Now for a word from Friends Journal magazine

A classy magazine published 11 times a year in Philadelphia and having a readership in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries has reviewed my book Quaking Dover. Yay!

As Friends Journal critic Marty Grundy asks, “What was it about Dover, N.H., on the Piscataqua River separating it from Maine, that enabled early Friends ministers to establish first a toehold and then to gather a third of the populace into the meeting, in spite of New England’s violent opposition to Quakers?”

Dover, I might venture, is way off the radar of the usual Quaker heritage addicts.

For answers, she notes, “This book offers an alternative history to the usual Puritan-centric stories,” a volume where “history is not just the result of the larger, impersonal scope of folkways, economic and political forces, or social class. It is lived by individuals who are part of families, individuals who make personal choices and influence those with whom they live. So Hodson also traces family connections showing that both a bold embrace of Quakerism and bitter persecution of the disturbers of the status quo tended to run in families.”

Yes, it is about people.

As Grundy also observes, “The book is an artifact of COVID in that it was created using what is available on the web, including secondary sources, much older published accounts, and summaries of meeting minutes … As anyone knows who has tried to do historical research recently, there is a gratifyingly wide variety of materials available electronically. Hodson has done a good job of mining; juxtaposing; and, as he says, ‘connecting the dots’ to produce a somewhat speculative but eminently well-argued and documented account,” one “also filled with verbal asides as the author comments on what he is discovering and sharing with the reader. He offers various versions of events and cheerfully acknowledges when he can’t find facts to fill in gaps.”

For the full review, see the magazine’s March issue.

My, and this was in a periodical going back only to 1827.

So this is how Dover’s early houses looked?

Some historical accounts contend that the first housing in Dover was log cabins, as opposed to the thatched roof houses of Plimoth Plantation we can visit down in Massachusetts on our way down south of Boston to Cape Cod. (Go there, if you get the opportunity, by the way. It’s truly enlightening. And you won’t have to eat turkey or cranberry, not that I would object. Anyway, did those Pilgrims have mashed potatoes or sweet potatoes on that big event menu?)

Let me emphasize, log-style construction is often claimed for both the Hiltons’ settlement at Dover Point and the growing settlement’s first meetinghouse, which sat on what’s now roughly under a toll plaza on the Spaulding Turnpike.

Alas, both Dover sites represent lost opportunities for historical research.

In contrast, Colonial Pemaquid, Maine, from the same era, has been subject to extensive archeological work. This reproduction is a typical West Country fisherman’s family structure for the period, based on those findings.

Yes, that’s right. A whole family would fit in one.

Notably, the earliest residents there and in Dover were from the West Country of England – especially Devonshire. And from nearby Bristol, a name that’s been applied to both.

An extended conversation with one of the dedicated volunteer caretakers convinced me on this style, unlike log cabins, which were apparently brought to America by Scandinavians to Delaware a few years later.

Fish-drying racks would have been important.

In a related conversation, close to where I now live, I was surprised to hear that the French settlers on St. Croix Island in 1604 arrived with pre-fab housing and set it up, rather than constructing their village and fortifications from scratch. When the survivors abandoned the site in the spring of 1605, they readily dismantled these and took them to their new site, Port-Royal, Nova Scotia.

That had me wondering how all of that would fit into a ship, but then I started thinking of it as the cargo coming in one direction, replaced with fish, fresh timber, and pelts on the return. Maybe it was bigger than a bunch of U-Hauls. You’d be surprised how much we’ve shoved into a few of those.

So might something similar gone on when the English sailed up the Piscataqua? It would make a plausible alternative to the log cabin assumption.

The Maine historical site adds details to the reasoning behind their reconstruction.

By the way, the Borderlands region of England had a structure known as a cowpen (sounds like cabin), reflecting the reality of a somewhat temporary house that would be destroyed by fighting within 50 years. Or maybe even a wild party.

I’ve never been quite comfortable with the traditional log cabin description of Hilton Point’s early settlement. Point made?

Pemaquid, out beyond the Piscataqua frontier

Call it a serendipitous trip.

My stopping off at the Colonial Pemaquid historical site in Maine during a weekend at the Common Ground Country Fair last year was an impromptu decision. I’d made a side trip to visit the iconic lighthouse down on Pemaquid Point in midcoast Maine and saw a roadside sign and thought, what the heck, on my drive back.

After all, the settlement had some connections to early Dover, as I note in my new book, but simply setting foot there gave me a more substantial sense of the place than as a footnote vaguely out there somewhere up the coastline.

At first, the state-managed site appears rather modest. Its small museum and nearby seafood restaurant were both closed, this being the shoulder season. But nosing around revealed much, much more, as I’ll explain here and in some upcoming posts.

It was settled by West Country fishermen, like those who were pivotal in early Dover, shortly after Edward Hilton and Thomas Roberts set up shop along the Piscataqua, so they would have shared a common culture. Notably, both sites were established before the great Puritan migration into Massachusetts Bay, bringing a much different English culture into New England.

Unlike Dover, the Pemaquid village was destroyed repeatedly in attacks from the French and their Native allies in the decades from King Phillip’s war on.

In short, English settlement was erased from Maine all the way down to Wells and York, close to Dover. I have to admit that caused me to give lesser attention to settlement much to the east of the Piscataqua River.

Still, the Pemaquid site, now in the town of Bristol, was left relatively undisturbed after the late 1700s. In the 1990s, though, extensive archeological excavations determined the shape of the village and a gave a clearer understanding of its economy and lifestyle. Today, the stone foundations and interpretative signage present some of their findings.

In those, as I’m excited to see, I got a clearer sense of how early Dover may have also emerged along High Street – today’s Dover Point Road.

I’d love to hear more about the settlers’ culture

What did they eat, for instance. Or, more accurately, how did they prefer it to be cooked?

And did children really smoke tobacco and drink beer, as seemed to be common among the Puritans.

My book, Quaking Dover, mentions a number of things that may have come down through the West Country culture of Devonshire. As one historian details, they were part of the Cavaliers’ lifestyle in Virginia, but for now I have no evidence of the degree they influenced the settlers in the Piscataqua watershed.

Still, I believe they were one of the reasons the Quaker message so readily took root and flourished there.

Not that Quakers or Puritans got very far in Virginia.

There’s a good reason Dover Friends didn’t have a meetinghouse before 1680

Or keep minutes, that we know of.

The Quaker Meetings in Salem, Hampton, and Dover were all in Puritan-governed colonies, and thus officially illegal at the time. Religious toleration around 1680 came with a change New England governance and a royal governorship in Massachusetts.

With it, Salem has claimed to have the first Friends meetinghouse in America, though it was built about the same time as the one on Dover Neck, just south of today’s St. Thomas Aquinas high school. And Third Haven on Maryland’s Eastern Shore may be a tad older than either one.

Now, if we only had documentation, we might find the honor of being first in New England belongs instead to Dover.

Perhaps one of your family lines runs through Dover Friends Meeting

We get the occasional inquiry from someone researching a family genealogy and wondering if they were part of Dover Friends Meeting.

Records for early Dover are pretty scanty, including both First Parish and the Quakers.

Family registers in New England Quaker Meeting minutes have never been indexed, unlike William Wade Hinshaw’s ambitious volumes for Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Ohio or the subsequent multivolume project for Indiana.

Well, Dover’s births, marriages, and deaths compiled for publication in the early 1900s can now be found online, for those so interested.

Also, I should point out that the Puritans never called themselves such and did evolve into today’s Congregational and Unitarian-Universalist denominations. First Parish is heir to that stream.

On the Quaker side, connecting the dots from the Dover Combination signers as an early census, the court convictions for non-attendance at public worship, and the Friends Meeting’s records from 1701 and 1703 on hinted at the foundation of Quaker membership in the early years. A survey of online family genealogies helped immensely in filling in the general body, though I take many of those details with a grain of salt.

So here’s the core of the historic Friends community around the Piscataqua watershed:

Ring any bells?

The persecution wasn’t consistent

Had the Puritan persecution of dissidents been consistent, the Quakers and Baptists likely wouldn’t have survived. Instead, it came in waves aimed more at the traveling missionaries as well as to constrain the political and business prowess of resident Friends.

Further, there were relatively few congregations or ministers in New England. Despite required attendance at worship on the Sabbath, the buildings couldn’t hold them all, had they showed up.

Who was keeping attendance rolls, anyway?

Under its stern exterior, Puritan polity was fragile in nature

No, I didn’t expect to be feeling some sympathy for the Puritan authorities in America.

In fact, I had assumed they were a pretty formidable front.

But then, in researching my new book, Quaking Dover, I was rather amazed by the range of developments they faced in the 1630s, their first decade in the New World. It’s like they were being hit on all sides.

In addition, they had no direct representation in Parliament. And they didn’t necessarily represent the majority of the residents in their own towns.

In their tribulations with the Crown, the place was ripe for Revolution from the very beginning, rather than having to wait for Paul Revere’s midnight ride.

The Quaker challenge of the late 1650s hit at some intrinsic flaws in the Puritan mindset. As one challenge voiced it, the flaws were essentially theological rather than focusing on the unfolding news events. The title of the pamphlet?

An examination of the grounds or causes which are said to induce the Court of Boston in New England to make an order or law of banishment, upon pain of death, against the Quakers

As also

Of the grounds and considerations by them produced, to manifest the warrantableness and justness both by their making and executing the same; which they now stand deeply engaged to defend, having already put two of them to death

As also

Of some further grounds for justifying the same, in an appendix to John Norton’s book (which was printed after the book itself, yet part thereof); whereof he is said to be appointed by the General Court

And likewise the Arguments briefly hinted, in that which is called, “A true Relation of the Proceedings against the Quakers, &c.”

Whereunto somewhat is added about the Authority and Government Christ excluded out of his church; which occasioneth somewhat his true Church-Government

By Isaac Penington, the Younger



It’s a remarkable document, actually, well worth reading, even in light of the headlines and news flashes we encounter. It argued, essentially, that the Puritans were falling far short of their true goals and potential.

As for the full title?

It would never sell today.

The Puritans do get a bad rap

Oh, it’s hard for me to admit that, at least in light of the early persecution of Friends. I started out with my new book, Quaking Dover, assuming the Puritans were a monolithic opponent of religious liberty for others.

I did know, however, they weren’t always as uptight as they’ve been portrayed. In some ways they were liberal, with high literacy rates for men and women. Startlingly, a woman could divorce her husband if he didn’t sexually satisfy her. Besides, in England their Parliamentarian armies were the vanguard of the radical World Turned Upside Down that toppled the king. And they did love their beer.

As I researched my book, I began to sense that the old adage about coming to America for religious freedom but not extending it to others wasn’t exactly on target, nor was the part about neighboring colonies like New Hampshire being founded purely for monetary gain. As for Rhode Island? You see, it complicates.

For starters, the Puritans’ Massachusetts Bay charter was a commercial document, like the one for the East India Company, with their brilliance coming in immediately moving the annual stockholders meeting to the New World rather than London, under the King’s eyes.

The Pilgrims at Plymouth, too, had come under a commercial charter, one that left them strained by heavy debt. The majority of the first settlers at Plymouth weren’t even fellow Separatists in faith, but here for economic opportunity.

What the Puritans envisioned was a utopia, one within an economic, political, and religious worldview. While it’s sometimes described as a theocracy, ministers were banned from town office – not so elsewhere in the colonies.

Two of New Hampshire’s first four towns, meanwhile, were founded by ministers fleeing Massachusetts. That’s Hampton and Exeter.

And then, the Puritan fundamentalism somehow evolved into a liberal Unitarian strand and more mainstream Congregational wing, now part of the United Church of Christ denomination.

I’ve previously noted an essay by Marilynne Robinson in the August 2022 Harper’s Magazine, delineating ways Massachusetts was far more liberal than Virginia or the Carolinas when it came to religion and liberty in general. In early Virginia, for instance, missing church three times or speaking ill of the King merited a death sentence. Let it be noted, too, that Puritans, along with Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers, and Roman Catholics, were unable to gain much of a foothold anywhere in colonial Virginia, with its ruthless Anglican state denomination.

There are even arguments that the persecution of the upstart Quakers in both New England and the southern colonies was based more on political and monetary motivations than religion.

The historian at First Parish church in Dover had me seeing that the opposition in New England wasn’t nearly as monolithic as I’d assumed, and then that New Hampshire’s four local congregations had somewhat different characters from those in Massachusetts.

More recently, I’m facing Carla Gardina Pestana’s contention in Quakers and Baptists in Colonial Massachusetts that Friends went out of their way looking for trouble. It does rather thicken the plot. The Baptists somehow found ways to fit in more agreeably.

Considering current attacks on freedom of speech (and printing), some of it under the guise of religion, I do wonder about the status of the separation of church and state.

Sometimes history isn’t so far back there as we’d like to suppose.


Well, it has been called ‘a rich feast of a book’

Join me via Zoom at 6 pm Tuesday when I look at Dover Friends’ influence in Maine – along with other surprises. We’ll start with sections of my book Quaking Dover and move on from there. (May I admit that preparing these PowerPoint presentations turns into a lot of fun?)

Preregistration for the Pembroke (Maine) Historical Society’s free event in its wonderful ongoing series is required. Hope you’ll be there.