Tag Archives: Rhode Island

Arising in ministry or perhaps other business

Sometimes our genealogical findings help advance a larger understanding.

In Quaker history, with its emphasis on lay ministry (there was no paid clergy), some individuals were encouraged to travel as ministers throughout the Society of Friends. These journeys could take up to two-and-a-half years, spanning both sides of the Atlantic.

In my research, Robert Hodgson of the Woodhouse was prominent among them. Traditionally, they were housed, fed, and transported by the Meetings they visited, and it’s assumed that their focus was entirely on the religious and family life of the Friends they visited. More recently, there have been suggestions that they may have also been important conduits for the emergence of Quaker secular business – trusted envoys to convey letters or even payments (in an era before banking), suggest business partnerships, or align manufacturing to retailing arrangements.

In Robert’s case, he may have been exporting beef and leather to England, along with his religious calling. We do know he was respectable enough to attend William Penn’s second marriage and to obtain (was it a gift or a purchase) nearly a square mile of land in Pennsylvania.

The activities of traveling ministers do need a fuller understanding than we currently have.

As genealogists, we can also look to the journals of many of these ministers, men and women, published after their deaths, for details about our own families. Some of the ministers visited every Quaker community in the world – perhaps even every family – and if your family was part of a Friends Meeting, you just might find them mentioned by name, along with an impression of their community at the time.


Has your own research touched on points that might illuminate a larger history? Or has the larger history informed your own genealogical comprehension?

While I focus on traveling ministry in my illustration, are there other activities that have opened your family vision?


Once details begin to connect

It’s easy to overlook details that don’t fit the picture as you see it, but don’t rule out their importance. Over time, you may find they point you in a whole new direction and open some unexpected vistas.

With Orphan George, for instance, I’d been sent some Chester County tax records as well as two land purchases in Lancaster County. Only later – much later – did I realize the land wasn’t in Lancaster County as we know it today but rather in what is now Adams County and the tax payments showed when he was and wasn’t present in Chester County. I might have considered the property as an investment, unlikely as that now seems, but another stray detail came into play. The two parcels adjoined Moses Harlan, and young George had earlier signed a Quaker marriage certificate for Moses’ daughter. The plot thickened when I considered how close the Quaker Hodgson and Harlan families were in Lurgan, Ireland, before Orphan George’s mysterious arrival in America.

When I put all the parts together, I concluded that Orphan George and his wife Mary relocated to what’s now Adams County for about two decades and raised their family there before leaping once more, this time following the Great Valley into Guilford County, North Carolina.

The Adams County settlement also brings another, seemingly stray detail to life: a Robert Hodgin shows up there from Manchester, England, and he and his wife (and later widow) parallel Orphan George’s migration southward. Are they related? Another point for further research.

The upshot is that piecing these details together places the family on the frontier long before their move to North Carolina, rather than having them remain safely, maybe even comfortably, in the Brandywine country of Pennsylvania.

Another set of details adds immensely to our understanding of Robert Hodgson of the Woodhouse. A Quaker report mentions his occupation as butcher in Durham county, England. In Rhode Island, he’s the town registrar of cattle, reflecting some knowledge of domestic livestock. Rhode Island, in turn, prospered in its exportation of meat and hides to Britain. Robert made multiple trips to England, many as a recorded Quaker minister, but could secular business have also been part of his agenda? The leather connection continues with his son, Robert, whose occupations included cordwainer as he settled in Pennsylvania. Cordwainer, as I was reminded, means shoemaker.


Are there any details you initially overlooked that later directed you to new conclusions? Where do you put the pieces of the puzzle that don’t seem to fit anywhere? What makes you return to them? Or do you?

Robert Hodgson, Woodhouse voyager

Despite Robert Hodgson’s prominent role in planting Quakerism on the American shores, his full book-length biography yet to be written. In addition, his mother-in-law, especially, invites a fuller portrait: she is not only one of the first Quakers “by convincement” in the New World, providing essential comfort and support to the emerging movement, but she is associated with earlier dissenting movements in New England, first through Samuel Gorton and later with Anne Hutchinson. Even so, we do not yet have her maiden name.

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Robert Hodgson was born, circa 1626, in the Bishoprick of Durham, England; he died, May 10, 1696, at Portsmouth, Rhode Island. He married, August 3, 1665, Rachel Shotten, daughter of Sampson and Alice Shotten of New York and Portsmouth, Rhode Island. He was a recorded minister in Rhode Island Monthly Meeting at Portsmouth and Newport.

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Three known children:

1. Mary, born August 6, 1666.

2. Alice, born April 1668. She married as second wife, Third Month 18, 1699, under the care of Falls Meeting, Phineas Pemberton. In 1704, she married her second husband, Thomas Bradford. She died Sixth Month 28, 1711.

3. Robert, born circa 1670. He married, December 29, 1690, Sarah Borden, daughter of Matthew and Sarah (Clayton) Borden. He died 1733, Chester County, Pennsylvania.

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Continue reading Robert Hodgson, Woodhouse voyager

The Quaker outbreak

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.

Continue reading The Quaker outbreak

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.

Continue reading The Woodhouse mission

Continuing trouble

The neighboring Plymouth colony, meanwhile, was enacting its own laws against Quaker outsiders. Measures were passed against concealing or entertaining a Quaker, and foreign male Friends making return visits would have one ear cut off the first time, the other ear the second time; women would be whipped; and either sex returning the fourth time would have their tongues bored with a hot iron. Residents who offered support would get similar treatment. Nevertheless, this was a mild law compared to Boston’s.

Continue reading Continuing trouble

The Rhode Island years

Later in 1661, back in the New World, Hodgson continued his missionary activities to the south, for he was there with George Rofe and Robert Stage [Stack or Stake] when Rofe summoned all New England Friends to a General Meeting in Newport to be held in June 1661. The trio then set out from Chesapeake Bay for Narragansett Bay “in a boat very small, being but fourteen foot by the keel,” to attend what would become the first session of New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, the first such body in the Society of Friends and the oldest continuous non-Indian religious institution in the United States. (A Yearly Meeting is the largest body of Quaker church polity, usually a regional institution embracing smaller, more local Quarterly and Monthly Meetings; individual memberships are held at the Monthly Meeting level. The names arise from the frequency of their business sessions, rather than their times of worship.) “The intrepid paddlers ‘went through the place called Helgate and got to Flushings amongst Friends and then came to Gravesend.’ When they finally arrived within sight of Rhode Island, ‘the boat turning … the bottom up,’ they almost drowned. The following year, Rofe did drown” in Chesapeake Bay. In her account, Daisy Newman offers this: “But on that June day in 1661, off Newport, all was still well. Narragansett Indians swam out and rescued the three valiant Friends, who had paddled up from Maryland. ‘So we came in at Rhode Island,’ Rofe later wrote to Richard Hubberthorne of Yealand, Lancashire, ‘and we appointed a general meeting for all Friends in these parts, which was a very great meeting and very precious and continued four days together.’

“… It was exactly five years since Mary Fisher and Ann Austin had tried to enter New England. Now, in spite of brutal opposition, there were Friends ‘almost from one end of the land to the other.’ ”

One unanswered question regarding Robert Hodgson’s pre-Quaker years asks if he had been previously married. At the time of his August 3, 1665, marriage to Rachel Shotten, he would have been nearly forty – time for an earlier marriage in which his spouse might die from childbirth or illness. With the 1667 documents recorded in the section on Shotten below, we get a picture of his eventual domestic setting.

Continue reading The Rhode Island years

Rachel Shotten, daughter of dissent

Rachel Shotten ( -1696) was the only daughter of Sampson and Alice Shotten of New York and Portsmouth, Rhode Island. She eventually inherited her parents’ lands in Portsmouth and Warwick. Alice Shotten took, as her second husband, Ralph Cowland. Both men were active in the settlement of Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

Rachel Shotten’s family had been involved in strident conflict with the Puritan authorities of Massachusetts even before Robert Hodgson came upon the scene. Whatever Rachel’s mother’s maiden name, the family nevertheless found itself a part of New England’s tightly wound nest of dissent against Puritan theocracy. The reported New York linkage, whatever it may be, is beguiling: perhaps there is a strand of Dutch Mennonite here, or expatriate New Englander from a malcontent family such as the Scotts. “Shotten” may, in fact, be a Dutch version of “Scott.”

To understand dissident strands in colonial New England, one must be aware of events in Salem, Massachusetts, more than a half-century before its infamous witch trials of 1692. Some historians have, in fact, speculated that those trials were an indirect attempt to curtail Quaker influence, by threatening servants and neighbors rather than the more securely ensconced Friends. Salem and its environs would later be one of the few Quaker strongholds in the Massachusetts Bay colony, and would also provide a nucleus of families settling what would become the Friends stronghold on Nantucket Island. By the early 1630s, however, Salem had already become a center of controversy, spawning seeds that would emerge in the Americas as the Baptist denomination and the Society of Friends. After arriving in New England in 1631, Roger Williams accepted a position as minister in the Salem church. Events escalated, as Anne G. Myles explains in “Arguments in Milk, Arguments in Blood: Roger Williams, Persecution, and the Discourse of the Witness” in Modern Philology (November 1993):

By 1635 any solution to the tensions he provoked was becoming increasingly unlikely. In July Williams’ application to the magistrates for a grant of unsettled land near Marblehead was denied, apparently in reprisal for his having earlier accepted a position in the Salem church without the magistrates’ approval. Williams and one of his supporters sent an angry letter to the Massachusetts churches, urging that the magistrates be censured as individual church members for their interference in religious affairs.

One month later, the court, which had already investigated the “divers dangerous opinions,” recalled Williams to answer for his final, radical step. He had announced to his Salem congregation his intention to “renounce communion with all the churches in the Bay, as full of anti-Christian pollution,” and informed them that unless they chose collectively to do likewise, he would renounce them too. … The court sentenced him to banishment from the colony in six weeks and then, since winter was approaching, granted him an extension until spring if he refrained from publicizing his views. Williams continued to hold forth, however, and when the authorities learned of this and that he now planned with a group of followers “to erect a plantation about the Narragansett Bay, from whence the infection [of his opinions] would easily spread” it was determined to send him back to England. But Williams refused to return to Boston, and shortly thereafter, Captain John Underhill went to Salem to apprehend him and ship him back under guard. However, in [Governor John] Winthrop’s words, “when they came at his house, they found he had been gone three days before; but whither they could not learn.”

Continue reading Rachel Shotten, daughter of dissent

Robert Hodgson of Pleasant Garden

Robert Hodgson, son of Robert and Rachel (Shotten) Hodgson, was born circa 1670 in Rhode Island; died 1733, with his will probated in Cecil County, Maryland; he married (1697?) Sarah Borden (December 19, 1680-1748, Cecil County, Maryland, will), daughter of Matthew and Sarah (Clayton) Borden.

Three months after his father’s death, Robert Hodgson is “Taken in ffreemen in this Town,” August 19, 1696. He apparently married the following year.

The couple migrated, possibly with his sister and some of his in-laws, to the new Quaker settlements of New Jersey, where Sarah’s siblings established Bordentown. This was directly across the Delaware River from Penn Manor, Fallsington, and Bristol, Pennsylvania, where Robert’s sister now resided in Bucks County. West Jersey, as the colony was also known, was under Quaker proprietorship with strong Irish connections a few years before Pennsylvania and Delaware were granted to William Penn. So far, we have no definite explanation for the Hodgson and Bordens’ reasons for leaving Rhode Island, other than an assumption that it was for better prospects of prosperity. A Rhode Island history explains: “Robert probably went to Burlington, N.J., with his sisters about the same time as his wife’s nephew, Joseph, founded Bordentown.” At one time, Burlington Monthly Meeting had under its care, on the west bank of the Delaware River, Shackamaxon, Chester, Hoarkills, New Castle, and Falls Meetings. Two clues, however, involve the changing nature of the Aquidneck economy, which was shifting from an agricultural to commercial. Newport, especially, was a leading financial and trading center, known as “the centre of an extensive business in piracy, privateering, smuggling, and legitimate trade.” Until it was surpassed by the new city of Philadelphia down the coast, Newport was also the center of Quakerism in colonial America. Combine this with the size of Robert Hodgson’s estate – approximately sixty-six acres – and one can perceive that if he intended to continue farming, and to have enough land for a large family as well, he would have to move on.

There is also the possibility that the Hodgsons owned some property in the region as a consequence of their father’s association with William Penn.

Continue reading Robert Hodgson of Pleasant Garden