In July 1624 in Leicestershire, England, a religious revolutionary was born, one who would have direct dealings with several dozen Hodgsons and remain an inspiration to many of their descendants. His Journal, a remarkable document of English and spiritual autobiography, would be – like the Bible itself – a staple in many of their homes through the next several centuries. Although George Fox began an itinerant ministry around 1646, after years of religious inquiry and disappointment in finding the learned ministers of those times lacking in spiritual comprehension and genuine experience, he gained few followers in his initial efforts, despite a series of crucial mystical experiences. Nevertheless, following his first tastes of imprisonment, at Nottingham (1649) and then a year in Derby Prison (1650), he remained undaunted; initially, the term “Quaker” was applied to his followers in ridicule, both for their experience of being so filled with spiritual power they would tremble (a phenomenon noted in Oriental mystical practice, such as Yogic treatises on chakras and the kundalini) and for their response to a judge who had threatened to make them quake: “We quake only before the Lord.”
And then something extraordinary occurred.
As William Penn explains in his introduction to Fox’s Journal:
In 1652, he being in his usual retirement to the Lord upon a very high mountain, in some of the hither parts of Yorkshire, as I take it, his mind exercised towards the Lord, he had a vision of the great work of God in the earth, and of the way he was to go forth to begin it. … Upon this mountain he was moved of the Lord to sound out his great and notable day, as if he had been in a great auditory, and from thence went north, as the Lord had shewn him: and in every place where he came, if not before he came to it, he had his particular exercise and service shewn to him, so that the Lord was his leader indeed; for it was not in vain that he traveled.
Something profound had indeed happened. Fox had experienced an anointing that gave him authority and persuasion in his subsequent ministry. As 20th century Quaker author Daisy Newman explains:
Within two weeks of his experience atop Pendle Hill, George Fox had convinced Seekers in Westmorland, Lancashire, Cumberland and West Yorkshire. Within two years, sixty or more men and women would travel from there to other parts of England, spreading the Quaker message, although they knew they were risking their liberty, even their lives. These were “The Valiant Sixty.”
They were not educated for this mission; they simply felt called. Most of them were yeomen or husbandmen; some did tailoring, glovemaking and shopkeeping. Two were gentlemen, four schoolmasters, two had been soldiers and three – Mary Fisher, Jane and Dorothy Waugh – were servants.
No matter what actually occurred, the site was between Yorkshire and Durham on the east and Lancashire and Cumberland on the west, and the result ignited a fire that would change the course of English and American history. (Not all historians, by the way, are convinced it was actually Pendle Hill; some contend it was actually a neighboring ridge.) Among the bright voices gathered in that first blast of “Primitive Christianity Revived,” as they proclaimed their movement, were Richard Farnsworth, James Nayler, William Dewsbury, Francis Howgil, Edward Burrough, John Camm, John Audland, Richard Hubberthorn, T. Taylor, John Aldam, T. Holmes, Alexander Parker, William Simpson, William Caton, John Stubbs, Robert Widders, John Burnyeat, Robert Lodge, Thomas Salthouse, and many others. Many of them would die as a consequence of professing their faith.
Fox was himself imprisoned again; in 1653 he found himself in the notorious prison at Carlisle; it may be at this time that many Hodgsons joined in the Friends movement, for the city was near several clusters of Hodgson households of long-standing. As 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, observes, “The Truth sprang up … in Cumberland, Bishoprick and Northumberland in 1653, in London … Scotland and Ireland in 1654. And in 1655 many went beyond the seas.”
Among those who went out on the heels of that original Valiant Sixty was a Robert Hodgson, who first appears in Besse’s Sufferings in Berkshire in 1656. There, shortly after Friends Joseph Cole or Coale, Dorothy Waugh, George Adamson, Hannah Mills, Thomas Curtis and his wife, Anne, were imprisoned several times for preaching at Reading, as were John Evans, Edward Hide, and William Kible, we find that Robert Hodgson, “for preaching to the People in the Street at Newbury, was carried before the Mayor, who tendered him the Oath of Abjuration, and for refusing to Swear, committed him to Reading Gaol.” Taking the command of Jesus in Matthew 5:34 as their guide, Quakers refused all oaths, preferring their lives to uphold honesty and consistency; as a consequence, they were punished harshly. Administering the oath, in fact, became a common basis for detecting Quakers and then imprisoning them. A later History of Chester County, Pennsylvania, presents a different slant on the incident:
HODGSON – Several persons of this name were among Quakers who suffered persecution in England, one of whom, Robert, going to visit some friends in prison, was not admitted, but for preaching at a meeting in a private house nearby was arrested by a justice, who asked him whence he came. He replied, from Reading, and that he came to visit his friends in prison. The justice replied, “You shall go and see them”; and thereupon tendered him the Oath, and sent him instantly to Gaol, having first rifled his Pockets, and taken away his Letters. He was detained there sixteen weeks. This was in 1655, and we next find Robert Hodgson landing at New Amsterdam in the sixth month, 1657, in company with nine other Friends, five of whom had formerly been banished from New England.
But that jumps ahead in this story. We should note also that Robert Hodgson wrote a testimony in 1655 to his “fellow prisoner, Joseph Coale.”
Who were the Friends Hodgson had come to visit? In addition to those mentioned by Besse, William C. Braithwaite’s classic The Beginnings of Quakerism (Cambridge, England; 1955 reissue of 1912 first edition) notes that the first Friends Meeting in Reading was held in March 1655 as missionaries Thomas Salthouse of the Swarthmore estate in Lancashire and Miles Halhead of Underbarrow, Westmorland, convinced Joseph Cole, among others, to join them in the Quaker faith. They were arrested, kept a fortnight in Exeter prison, and then sent toward their homes. But they returned and once again were detained: “In Exeter Bridewell they lay until May 1656, for non-payment of a fine laid upon them, harshly treated, and hardly suffered to see their Friends or provide for their necessities.” Prisoners in this period were expected to make arrangements or pay for their own food and other necessities – a practice later Quaker reformers would seek to change. The Friends’ fellow prisoners, by the way, complained that “all the time they were in prison they never sought God by prayer at any time, nor gave thanks for their food.” These Quakers did not, apparently, maintain an outward show of religiosity, but rather practiced other ways of living close to their Source. These captive Friends were followed by Margaret Killam of Balby, Yorkshire, and Barbara Pattison, who in turn suffered two months’ imprisonment at the end of the year. “She was barbarously carried ten miles towards Exeter, with her arms pinioned behind her and her feet tied under the horse she rode on.” That year, both Barbara Pattison and George Fox were held simultaneously in the appalling Doomsdale prison.
In late 1656, Hodgson wrote a letter, also signed by “W — Sh — “ and “Hum(phrey) Norton” addressed “To John Richmond, George Trotter, with all ye rest about Waterford in Ireland.” They sent greetings to people in County Durham and spoke of “our wayfaring in a strange land” but ended with, “We want for nothing.”
Newton, examining a handcopy of the letter at Friends House Library in London, “did not struggle through the entire text in its difficult handwriting in my limited time,” but it appeared to be a letter of greeting and encouragement, with the following phrases gleaned: They write to “all ye of the house and lineage of Jacob and David.” You are “near of kinne to us, your fathers were strangers and pilgrims upon earth as we are, and they obtained a good report.” They begin mentioning “children of the same household have obtained the same in our wayfaring in a strange land where he sent us to sojourn … and is coming to reign, one J[esus] of whose dominion and government there shall be no end, which with a high hand and an out … he is bringing to pass this nation, you … according to you defin[ ] of our heart and souls … Holy Ghost falls upon them as upon me at the beginning and water cannot be forbidden for men and women of good report are baptized in full measure into ye fulfillings …” They send greetings to people in County Durham: “we are with you all and salute you all. … In the Living Vine you all may abide forever, and feed upon the tree which brings forth fruit every month, and the living God and Life & … . Bless G[ ] and P[ ] and you all, that at our meeting our joy may be full, one in another, my beloved. We want for nothing. This is from us all as one.” The phrases are essentially in what has been termed “incantatory language,” an early Quaker blending of Biblical quotation reflecting their own state of mind and soul at the time. Rather than proceeding from Point A to Point B and then C, this language instead erupts at Point C, embodying no logical development. (Jackson I. Cope’s “Seventeenth-Century Quaker Style,” PMLA, LXXI, 1956, examines the characteristics of this language more fully.)
Although John Richmond was journeying in Ireland, his home was at Heightington in Durham; Fox visited a Richmond family in Bishoprick, 1663, and attended a General Meeting there. Also coming from Durham was Humphrey Norton, who went that year to Oliver Cromwell, offering to take George Fox’s place in prison. The next year Norton journeyed with Hodgson to America, where he would be banished from Plymouth Colony, and then be flogged and branded in New Haven, 1658. Despite such fervent exhibitions of faith, however, Norton would eventually depart from the Society of Friends.
In a later imprisonment, Fox was transferred to the wretched conditions of Scarborough Prison (1665); in the village itself, Peter ( -1692) and Eleanor Hodgson ( -1675) were prominent Friends who held Meeting in their own home (Fox attended a large Meeting there in 1665), were instrumental in the erection of the first Friends meetinghouse in Scarborough, and, in Peter’s case, suffered 5½ years’ imprisonment at York Castle, ending around 1671.
When Fox sailed to America in 1671 aboard the Industry, one of his traveling companions was George Pattison; when they attended Yearly Meeting at Newport, Rhode Island, they no doubt would have met up again with Robert Hodgson, had he not been back in England.