The “John Hancock” of John Hodgkinson

In my last post, I shared my excitement over finding a birth record for my 3x-great-grandmother, Catherine Grentzinger, which was signed by her father, Peter, in 1828. Since ancestors’ signatures are so fascinating (to me, at least!) I decided to create a new category for this blog where I can tag posts that contain such images. In keeping with this theme, one of my favorite documents containing an ancestral signature is the land petition for my 5x-great-grandfather, John Hodgkinson, United Empire Loyalist. Before I present the document, though, let me offer a bit of an introduction to John Hodgkinson himself and provide some historical context.

John Hodgkinson of Clinton and Grantham, Upper Canada

John Hodgkinson was known as a United Empire Loyalist (UEL). This honorific was created by Lord Dorchester, the Governor of Quebec and Governor General of British North America, to recognize those who remained loyal to the principle of “Unity of the Empire” during the American Revolutionary War. John’s name appears with the surname variant “Hodgekins” on the roster of Butler’s Rangers, a Loyalist military unit that fought in the Revolutionary War.1 However, much of his early history is shrouded in uncertainty. There are plenty of family trees out there posted by people who claim to know his date and place of birth, date of death, and parents’ names, and maybe those people know something I don’t. I’m by no means the ultimate authority on the Hodgkinson family, and my research on this family is still a work in progress. However, I, personally, have yet to see convincing evidence for any of that information, so I prefer to focus on what I can state definitively at this point.

The earliest reference to John Hodgkinson’s family that I’ve found occurs in documents contained within the collection known as the Haldimand Papers. This collection consists of  correspondence and other documents of Sir Frederick Haldimand, who served as Governor of the Province of Quebec from 1778-1786. These papers include evidence of families of Loyalists who lived in refugee camps in Quebec and received public assistance from the Crown, after having fled from their homes in the American colonies when those colonies declared their independence. John Hodgkinson’s family was enumerated in one such refugee list, dated 24 March 1783. The list begins on page 111, and the Hodgkinsons appear several pages later, on page 125 (Figures 1a-b).2

Figure 1a: Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783, page 111.2John Hodgkinson column headings for Haldimand Papers p 125

Figure 1b: John Hodgkinson household in the document, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” page 125.

John Hodgkinson in Haldimand Papers p 125

This indicates that as of 24 March 1783, the family of Jno [sic] Hodgkinson included one woman, no men or male children, one female child over age 6 and one female child under age 6, for a total of 3 persons who were to receive one and one quarter rations per day. The Hodgkinson family was not noted to be attached to any particular corps, so from this document alone, it is not clear that John Hodgkinson was a member of Butler’s Rangers. John himself seems to be absent from this tally since no men were recorded with the family. However, this may be explained by the fact that Butler’s Rangers did not disband until June 1784 and this document was dated March 1783, several months prior to the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 3 September 1783, which ended the Revolutionary War. So at the time this document was created, John Hodgkinson was presumably still engaged in military service while his wife and two children resided in the refugee camp at Chambly, Quebec.

The reference to two female children in John Hodgkinson’s household is curious. Although his wife’s name was purported to be Mary Moore, nothing is known about her, so it’s possible that the couple did have two daughters who died young, although no daughters are commonly ascribed to them. However, John is known to have had two sons, Samuel and Francis, who are believed to be from this first marriage to Mary Moore. Therefore another possibility — perhaps more likely — is that the two children counted in the tally were boys who were misrecorded as girls. However, this same tally was reported in a similar document dated 24 July 1783 (Figure 2).3

Figure 2: John Hodgkinson household in the document, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th July 1783,” page 142.3John Hodgkinson in the Halimand Papers p 142

Perhaps the individual responsible for the tally cut corners and recopied the data from the list created in March, rather than re-counting everyone? The question of which “girls” were meant by the tally marks in the provision lists will have to remain a mystery. In any case, John Hodgkinson’s only children who have been identified by name are sons Samuel and Francis, who are presumed to come from his first marriage to Mary Moore, and son Robert, whose mother was John’s second wife, Sarah Spencer. Early vital records from Upper Canada are rather sparse, and no marriage or death records have been discovered for Samuel, Francis or Robert which name their parents. Nonetheless, we can be certain of their names and of the fact that John was their father because each of them received a land grant on the basis of this relationship.4

Free Land, You Say?

The prospect of cheap land was a significant attraction for immigrants to the New World, and a seigneurial system for distributing land had been in place in the Province of Quebec (which originally included what is now southern Ontario) since 1627. When the British Loyalists from the new United States arrived in Quebec as refugees, they were unhappy with these French laws and cultural institutions, and the result was the Constitutional Act of 1791, which divided the Province of Quebec into Upper Canada (presently southern Ontario) and Lower Canada (presently southern Quebec). Lower Canada retained the French institutions, while Upper Canada practiced English Common Law. To encourage settlement of Upper Canada, and also to reward Loyalists and compensate them for lands lost in the U.S., each Loyalist and each daughter or son of a Loyalist was entitled to a free grant of land. The size of these grants varied from 100 acres to a head-of-household, to as much as 5,000 acres for a field officer.5 A grant of 200 acres was typical for a private like John Hodgkinson.

Library and Archives Canada offers several databases pertaining to Canadian land records. For researching Loyalist ancestors, the first place to search is in “Land Petitions of Upper Canada (1763-1865).”  However, “Land Boards of Upper Canada (1765-1804)” should also be checked, along with  “Land Petitions of Lower Canada (1764-1841)” since some early Loyalist petitions might be found in these collections instead. “Land Boards” refers to the system of granting land that was in place in Upper Canada between 1789-1794, when each individual district (Hesse, Nassau, Mecklenburg, and Lunenburg) had its own administrative board to oversee land matters. A map of these four original districts is here. In 1794, an Executive Council was created as a centralized authority for granting land, and the Land Boards were abolished. It is these petitions to the Land Committee of the Executive Council that comprise the first collection.

Although there’s some variation in the information provided in any given land petition, all of them intended to verify the petitioner’s identity and justify his claim to free land. Samuel Hodgkinson’s petition illustrates this process of identifying the petitioner and justifying his entitlement. He was the oldest of John’s sons, and he petitioned for land in 1806 (Figure 3a).6

Figure 3a: Extract from Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, 16 August 1806 6Samuel Hodgkinson Land Petition page 1

The writing is a little difficult to read in this image, so the transcription of the document is as follows:

“To the Honorable Alex. Grant Esqr. President
Administering the Government of the Province of
Upper Canada &c. &c.,
In Council
The Petition of Saml. Hodgkinson of the Township
of Grantham, shoemaker, Humbly Sheweth —
That Your Petitioner is the Son
of John Hodgkinson of Grantham
is on the U.E. List and has never received any
Land or order for land from the Crown
Wherefore your Petitioner prays
Your Honor may be pleased to grant him two
hundred acres of the west land [sic] of the Crown, and
your Petitioner as in duty bound will ever
pray — Samuel Hodgkinson
Township of Grantham
16th August 1806”

Samuel’s petition includes several pages of affidavits confirming both his identity, and that of his father. My favorite of these is shown here (Figure 3b), written by Rev. Robert Addison, a prominent Anglican missionary who built the first church in Upper Canada, St. Mark’s in Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake).

Figure 3b: Affidavit of Rev. Robert Addison from the Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson.7Samuel Hodgkinson Land Petition page 3


“Niagara, 29th Sept. 1803

This is to certify that John Hodgkinson, the father of Saml. Hodgkinson the Bearer, has the name of an industrious and honest Man, and I believe that he deserves it — I have always understood that he belonged to Sir John Johnson’s Corps of Royal Yorkers and I think he is on the U.E. List. He lives about 6 miles from me, and I have known something of the Man this 8 or 10 years. — Robt Addison”

We can perhaps forgive Rev. Addison’s confusion over the particular provincial regiment with which John Hodgkinson served since Sir John Johnson’s Royal Regiment of New York fought alongside Butler’s Rangers in many of the same battles.

Samuel Hodgkinson’s land petition was ultimately successful, as indicated by the final page of his petition (Figure 3c).8

Figure 3c: Saml. Hodkinson, Petition & Certificate, Read in Council 16 June 1808.Samuel Hodgkinon Land Petition page 5

In addition to a number of signatures of approval of the petition, it was noted, “The Name of John Hodgkinson of the Home District is on the U.E. List. It does not appear by the Council Books that the Petitioner has received any order for land. SUE [Son of a United Empire Loyalist].”

Since John Hodgkinson was recognized as a United Empire Loyalist, I found it a bit curious that he apparently made no petition for land in his own name. Broad wildcard searches in all three of the databases mentioned previously (both Land Board records and Land Petitions) for first name “J*” (to turn up any matches for John, Jon, or first initial J) and surname “Ho*” or “Hu*” (to turn up matches for any variants such as Hotchkinson, Hodgekins, Hutchinson, etc.) produced only one petition for land which he made in the name of his wife, Sarah Spencer.9 Sarah was the daughter of another United Empire Loyalist, Robert Spencer, and his wife, Catherine Sternberg, and as such she was entitled to her own land grant of 200 acres. John’s petition appears below (Figure 4).

Figure 4: The Land Petition of John Hodgkinson, 27 April 1797.9John Hodgkinson Petition 1797 p 1

A transcription of the text is as follows:

“To His Honor Peter Russell, Esquire, Administering the Government of Upper Canada
&c. &c. &c. In Council
The Petition of John Hodgkinson of Clinton
Humbly shews
That your petitioner is married
to Sarah the daughter of Robert Spencer
a Loyalist U.E. who having never recei-
ved the King’s bounty, to persons of her
description; your Petitioner humbly
prays your Honor would be pleased
to grant him 200 acres of land in
his wife’s behalf and your Petitioner
as in duty bound will ever pray
27 April 1797 John Hogkisson [sic]”

Certainly, John would have been entitled to 200 acres of land in his own name in addition to the 200 entitlement for his wife, and it’s probable that he settled on some land in Grantham as early as 1784 when Butler’s Rangers disbanded. In his site, Niagara Settlers Land Records, Robert Mutrie describes Grantham Township with a quote from the Illustrated Historical Atlas of the Counties of Lincoln and Welland, Ont. Toronto: H.R. Page & Co., 1876:

“The Township was first settled during the year 1784, when members of Butler’s Rangers who were discharged during that year, commenced to clear up land to make homes in the township. Many of those who received land from the Government considered it worth little, or nothing and bartered away their sites for mere trifles, and those who look over the map of Grantham which was made about 1784, or the year after, will notice the large tracts of land which some persons owned, and which, in many instances, were bought for sums almost too low to be called a price.”10

It’s likely, then, that John Hodgkinson’s land petition in 1797 represents a request for additional land to supplement the lands already granted. In a future post, I’d like to share some of the maps I’ve found which indicate where the Hodgkinsons’ land was located. For now, let’s take another look at that signature.

The Real Deal?

Although this document contains the signature of John Hodgkinson, was it actually signed by the man himself? Brenda Dougall Merriman, CGRS, CGL noted, “If the petitioner was educated, he may indeed have written the whole document himself. If an agent wrote the petition on his behalf, this fact is not necessarily stated. Therefore you cannot conclude a signature is truly that of the petitioner unless the body of the petition indicates so, or unless it is compared with other evidence.”11 I’m no handwriting expert, but it appears to me that the handwriting in the body of the text differs from the handwriting in the signature, especially when comparing the letter formation in the signature with John’s name as it appears at the top of the document. The name is even spelled differently in the signature — “Hogkisson,” rather than “Hodgkinson,” although I’ve also seen documents written in the same handwriting throughout which nonetheless include variant spellings of the same surname. The different handwritings may suggest that an agent wrote the body of the petition, but John himself signed it. However, as Merriman noted, it’s impossible to state this definitively on the basis of one document. Perhaps further research will turn up additional examples of John’s signature and we can know for certain whether this was really his. In the meantime, I’ll optimistically hope this is the case, and that this really is the signature of my 5x-great-grandfather, written in his own hand on a document from the 18th century.


Featured image: Extract from Smyth, David William. “A Map of the Province of Upper Canada, describing all the new settlements, townships, &c. with the countries adjacent, from Quebec to Lake Huron. (1st ed.) Compiled, at the request of His Excellency Major General John G. Simcoe, First Lieutenant Governor, by David William Smyth Esqr., Surveyor General. London, published by W. Faden, Geographer to His Majesty and to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, Charing Cross, April 12th 1800. Accompanied with a topographical Description. Price 10s. & 6d,” David Rumsey Map Collection, : 8 September 2018), Licensed for reuse under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

1 Van Deusen, A.H. “Butler’s Rangers.” The New York Genealogical and Biographical Record 31(1900). Online archives. FamilySearch ( : 5 September 2018), images 374-377 of 690. Image 375.

2 “British Library, formerly British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 21804-21834, Haldimand Paper,” citing John Hodgkinson in, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th March 1783,” LAC reel H-1654, Returns of Loyalists in Canada, n.d., 1778-1787, MG 21, 21826, B-166, accessed as browsable images, Héritage ( : 3 September 2018), images 730-748 out of 1240. Images 730 and 745.

3 “British Library, formerly British Museum, Additional Manuscripts 21804-21834, Haldimand Paper,” citing John Hodgkinson in, “Return of distressed unincorporated Loyalists that are Victualed by the bounty of Government in the Province of Quebec, Agreeable to His Excellency the Commander in Chief’s orders, 24th July 1783,” p. 142, LAC reel H-1654, Returns of Loyalists in Canada, n.d., 1778-1787, MG 21, 21826, B-166, accessed as browsable images, Héritage ( : 3 September 2018), images 749-764 out of 1240. Image 762.

“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1806, no. 18, Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, Vol. 226, Bundle H-9, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images  ( : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 329-334 out of 1042; and

“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1815, no. 77, Land Petition of Francis Hodgkinson, Vol. 227, Bundle H-10, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images, ( : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 1109-1111 out of 1042; and

“Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1815, no. 78, Land Petition of Robert Hodgkinson, Vol. 227, Bundle H-10, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2046, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada, accessed as browsable images ( : 4 September 2018), Microfilm C-2046 > images 112-114 out of 1042.

5 “Ontario Land Records (National Institute),” FamilySearch ( : 5 September 2018), section 6, “Loyalist Land Grants.”

6 Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, image 330.

7 Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, image 332.

8 Land Petition of Samuel Hodgkinson, image 334.

9 “Upper Canada Land Petitions (1763-1865),” 1797, no. 32, Land Petition of John Hodgkinson, Vol. 224, Bundle H-3, Reference RG 1 L3, Microfilm C-2043, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada ( : 6 September 2018), accessed as browsable images, Microfilm C-2043 > images 766 and 767 out of 990.

10 Mutrie, Robert. “Grantham Township, Lincoln County,” Niagara Settlers Land Records, ( : 6 September 2018).

11 Merriman, Brenda Dougall, CGRS, CGL. “Loyalist Petitions for Land Grants: Part Two.” Global Genealogy ( : 8 September 2018).

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2018

Robert Spencer and the Theft of the “Katy”

Have you ever heard of the sloop Katy?  I hadn’t, either. Unless you’re something of a military history fan, or particularly knowledgeable about the American Revolution, you might not have. So this is a cautionary tale, if you will, a reminder about the need for careful evaluation of historical evidence as we search for our ancestors.

As mentioned previously, one of my 6x-great-grandfathers was Robert Spencer, United Empire Loyalist. I’ve been having a grand old time lately, digging up documents for him from the website of the Library and Archives Canada, since they have so many great collections for those of us with Loyalist ancestors. Land petitions? Check. Haldimand Papers? Check. So I came to this database, Carlton Papers: Loyalists and British Soldiers, 1772-1784, and did a search for “Spencer” to see if they had anything for Robert Spencer. Sure enough, they did!

Figure 1: Search result for Robert Spencer in Carlton Papers database.Robert Spencer in index

I knew that Robert Spencer had served with Butler’s Rangers, a British military regiment best known for their participation in battles in central New York and Pennsylvania. Since the document referenced here was created in New York and was dated 1783, prior to the disbandment of the Rangers in 1784, it seemed likely to pertain to my ancestor. Intrigued, I requested a copy from the archive, which is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Letter from Wm. (?) Thomas Buchanan, Compiler, to Major Upham, regarding the theft of the sloop Katty (sic) and of naval stores from Eagle.1


The transcription of the text is as follows:

“Wm. (?) Thomas Buchanan, Compiler, to Major Upham, and agreeable to his request, sends him the names of those persons, who carried off on the night of the 3rd March, from along side the ship Eagle then laying ashore upon the Battery Rocks, the sloop Katty having on board 115 puncheons & 5 small casks Jamaican Rum, also the Sails, Guns, Water Casks, and other materials belonging to the Eagle, which were by them landed at Elizabeth Town in New Jersey.

New York 22 September 1783

William Crain

Thomas Quigby

William Williamson

Meline Miller

Moses Hetfield

Robert Spencer

Samuel Heryman

John Hanyon”1

Since this document was indexed in a database of Loyalists and British soldiers, my initial interpretation was that the these must have been British soldiers who captured an American ship. I began to search the internet, as any good historian does in the 21st century, to see what I could find that might help me understand this. The first reference to the sloop Katy that I found seemed to confirm this suspicion:  she was a sloop in the Continental Navy, originally chartered by the Rhode Island general assembly.  But wait, what’s this about being “destroyed by her own crew in 1779”? That doesn’t fit with a capture by Robert Spencer et al. in 1783.

Further internet searching produced more interesting results. In the book, Elizabeth: First Capital of New Jersey, by Jean-Rae Turner and Richard T. Koles, the incident with the Katy is mentioned:

“On March 3, 1783, Major William Crane, later a general, captured the armed ship Eagle and the sloop Katy within pistol shot of the Battery in New York City. The Eagle had to be left because she was grounded. The Katy was brought to Elizabethtown where the cargo and vessel were sold at auction. Crane was elevated to brigadier general for this action.” 2

The book Cyclopedia of New Jersey Biography, Memorial and Biographical further clarifies the parties on each side in this conflict. General Crane is described as a “Patriot Soldier, Useful Citizen”3 and the events of 3 March 1783 are also described:

“General William Crane was born in 1748 in Elizabethtown, New Jersey….He had been advanced to the rank of major, and in 1783, led an enterprise of which he left the following report:

‘I have the pleasure to inform you of the capture of the sloop, Katy, of twelve double-fortified twelve-pounders, containing one hundred and seventeen puncheons of Jamaica spirits, lying at the time of capture within pistol shot of the grand battery of New York and alongside of the ship Eagle of twenty-four guns, which we also took but were obliged to leave, as she lay aground. The captains and crews of both the vessels were brought up to us in the sloop to this place, where we have them secure. This was performed on the night of the third of March by six townsmen under the command of Captain Quigley and myself, without the firing of a musket by any of our party.'” 4

This makes it clear that the sloop Katy and the Eagle were both British ships, having been captured by a party of Americans, including one Robert Spencer, who was clearly not my ancestor. A little more digging finished the job: both the Katy and the Eagle are named in a list of Loyalist ships, and and there is evidence for the New Jersey Robert Spencer in Ancestry’s database, New Jersey, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1643-1890, living in Trenton township, Hunterdon County, New Jersey in 1741.5

So why was this Robert Spencer named in a Canadian database of Loyalists and Britsh soldiers? In defense of the Library and Archives of Canada site, they did specify in their description of the records,

“The series includes a variety of documents about loyalist soldiers and civilian refugees (both white and black people) but also about people who were on Manhattan Island or the adjacent mainland dominated by the British during the American Revolution, as well as many British and German soldiers who settled in Canada later and also some rebels (emphasis mine).”

What amazes me about this particular story is not that there were two Robert Spencers — I’ve come to expect that — but that there were also two sloops called Katy, one American and one British. It nicely illustrates the importance of digging deeper to understand documents in their proper historical context, and not be lured into the trap of seeing only what we expect to find.


“Carlton Papers — Loyalists and British Soldiers, 1772-1784”, Government of Canada, Library and Archives of Canada (, New York, 1783, citing Robert Spencer, document page number 9183, MG 23 B1, Microfilm M-365, item number 206.

Turner, Jean-Rae, and Richard T. Koles. Elizabeth: First Capital of New Jersey, Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2003, p. 47. Google Books,, accessed 29 June 2017.

Cyclopedia of New Jersey Biography, Memorial and Biographical: With the Assistance of the Following Advisory Committee : Joseph Fulford Folsom, Chairman ; Hiram Edmund Deats ; Charles Tiebout Cowenhoven ; Alfred M. Heston ; David Demarest Zabriskie ; John Stillwell Applegate ; Frank John Urquhart ; John Albert Blair ; George Mason La Monte ; Carlton P. Hoagland, Volume 1. New York: American Historical Society, Inc., 1921, p. 116. Google Books,,  accessed 29 June 2017.

4 Ibid. New Jersey, Compiled Census and Census Substitutes Index, 1643-1890 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 1999, citing Robert Spencer in New Jersey Early Census Index, Trenton, Hunterdon, New Jersey, 1741, p. 50, accessed 29 June 2017.

Featured Image:  Continental Sloop Providence (1775-1779), (originally the sloop Katy before she was renamed), U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Painting in oils by W. Nowland Van Powell, licensed under CC0 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2017