The Durham mystery

At this point we know little of Robert Hodgson’s early life. The First Publishers of Truth, published in 1907 in London and edited by Norman Penney, librarian at the Friends Reference Library in London, has “Robert Hodgson, from the Bishoprick of Durham, by occupation a Butcher” – the only reference I’ve found to date of his occupation before joining Friends or, as often thought, Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army.

As we draw together diverse facets of his life, gathered largely by Sabron Reynolds Newton’s diligent research, a mosaic emerges of an outspoken, sometimes fiercely opinionated individual who not only put his life on the line for his beliefs, but who crossed the ocean repeatedly on religious journeys and was well acquainted with leading figures in the founding of the Society of Friends, or Quakers.

Newton, in information about his death, finds him referred to as being of “Bishoprick, an apparently early name for County Durham: Dictionary of Quaker Biography in London says from ‘Bishoprick’: Friends Historical Society Journal 10:118 says County Durham.” There are also contemporaneous registers in the archives of the New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, preserved at the Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence (see “First Publishers of Truth in New England,” in Quaker History, Spring 1976, Friends Historical Society, Haverford College), where “The ministers’ English or Irish origin and official status have been verified by consulting the typescript in the Friends House Library in London … “ These cite Robert Hodgson’s place of origin as Durham, England – home to a large, extended, prominent early Quaker family. Newton also located additional references: “Apparently citing Bowden’s History of Friends in America, 1850, a note in the Friends Historical Society Journal (volume 27, 1930) says ‘Robert Hodgson was a Friend of County Durham. He remained some time in America, returning to England in 1669, but visiting the New World again.’ ” And: “Various Hodgsons are reported by the Bishop to have been in Darlington, County Durham, among ‘Quakers and excoicate persons’ (Friends Historical Society Journal, volume 25, 1928).” A Chester County, Pennsylvania, almanac entry about Robert Hodgson’s family cites 1680 correspondence to New York by John Moll of New Castle (presumably Delaware) that refers to Ralph “Hudjeson” and his brother “Robbert.” (A Ralph Hodgson of Darlington, who died 1719 and who was the husband of Mary, who died 1721, is covered in the Friends minutes of Durham). Other mention is made of a Ralph and Robert Hutchinson, 1677-1678, at Upland (Chester), Pennsylvania (before William Penn became proprietor of the colony), as well as 1692, 1694, and 1697 property purchases in Concord, Darby, and Springfield; however, the line and dates are sufficiently confusing at this time to make me discount a direct connection. My cousin Floyd Hodson spoke of a reference in the English will of Thomas Hodgson to his niece, Alice – presumably, this is the Doctor [Thomas] Hodgson, a resident of Wakefield, whom George Fox’s Journal cites in a 1664 incident and, Floyd says, was related to the Durham Hodgsons. As it turns out, Robert did indeed have a daughter, Alice. Intriguingly, Newton names another brother, John.

In 1653 Henry Draper, a justice of the peace who lived in Headlam in south Durham, came to one of George Fox’s meetings. Though there were relatively a few steeplehouses (the Quakers’ derisive term) in that corner of England, Friends entered them and warned “of the mighty day of the Lord. And a great many people were convinced.” In Narrative Papers of George Fox, edited by Henry Cadbury (1972),we find: “And in Northumberland and Bishoprick, Henry Draper, called esq., and an ancient justice of the peace, received the truth, and John Langstaff and John Bowron and Robert Hodgson, with many others, received the truth and became able ministers.”

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