HODGSON, JOHN, fur trader; b. c. 1763 in the parish of St Margaret, Westminster (London), England; d. before 6 Nov. 1833, probably in Onslow Township, Lower Canada.
John Hodgson entered the Hudson’s Bay Company as an apprentice in 1774. Like several other 18th-century HBC men, he had been educated at the charity school of the Grey Coat Hospital in London. He was first sent to Fort Albany (Ont.), where his duties were to include “Writing & Accounts” as well as surveying. He then spent some 18 years at Henley House (near the junction of the Albany and Kenogami rivers), as writer, as second under John McNab in 1781–82 and 1783–86, as summer master during McNab’s absences, and finally as master from 1786 to 1793. Two notable interruptions occurred in this service: during the years 1778–81 Hodgson was at Fort Albany, from which place in 1780 he accompanied HBC surveyor Philip Turnor* on a summer trip to Gloucester House (Washi Lake); and from March to August 1783 he took charge of Severn House (Fort Severn) after the capture by the Comte de Lapérouse [Galaup*] of its master, William Falconer. In 1786, expressing pleasure at Hodgson’s “good conduct at Severn and general good behaviour,” the HBC awarded him a gratuity of £10 and made him master at Henley House. Henley was an important outpost in the competition against the Canadian fur traders. It was a base for the company’s efforts to reach lakes Nipigon and Wepiscuacaw (McKay), where the Canadians were carrying on an active trade. Hodgson oversaw the preparation of inland journals and maps covering areas as remote as Rainy Lake, thus assembling valuable information.
Hodgson spent 1793–94 in England. In 1794–95 and again from 1796 to 1800 he took charge of the post at Martin Falls. He served as second at Albany in 1795–96, replacing the deceased John Kipling. In 1800 he succeeded John McNab as chief factor in command of Albany, a position he held until 1810, with the exception of a year, 1807–8, spent in England. His service after his second English leave was characterized by failures and frustrations. Efforts in 1808 and 1809 to open trade at Lac Seul were foiled by North West Company rivals, “Mr. [John] Haldane[*] and a set of abandoned wretches who stick at nothing short of murder.” The trade at Osnaburgh House, one of the posts under his jurisdiction, was damaged by the chronic drunkenness of its master, John Sutherland. In the fall of 1809 the HBC men at Eagle Lake had an altercation with the Nor’Westers which led to the death of NWC clerk Aeneas Macdonell. The Canadians seized some of the HBC servants involved in order to bring them to trial in Montreal.
Hodgson’s difficulties with the Albany outposts were matched by his growing management problems at Albany itself and, in the summer of 1810, he received word of his dismissal and his replacement by Thomas Vincent, after a long service which for the most part had been well regarded. The change was applauded by William Auld, superintendent of the Northern Department, who, noting “the long Absence of all Sense of Duty or Discipline” at Albany, considered Hodgson “a Beacon to the unwary and inconsiderate. Surely his desolate State will strike Terror into the Bosom of the most thoughtless. . . . Officers of all Ranks will see the Destiny that awaits the Indulgence of uncontrould Passions and the Freaks of a mischievous Caprice.”
Rather than retire to England, Hodgson decided to settle on the Ottawa River with his wife, Caroline Goodwin (daughter of HBC officer Robert Goodwin and Mistigoose, an Indian), and several of their nine children. Reaching Fort Timiskaming (near Ville-Marie, Que.) on 27 Sept. 1812 in hunger and despair, he was assisted with supplies by Nor’Wester Donald McKay, and went on to Montreal where he purchased a farm in Onslow Township on the Ottawa near Lac des Chats for 22,000 livres. Several fur traders who travelled the Ottawa in later years remarked on the Hodgsons, whose inelegant household belied their former high standing. In 1815 Colin Robertson*, upon Hodgson’s informing him “that he was many years Governor at Albany,” commented, “but really I think the upper works of his excellency is a little deranged.” And former NWC clerk Ross Cox*, descending the Ottawa in September 1817, was disappointed that the former HBC officer could offer his half-starved guests nothing more than “a meal of potatoes and butter”; there was “nothing very attractive about this solitary settlement.” The Hodgsons were still living at Lac des Chats in 1828, but John Hodgson was described as deceased in minutes of the London committee of the HBC for 6 Nov. 1833.
PAC, Reference file 341-1 (letters between F.-J. Audet and Frederick Easton, Port Arthur, Ont., 4 Oct. 1934). PAM, HBCA, A.1/58: f.65; A.6/16: f.111; A.6/17: f.115; A.92/17/507, no.15706; B.3/a/112: f.5; B.3/a/117b: f.25; B.3/b/45, 46, 48a; B.86/a/39–40, 42, 44; B.135/a/110: f.13; D.4/15: f.125; D.5/2: f.219; D.5/3: f.267. Ross Cox, Adventures on the Columbia River . . . (2v., London, 1831). HBRS, 2 (Rich and Fleming). James Tate, “James Tate’s journal, 1809–1812,” HBRS, 30 (Williams), 98–101. Journals of Samuel Hearne and Philip Turnor, ed. J. B. Tyrrell (Toronto, 1934; repr. New York, 1968). J. S. H. Brown, Strangers in blood: fur trade company families in Indian country (Vancouver and London, 1980).