong young women. As soon the ship had departed, these [women] began to quake and go into a frenzy, and cry out loudly in the middle of the street that men should repent, for the day of judgment was at hand. Our people not knowing what was the matter ran to and fro while one cried “fire” and another something else. The Fiscal seized them both by the head and led them to prison.

The other three members of the party who remained behind made a tour of Long Island, where they found many hearts ready for their message, especially in the towns of Gravesend, Jamaica, and Hempstead. A number of disgruntled English settlers from Calvinist New England had already populated the Long Island towns of Flushing, Hempstead, and Jamaica. Other pockets of religious dissent existed in Sandwich and Falmouth in the southern Plymouth colony, as well as in Salem to the north. “To the consternation of Dutch authorities,” Worrell explains, these dissidents “rarely employed clergy. … Like many Rhode Islanders they adopted doctrines like those of the Antinomians. In many instances these were doctrines which the English migrants had already found attractive. So it was that New England and New Netherland possessed people predisposed to Quaker beliefs, ready for conversion when the first Quaker missionaries arrived.”

It is said that the first Quaker Meeting in America was at the home of Lady Deborah Moody, who became a Friend under Hodgson’s preaching. (A rival tradition holds that the “first real Friends Meeting in America, and the start of regular meetings” was held at Sandwich on Cape Cod that August under the leadership of Copeland and Holder.) Lady Deborah used her home for a meetinghouse, but was so discreet – or had sufficient status – she was never bothered by the authorities. She was reportedly a cousin of Sir Henry Vane, had emigrated to Salem, Massachusetts, in 1639, bought a farm in Lynn in 1641, and moved in 1643, after excommunication from Salem’s First Church in the aftermath of a baptism dispute, taking her followers to Long Island in Dutch territory. Her town patent, granted by Governor Kieft, “is probably the only one of its kind in which a woman heads the list of patentees.” (In addition, with the Vane family seat was near Bernard Castle in southern County Durham, across the Tees River from Raby Castle in Yorkshire, it may be that Hodgson knew her from his youth.) Her patent permitted freedom of worship; while excluding Roman Catholics, New Netherland did guarantee more liberty in religious matters than did the other colonies, Rhode Island excepted. Although “harshly dealt with in the city proper,” Quakers were “permitted to live undisturbed on Long Island, where they rapidly grew in numbers and prosperity.” Lady Deborah died in 1663.

In the Woodhouse adventure, Hodgson decided to stay in Hempstead for a larger service, while his two companions went on through the island and across to Rhode Island. Upon him fell a baptism of persecution of a peculiarly furious sort. He had invited the inhabitants of Hempstead to a Meeting in an orchard on a certain First-day, and as he was pacing back and forth in quiet meditation among the fruit trees, waiting for Meeting to begin, he was “violently seized” by a local magistrate named Richard Gildersleeve, who took him prisoner in his own house. The officer left his prisoner and went to the regular morning religious service. As Hodgson relates, the magistrate “kept me a prisoner in his house, but while he went to his worship many staid and heard the truth declared.” When Gildersleeve returned, he found a company gathered and Hodgson preaching to them – one version has him preaching from an open upstairs window. Hodgson was thereupon moved to the house of another magistrate, and still people came “to hear truth.” Hodgson would not be silenced: “In the latter part of the day many came to me, and those who had been my enemies, after they had heard the truth, confessed to it.” Word was now sent to Governor Stuyvesant, who dispatched a sheriff and jailer with a guard of twelve musketeers to bring the prisoner to New Amsterdam. They pinioned Hodgson and left him closely bound for a whole day while they hunted out the persons who had entertained him. Two women were finally seized on this charge, one of whom had two small children – one a babe still on the breast. They were placed in a cart, while Hodgson was tied to its tail, and thus they journeyed the entire night to Brooklyn ferry, and then across to New Amsterdam. The surviving Dutch account in the Ecclesiastical Record of New York gives the distance Hodgson was conveyed as twenty-one English miles. Descriptions of his travails and the events leading up to it are told, in English, in Besse’s Sufferings:

The next of the Quakers that came to Boston was Mary Clark, who left her Husband and Children at London, and came thither under a religious Concern to warn those Persecutors to desist from their Inequity. She delivered her Message to merciless Men, who rewarded her with twenty Stripes of a three-corded Whip on her naked Back, and detained her in Prison about twelve Weeks in the Winter Season. The Cords of these Whips were usually as thick as a Man’s little Finger, and the Stick sometimes so long, that the Hangman made Use of both his Hands to strike the harder.

Some of those who had been sent back to England last Year, found themselves under a Necessity of returning again, being firmly persuaded that the Lord had called them to bear Testimony to this Truth in these Parts, having a full Assurance of Faith, that he would support them through whatsoever Trials and Exercises he should be pleased to suffer them to be tried with. So that in this Year 1657, there went over in a Ship procured by Gerard Roberts, a London Merchant, of their Persuasion, (for others, fearing the Penalty of the Law, would not carry them), ten Persons, viz. Christopher Holder, John Copeland, Sarah Gibbons, Mary Witherhead and Dorothy Waugh, who had been banished; also Robert Hodgson, Humphrey Norton, Richard Dowdney, William Robinson, and the before-mentioned Mary Clark. These landed in the Beginning of the Sixth Month at a Plantation of the Dutch called New-Amsterdam; where Mary Witherhead and Dorothy Waugh declaring Truth in the Streets, were taken and cast into miry Dungeons apart from each other. Robert Hodgson went to Hamstead, and had a Meeting there with some of his Friends who dwelt there; where he met with barbarous Usage: He was brought before one Geldersleeve, a Magistrate there, who sent him to Prison, and rode to the Dutch Governour to inform him what he had done; and returning with a Guard of Musquetiers, they searched the Prisoner, and took away his Bible and Papers, and kept him pinion’d all Night, and next Day enquiring who had entertained him, took into Custody two Women, one of whom had a Child sucking at her Breast. They put the Women into a Cart, and fastened Robert to the Cart’s Tail, pinion’d, and so drew him through the Woods in the Night, whereby he was grievously hurt; thus they brought him back to New-Amsterdam, now New-York, and put him into a nasty Dungeon, wherein were many Vermin, and the Women into another Place of Confinement. Some Time after, he was examined before the Governour, incensed against him by one Captain Willet of Plymouth, and received Sentence, to work two Years with a Negro at the Wheel-barrow, or pay a Fine of six Hundred Gilders. When he would have made his Defence, he was not suffered to speak, but sent again to the Dungeon, and none of the English People suffered to come to him. After some Days he was taken and pinion’d, and being sent with his Face toward the Court-Chamber, another Sentence was read to him in Dutch, which he understood not. After some Days more, lying in the Dungeon, he was dragged out betimes in a Morning, and chained to a Wheel-barrow, and commanded to work: He answered, He was not brought up nor used to such Work. Then they caused a Negro to beat him with a pitched Rope, near four Inches about, till he fell down; then they took him up again, and made the Negro beat him till he fell down a second Time, having received above an Hundred Blows. Thus was he kept all Day in the Heat of the Sun, chained to the Wheel-barrow, and his Body being much bruised and swelled, and he kept without Food, was exceeding faint, but sitting on the Ground with his Mind retired to the Lord, he found himself inwardly supported and strengthened. At Night he was again lockt up in the Dungeon, and the next Morning again chained to the Wheel-barrow, and a Centinel set over him, that none might come to speak to him: On the third Day he was used in like Manner, but he still refused to work, being indeed unable by the barbarous Usage he had received. In this weak Condition he was again brought before the Governour, who commanded him to work, otherwise, he said, he should be whipt every Day. Then he was again chained to the Wheel-barrow, and threatened, if he spoke to any Person he should be worse punished: But he forbore not to speak to those who came to him. Then they kept him close again in the Dungeon several Days and Nights; one Day and an Half of it without Bread or Water.

After this he was brought up early in the Morning into a private Room, and stript to the Waste, and hung up by the Hands, with a great Log of Wood tied to his Feet, so that he could not turn his Body; and then a sturdy Negro was set to whip him with Rods, who laid many Stripes on him, and cut his Flesh very much; then he was again put into the Dungeon, and none suffered to come to him. Two Days after he was taken out again, and hung up as before, and many more Stripes given to him by another Negro: He now almost fainting, and doubtful of his Life, desired that some English might be suffered to come to him, which being granted, an English Woman came, and washed his Stripes, but found him so weak, that she thought he could not live till next Morning: Nevertheless, within three Days after this Barbarity, he was marvelously restored to his Strength, and free to labour, that he might not be burdensome to any. Being thus kept like a Slave to hard Labour, the Sense of his innocent Suffering raised Compassion in many, and especially in the Governour’s Sister, who interceded with her Brother for his Liberty, and prevailed with him to set the poor Man free, and to remit his Fine. Some others of those called Quakers, namely, John Tilton, Joanne Chatterton, Henry Townsend, Tobias Feak, and Howard Hart, who came to New-York from New-England, in Hopes of enjoying the Freedom of their Religion, met also with hard Measure there from the Dutch Governour, at the Instigation of the said Captain Willett. But this Governour soon relented, while those in New-England continued their severity.

Because he believed himself innocent, Hodgson upheld the Friends’ practice of refusing to pay the fine. As word of his sufferings got abroad, including the whipping at the hands of what he termed “a lusty crabbed Negro slave,” others – including the husband of the Englishwoman who washed his wounds – offered to pay that fine. Yet Hodgson declined on principle to accept liberation on those terms. His sufferings, however, made a deep impression on the liberty-loving Dutch people, and the Long Island Friends Meetings grew; at the end of the 20th century, ten remained active on the island, albeit in decline. Even the Captain Willett from Massachusetts, who had instigated the cruel punishment, applied to Stuyvesant to forego further punishment and to release the prisoner – a motion seconded by the governor’s sister.

Another point to observe is that Hodgson was not accustomed to hard physical labor; indeed, he said he had not been raised for such work – a statement that may be useful as we pursue our inquiry into his background. Had he been a yeoman farmer, like many other early Friends, he would have presumably been handy with a wheelbarrow. But if he had worked in the woollen or flax industries, as did many other early Friends from the northern counties of England, then such labor would have indeed been foreign to him. Or, if another – but very tangled and at some points outright wrong – family paper shared by Arthur D. Hodgin has this fact right, Robert Hodgson “was an officer in the British army serving in Ireland, and was ‘convinced’ under ministry of George Fox, probably not far from the year 1650, though the date is unknown [we know, above, it was 1653], and presumably then left the army.”

Finally, after five weeks’ imprisonment, Hodgson was freed to rejoin his companions in Rhode Island, which was quickly becoming the Quaker beachhead in the Americas. There, he resumed his mission.

In a December 27, 2007, op-ed essay in the New York Times, “A Colony With a Conscience,” Columbia University history professor Kenneth T. Jackson wrote: “With due respect to Roger Williams and his early experiment with ‘liberty of conscience’ in Rhode Island, this republic really owes its enduring strength to a fragile, scorched and little-known document that was signed by some 30 ordinary citizens on Dec. 27, 1657.” He then explained that while New Amsterdam had no religious tests and by 1654 had allowed the first Jews to settle peaceably in what is now the United States, the reaction of Styvesant was extraordinary: “To make his point, he ordered the public torturing of Robert Hodgson, a 23-year-old Quaker convert who had become an influential preacher. And then he ordered a harsh ordinance, punishable by fine and imprisonment, against anyone found guilty of harboring Quakers.” (For the record, Hodgson would have been around 31 at the time.)

What Jackson finds remarkable is the response of Edward Hart, “the town clerk in what is now Flushing, Queens,” and fellow citizens who petitioned the governor, “citing the Flushing town charter of 1645, which promised liberty of conscience.”

Although “Stuyvesant arrested Hart and the other official who presented the document to him, … jailed two other magistrates who had signed the petition [and] also forced the other signatories to recant … the door had been opened.”

In the aftermath of the Flushing Remonstrance, a series of events led to a 1663 ruling, in Amsterdam, that made religious toleration the law of the colony and allowed Friends to worship without further persecution.

Jackson was impressed not only by the language of the document and its articulation of religious liberty as a fundamental right, but also by the petitioners’ willingness to publicly back their words with actions as well as their standing up for others – not one of the signers was a Quaker, even though Flushing would become a Quaker center.

The remainder of the Quaker passengers stayed with the Woodhouse, which eventually came ashore near the Rhode Island village where Robert Hodgson would eventually live and minister.


2 thoughts on “The Woodhouse mission”

  1. Most interesting. I came across Robert Fowler and Woodhouse in WC Braithwaite’s ‘The Beginnings of Quakerism’, tapped into my iPad and found your very informative piece. Many thanks.

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