The Last Will and Testament of John Hodgkinson, Sr.

I am positively giddy with excitement over here, after a huge breakthrough with my Hodgkinson research! Over the past several months, I’ve been researching and blogging about the family of my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, John Hodgkinson (c. 1750–1832), a United Empire Loyalist who served with Butler’s Rangers and settled in Grantham Township, Upper Canada (present-day Ontario). I summarized known data on his family here, and discovered a baptismal record for Ellender Hodgkinson, a daughter whom I’ve not seen mentioned in any online Hodgkinson trees to date. I discussed some theories about the family’s origins here, and warmed up to the hypothesis that John, William, and Mary Hodgkinson might all be children of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England, although further evidence is needed in order to be confident in that assertion. I began searching for records relating to Ellender’s godmother, Mary Hodgkinson, and discovered evidence that she was married in New York in 1772 to Ralph Miller/Meller, a Loyalist who served in Jessup’s Rangers, and settled with him in Dunham, Quebec. I suspected that Mary was a sister to John and William Hodgkinson, but had no evidence to prove that.

Until now.

I’ve been doing further searches in indexed databases on Ancestry to turn up additional records for Mary (Hodgkinson) Miller/Meller. The other day, a search result came up that left me speechless (which is hard to do). It’s shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Ancestry search result for Mary Miller in the database, “Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749–1999.” Click image to view larger.

Mary Miller—Mary Hodgkinson Miller—was named as the daughter of John Hodgkinson in a probate file from Vermont, with John and William Hodgkinson both named as sons, and Samuel Hodgkinson named as a grandson?! No. Freaking. Way. You could’ve knocked me over with a feather!

I, and many other Hodgkinson researchers, have been looking for traces of this family in historical records for decades. How could this document have remained hidden until now? Clicking over to the “Source” tab indicates that this database was copyrighted by Ancestry relatively recently, in 2015. Nonetheless, for more than six years, despite all my countless searches for John Hodgkinson and William Hodgkinson, employing every search technique in the book, this document failed to turn up. Prior to 2015, one would have had to search those probate records the old-fashioned way, browsing through microfilm from the Family History Library, and I can certainly excuse previous generations of researchers for not guessing that the Hodgkinsons were originally from Vermont! Who knew, or who would have suspected, especially in light of the red-herring evidence that caused many to believe they were from Burlington, New Jersey? Maybe we’re all victims of tunnel vision. As I’ve said before, what we see depends on where we look.

At the end of the day, it was only by searching for Mary Miller that the curtain parted and the document was exposed. Mary Miller—a name which you’d think would be so much more common, that it would produce all kinds of irrelevant search hits and very few relevant ones. I’m still scratching my head to know how the search algorithms could’ve missed this one. “Hodgkinson” isn’t even misspelled here! How did this record not turn up before now?

In any case, here it is, so let’s dig in!

Clicking the document shown in the Ancestry search result takes you to a page in the middle of the will (where Mary Miller was mentioned), so I had to scroll back a few pages in order to begin at the beginning. The whole thing consists of four images, chock-full of rich genealogical detail. These pages must have been recopied at some point, because the dates in the various records appear out of sequence relative to the original page numbers. That’s a shame, because having original signatures would have been the icing on the cake, but I’ll take what I can get, and I’ll discuss the pages in chronological order.

The will itself starts on pages 191–192, shown in Figure 2a, and continues on pages 193–194 (Figure 2b).1

Figure 2a: First two pages of the will of John Hodgkinson, Sr. Click to view larger.
Figure 2b: Continuation of the will of John Hodgkinson, Sr. Click image to view larger.

The transcription is as follows, retaining original capitalization, spelling, and punctuation, but converting all the instances of the old “long s’” into standard modern forms.

“In the Name of God Amen. I, John Hodgkinson of Pownall and State of Vermont, Yeoman, being very weak in body, but of perfect mind and memory, Thanks be given to God, calling to mind the Mortality of my Body, and knowing that is appointed to all Men once to Die: Do make and ordain this, my last Will and Testament; That is to say,

Principally and first of all, I give and recommend my Soul into the hand of Almighty God that gave it, and my Body I recommend to the Earth to be buried in a decent, Christian Burial, at the discretion of my Executors herein after mentioned, nothing doubting but at the general Resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty Power of God. And as touching such worldly Estate wherewith it hath Pleased God to Bless me with in this world. I give, demise, and dispose of the same in the following manner and form.

First, I give and Bequeath unto Mary, my dearly and well beloved Wife the Houseroom in my dwelling House with a Sufficient Garden Spot to raise necessary Garden Fruit for her:

Also,

p. 192

Also, seven pounds, ten shillings Lawful Money to be raised out of my Estate and paid to her Yearly in Grain or such other necessaries as she may stand in need of for her natural subsistence. Also the keeping of a Cow, Winter and Summer (if she has one to keep): Also her firewood to be drawn to her door, all which shall be done out of my Estate during the time she remains my Widow: Also I give to my well beloved Wife, one certain Grey Mare that is called here Mare, and all the Household Goods she brought with her when she came to me to dispose of at her own Will and Pleasure, all which I give to my said Wife in lieu of her Right of Dower.

Also I give to my well beloved Son, John Hodgkison Junior, that part of my Homestead Farm lying in Pownall aforesaid that lies west of the Brook that Runs thro. The Farm (if he can be at Liberty to come and Freely enjoy the same) and if the circumstances of my s. [said?] son John Hodgkisson should be such that he can never enjoy the same by any means whatsoever, then I give it to my well beloved GrandSon Samuel Hodgkisson.

Also I give unto my Well beloved Son William Hodgkisson all that part of my said Homestead lying Eastwardly of the S. Brook (if he can come and freely enjoy the same himself). But if neither of my two Sons abovesaid can come and enjoy The Lands or Estate above given or bequeathed to them, or either of them, and the other Son above dis???? [?] cannot come to enjoy his part: then I give the whole of my Homestead Farm to that Son that can enjoy the same: My true intent and meaning is, that ^if either of my two sons cannot enjoy The Farm as aforesaid or otherwise they Choose not to Live upon it, that it be sold, and each one of them or either of them so ??? [choosing?] not to live upon it to have his equal part of what it shall sell for: And that part of the Farm lying westward of the Brook be made equal as to the improvement with the East Side of The Farm.

                                                                                                         And

p. 193

               And if either of my two Sons or both of them can never enjoy my said Homestead Farm as hath been before described by any circumstances whatever, by Death or otherwise; then I give the same to my well beloved Grand-Son Samuel Hodgkisson to be delivered to him when he arrives to the full age of Twenty One Years, and the Profits arising from the Rents and Profits of my said Homestead Farm to be equally divided between all my Grand-Children both Male and Female.

               Also I give to my well beloved Daughter, Dorothy Deal, three pounds fifteen shillings Lawful Money, to be raised out of my personal Estate, and paid to her by my said Executors herein after Mentioned.

               Also I give to my well beloved Daughter, Ann McKenna, seven pounds, ten shillings L[awful] Money to be raised out of my Personal Estate, and to be paid to her by my said Executors.

               Also I give to my well beloved Grand Son Thomas Miller three pounds, ten shillings Lawful Money to be raised out of my Personal Estate and paid to him, or his Lawful Guardian, by my said Executors.

               Also I give to my aforesaid GrandSon, Samuel Hodkgisson, that certain Lot or Farm of Land Lying in Bennington containing Fifty Acres of Land that I purchased of Col. Samuel Robinson to be delivered to him by my said Executors or their Successors in Administratorship, when he arrives to the age of Twenty one Years; and the Profits arising from T. Farm, until that time is expired, after paying the Legacy to my said Wife and other Necessary Charges, to be equally divided between my said Grand Children.

                                                                                                         Also

p. 194

Also I give unto my beloved Wife, one certain two year old Heifer, and to her Daughter Ann, GrandDaughter Gardner, a certain Yearling Heifer and keeping for it, on my said Farm until it becomes a Cow (if it Lives).

Also I give to my aforesaid Sons, John and William Hodgkinson, the use of all my moveable effects that hath not herein before been disposed of, after my just Debts and Funeral Charges be paid, until my aforesaid GrandSon Samuel Hodgkisson comes to the age of Twenty one Years with their paying unto my well beloved Daughters, Mary Miller and Martha Pember, five shillings each, and when the term aforesaid is expired, to pay the value of these moveables to be divided equally amongst all my Grand Children.

Likewise, I make, Ordain and Constitute David Goff and Basteyon [sic] Deal, both of Pownall aforesaid the Sole Executors jointly and severally of this my last Will and Testament, and I do hereby utterly disavow, revoke, and disannul all every other former Testament, Legacies, Bequests, and Executors by me in any wise named Willed and bequeathed. Ratifying and confirming this and no other to be my last Will and Testament.

               In Witness whereof I have hereunto set my hand and Seal this nineteenth day of August in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty Two. [signed] John Hodgkinson

Signed, Sealed, Published, Pronounced, and declared by the said John Hodgkinson as his Last Will and Testament In presence of us, who in his presence, and in the presence of each other, have hereunto Subscribed our names

[signed] Paul Gardner

              Abraham Bowdish

              Joseph Briggs”

John Hodgkinson of Pownall, Vermont

There’s no doubt in my mind that the Hodgkinson family described in this will is the same family as the Loyalist Hodgkinsons. This will offers evidence that the father, John Hodgkinson Sr., also immigrated, and this fact alone is significant, because I’ve never seen it asserted or referenced in any other Hodgkinson resource. Moreover, the fact that the father’s name was John is consistent with the hypothesis that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons were children of John and Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson of Mansfield. We have no idea how long John Sr. lived in Vermont, and this document alone offers no indication that John was born in Colonial America. So, this piece of evidence does not necessarily contradict the existing hypothesis that the Loyalist Hodgkinsons were born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, England.

According to this document, we have John Hodgkinson, Sr., making his last will and testament in Pownal, in the State of Vermont, on 19 August 1782, during the final year of the American Revolutionary War, which would end with the Treaty of Paris on 3 September 1783. Pownal is a small town situated about 27 miles southeast of Schaghticoke, where Samuel and Ellender Hodgkinson were baptized in 1776 and 1778, respectively (Figure 3). The “State of Vermont” mentioned in the will is not a U.S. state, but rather a reference to the Vermont Republic, which was an independent state that existed from 1777–1791.2 Prior to that, between 1764 and 1777, “Vermont” did not exist: the land west of the Connecticut River was declared by King George III to belong to New York, while New Hampshire lay to the east of that river.3 So, if John settled in Pownal prior to 1777, and his children were living in the vicinity of Albany, then they all would have been residents of the Province of New York.

While I know nothing about John (Sr.)’s personal politics, all of his children discovered to date were Loyalists, so John Sr. may have been one as well. Were they all living in Schaghticoke originally, and then John Sr. moved to the independent State of Vermont after the British lost at Saratoga, while his sons continued to serve with Butler’s Rangers until they disbanded in 1784? Certainly it would not have been possible for him to continue living in New York State as a known Loyalist after the New York Act of Attainder, or Confiscation Act, was passed on 22 October 1779.4 This Act identified 59 prominent Loyalists by name, confiscated their land and personal property, banished them from the state, and gave them death sentences, without benefit of clergy, should they ever be found within the State of New York. It made further provisions for indicting additional Loyalists—such as the Hodgkinsons—besides those 59 named individually. John Sr.’s death in 1784 came seven years before Vermont was admitted to the union as the fourteenth of the United States, yet perhaps it was uncertainty over Vermont’s future that led John to word his bequest of his land to his sons so carefully, declaring that each son would inherit his portion of the farm, “if he can be at Liberty to come and Freely enjoy the same.

Figure 3: Map showing locations of Schaghticoke, New York, where John Hodgkinson (Jr.)’s oldest children were baptized, and Pownal, Vermont, where John Hodgkinson (Sr.) wrote his last will. Image courtesy of Google Maps; click to view larger.

His Dearly Beloved Wife, Mary

John’s wife was named as Mary in this document, not Sarah, but she appears to have been a second wife. This hypothesis is supported by the statement, “I give unto my beloved Wife, one certain two year old Heifer, and to her [emphasis mine] Daughter Ann Gardner, a certain Yearling Heifer…” This suggests that Ann Gardner was Mary’s daughter by a previous spouse. It’s unclear whether Gardner was Ann’s maiden name, or her married surname. If the former, then it would also have been Mary’s surname from her first husband. I’ll have to look for a death record for Sarah (Godley) Hodgkinson in records from Vermont or Mansfield (England), as well as a marriage record for John and Mary in Vermont. One of the witnesses to the will, Paul Gardner, is likely to be another relative, and research into this family is also on my to-do list.

The current value of the money that John bequeathed to Mary—seven pounds, ten shillings, paid annually—is estimated at £645.78 using the currency calculator here, but the estimate ranges from £898.60 to £87,520.00 using the more nuanced currency value calculators at MeasuringWorth. This was not all that he left her, however, since there was also the matter of the houseroom, the garden, the “keeping of a Cow, Winter and Summer (if she has one to keep),” the firewood brought to her door, and the gray mare “that is called here Mare.” (My ancestors were perhaps not the most creative folk in naming their livestock, but I find this phrasing charming nonetheless!) Later in the will, he also bequeathed to her a two-year-old heifer—so she clearly does have a cow—and all the household goods that she brought with her into their marriage.

His Sons, John Jr. and William, and Grandson Samuel

John Hodgkinson bequeathed his farm to his sons, John Jr. and William, with John getting the western half of the farm and William receiving the eastern half, based on the location of a brook that divided the farm. The phrasing in the will suggests that John Sr. truly hoped that one or the other of his sons might be able to use and enjoy the farm, which was undoubtedly the fruit of much of John Sr.’s labor. On reading this, my first thought was that I need to find land records to locate this farm in Pownal and view the title history, to see who eventually owned it. Both John Jr. and William ended up in Grantham Township on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario, as did John Jr.’s son, Samuel, so it may be that all the heirs to the farm elected to sell it. Samuel Hodgkinson would have been six years old at the time his grandfather wrote his will in 1782, and when he turned twenty-one, he was to receive an additional 50 acres of land in Bennington.

His Daughters, Mary, Martha, Dorothy, and Ann

Although the bequests and descriptions of John’s assets are fascinating, what’s really jaw-dropping about this document is the list of previously-unknown daughters. The will names his daughters as Dorothy Deal, Ann McKenna, Mary Miller, and Martha Pember, and identifies Thomas Miller as another grandson. This information provides further confirmation that the Hodgkinson family described in this document is the same as the Loyalist Hodgkinsons of Grantham. The records of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Niagara-on-the-Lake show that, on 14 May 1815, a number of children of William and Mary (Jones) Hodgkinson were baptized, including “William, Thomas, Dorothy, John Pember, Rockaway, Martha, Eleazer Alexr [sic], and George.”5 It seems obvious now that William’s daughters, Dorothy and Martha, were named after his sisters, Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal and Martha (Hodgkinson) Pember, and that his son John Pember’s middle name was inspired by Martha’s married surname. All of this is fertile ground for growing the Hodgkinson family tree. The executors, David Goff and Basteyon Deal, are also worthy research subjects, as are Abraham Bowdish and Joseph Briggs, who were the other witnesses to the will in addition to Paul Gardner. In particular, “Basteyon” (Sebastian?) Deal is most probably a relative by marriage of Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal.

The Plot Thickens

Immediately following the last page of the will (page 194), there is a pair of entries on page 195 in the court records, shown in Figure 3.6

Figure 3: Decisions and Orders of Judge Jonas Fay, Bennington Probate Court, 7 April 1783 (top), and 24 March 1785 (bottom). Click to view larger.

These decisions and orders by Judge Jonas Fay, Judge of Probate Court, are transcribed as follows:

“195

At the Probate Court holden in in Bennington in the Probate District of Bennington on the 7th day of April AD. 1783 by Virtue of a Legal Citatation [sic], Personally appeared the within named Mary Hodgkinson, and alledged [sic] that the within Will does not make such Provision for her, as the Law in such Cases Allows, and therefore pray, the Court to disapprove the same, the several persons named in the Citation being present and having nothing to offer (in the opinion of the Court) sufficient to approve the Will, the Court does therefore disapprove thereof, that Administration to be taken out, and that the same be Recorded.  [Signed] Jonas Fay Judge Probt.

At a Probate Court holden at Bennington in the Probate District of Bennington on the 24th day of March AD. 1785 Mary Hodgkinson Widow of the within Testator being personally present, and relinquishing her former objection to Probating the within Will, and John Hodgkinson one of the Legatees named in said Will being Likewise present in behalf of himself, and Peter McKenna, Adam Deal, Ralph Miller, William Hodgkinson and Philip Pember as appears by writing under their ^names and Seals, and Registered in this office, and praying in their several capacities that the within Will may be Probated, the same is hereby approved and allowed. By Jonas Fay, Judg. Probt.”

So, John wrote his will on 17 August 1782, and on 7 April 1783, while her husband was still alive, Mary Hodgkinson petitioned the court to disapprove of the will. But then, after John was deceased, she turned around and relinquished her objection to probating the will on 24 March 1785. I’m still trying to figure out what to make of that situation, and determine the implications. I might be able to gain some insight through deeper investigation of these probate records, as there are other entries in this same probate book that are relevant (i.e. page 190). However, I won’t make a long blog post even longer by discussing them today.

What’s exciting about these two decisions and orders by Judge Fay, though, is that John Hodgkinson’s sons-in-law are identified by name. Now we know that Dorothy (Hodgkinson) Deal was married to Adam Deal, Ann (Hodgkinson) McKenna was married to Peter McKenna, and Martha (Hodgkinson) Pember was married to Phillip Pember—information which will facilitate research into these families.

Coming full circle now, back to Mary (Hodgkinson) Miller, one final question occurred to me. If she was married to Ralph Miller in 1772, and this same Mary was godmother to Ellender Hodgkinson in 1778, then she should have been recorded in the baptismal record as Mary Miller, not Mary Hodgkinson. So might the godmother have been the other Mary Hodgkinson, John Sr.’s second wife. and Ellender’s stepgrandmother? Maybe so. Nonetheless, a precedent exists for referring to Mary Miller by her maiden name after her marriage, in that she was recorded as “Mary Hotchkisson, widow of the late Ralph Miller of Dunham” in her death record.7 So, it’s still possible that the intended Mary Hodgkinson was Ellender’s aunt, and the truth of the matter may be lost in the mists of time. However, when it comes to knowing the truth about the origins of the Loyalist Hodgkinson family, the mists of time were just blown away by the discovery of John Hodgkinson’s will.

I’m blown away, too.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2022

Selected Sources:

1 “Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749-1999,” database with images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), John Hodgkinson, Last Will and Testament, 19 Aug 1782, probated 15 June 1784, Bennington, Vermont; citing Vermont Probate Court (Bennington District), Probate Records, Vol 1-5, 1778-1812, Vol. 1, pp 191-194. The featured image for this blog post is a detail from p 191.

2 “Vermont Republic,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermont_v._New_Hampshire : 14 January 2022).

3 “Vermont v. New Hampshire,” Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vermont_v._New_Hampshire : 14 January 2022).

4 “The New York Act of Attainder, or Confiscation Act,” Provincial Archives of New Brunswick (https://archives.gnb.ca/exhibits/forthavoc/html/NY-Attainder.aspx?culture=en-CA : 14 January 2022).

5 Ontario Genealogical Society Niagara Peninsula Branch, Paul Hutchinson, editor, St. Marks’ Anglican Church Baptisms, Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1792–1856 (St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada: Ontario Genealogical Society, 1998), p 22, “14 May 1815, All (the following) were baptized at the 12-mile creek on the same day…William HODGKINSON, Thomas/Dorothy/John Pember/Rockaway/Martha/Eleazer Alexr/George }of William and Mary”.

6 Vermont Probate Court (Bennington District), Vol. 1, 1778–1792, p 195, Decision and Order of Judge Jonas Fay, 7 April 1783; Decision and Order of Judge Jonas Fay, 24 March 1785, imaged in “Vermont, U.S., Wills and Probate Records, 1749-1999,” Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), path: Bennington > Probate Records, Vol 1-5, 1778-1812 > image 107 of 909.

7 “Quebec, Canada, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1968,” database and images, Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/ : 14 January 2022), burial record for Mary Hotchkisson, died 15 June 1832; citing records of the Anglican Church, Holy Trinity, in Frelighsburg from Institut Généalogique Drouin; Montreal, Quebec, Canada; Drouin Collection; Author: Gabriel Drouin, comp.

7 thoughts on “The Last Will and Testament of John Hodgkinson, Sr.

  1. That was really fascinating! It made me stop and think about the land back then and everything that was affected by whether you were a loyalist or a patriot. Probably because I’m reading the latest Outlander book which is dealing with militia groups and who’s in allegiance to whom and how it affects them!

    Liked by 1 person

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