John Hodges (of Thomas) (1763-1825)

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John Hodges (of Thomas) (b. 1763 - d. 1825)

MSA SC 5496-002849

War of 1812 Claimant, Prince George's County, Maryland


John Hodges was born December 6, 1763 in Maryland to Thomas Hodges and his wife Jemima Plummer Hodges. John Hodges married Rebecca Berry on January 12, 1799, and had the following children: Mary Ellen, Caroline, Cornelia, John, Mary, and Benjamin Hodges. Hodges purchased several tracts of land around the county. However, the Hodges family made their home at Darnall's Chance in Upper Marlboro. John Hodges, a lawyer, was in business with his brothers Thomas and Charles Hodges. He attended the Trinity Episcopal Church where he was a subscriber of the congregation, paying $40 in tithes annually.

In addition to being a prominent landowner in the county, Hodges was also a slaveholder. In 1806, he purchased two enslaved women, Nell and Margery, from Isaac Grimes. The following year he purchased two slaves from Josias Ferguson, a negro man Bob and an unnamed woman aged about 44 years. Robert Hay sold several slaves to John Hodges. Among the slaves were an enslaved woman Chloe and her children Lyd, Mary, Pheby, Hannah, Lonnon, Bob, and Bet.

In August of 1814, Hodges' enslaved man Washington was carried off by British forces on their return from Washington, DC through the town of Upper Marlboro. During this time four British soldiers were arrested as deserters by Dr. William Beanes and other residents. Beanes directed Hodges to escort the British soldiers to the jail in the town of Queen Anne in Prince George's County. The British military became aware of the absence of their four soldiers and quickly set out to retrieve them. A message was sent to Hodges stating that if the four deserters were not let go, the British military would return to Upper Marlboro and burn the town. It is important to note that at this point in time Dr. William Beanes was captured by the British and being held in exchange for the four soldiers. Hodges, under pressure to have his friend released by the British, made arrangements to have the four deserters returned to the British. The negotiation for the release of Dr. Beanes was coordinated by Francis Scott Key and John S. Skinner. Dr. William Beanes, along with Key and Skinner, was released after the attack on Fort McHenry.

As a result of his actions during the war, Hodges was tried for High Treason in the Circuit Court of the United States in Baltimore, MD. The charges were brought against Hodges because it was a crime for him to release the four British soldiers to the enemy. Hodges' case was presided over by Gabriel Duvall and he was defended by William Pinkney and found not guilty. However, like other Marylander's during the war John Hodges suffered the loss of his property including enslaved people and livestock. Following the war he submitted a claim, through his agent Alexander Mundell, to the Department of State in order to receive compensation for the loss of his enslaved man Washington. Mundell also happened to be Hodges son in law, married to his daughter Caroline. Two free colored men Francis Wilkinson and William Smith testified on behalf of Hodges, that they saw Washington being carried of by the British and that he had not been seen since that time. Hodges was later awarded $280 for the loss of Washington.

Slaves continued to flee from Hodges property following the war. In 1820, Hodges enslaved man William escaped with his wife Nancy. Hodges had purchased the husband and wife from Mrs. Ann Berry, who lived in his neighborhood. Two additional slaves, William and Chloe, left from Darnall's Chance in 1824. He offered a $40 reward for the return of these two slaves. Hodges also sold and manumitted slaves during the remainder of his life. In 1823, he sold his enslaved woman Ritty to David Barnum of Baltimore for a term of five years. At the end of that term Hodges manumitted Ritty who was 17 years of age and able to make a living for herself. John Hodges also sold his negro boy Samuel Dorsey for a term of 14 years to Cephas W. Benson who was a resident of Prince George's county. At the end of the term Samuel Dorsey was to be manumitted.

John Hodges died May 11, 1825 in Prince George's County and was buried at the Hodges family cemetery, Omaha Hill. At his death Hodges owned 50 enslaved men and women. In order to satisfy his debt following his death, Hodges' enslaved men Tom and Ben were sold. In his will Hodges stated that he would like his home to be sold and that the proceeds from the sale of the home should be divided among his daughters Caroline, Mary Ellen, and Cornelia. The executors of the estate were unsuccessful in selling the property and decided to assign the home to Alexander and Caroline Hodges Mundell as their 1/3 share of the property. After the division Alexander Mundell was able to sell the house to Horation C. Scott for $1000.

This biographical summary was compiled by ecpclio and the staff of the Maryland State Archives, retrieved 2016/09/18.

In 2014, the treason trial was re-visited and re-enacted (see: pdf of notes). Dr. Papenfuse moderated and presented the following perspective in the voice of John Hodges:

John Hodges was 52 at the time of his trial. He was a neighbor of William Beanes who Francis Scott Key was attempting to retrieve from the British when he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry in September 1814. He was the neighbor of William Bradley Beanes, Dr. William Beanes's brother, and of Justice Gabriel Duvall who presided over his treason trial. His friends included John Elihu Hall, the court reporter. His brother was on the grand jury that recommended Nol Pros, as was also a Doctor who treated the British prisoners with Dr. Beanes. Over 3/4s of the jury in the treason trial were his neighbors and knew him well. Hodges was fairly wealthy (worth about $16,000 which was about 1/2 a million dollars in 2014 dollars. About 1/3 of his wealth was in slaves. In 1825 Hodges owned 49 slaves. At his trial Hodges was not permitted to speak in his own defense because it was thought he might perjure himself. By 1825, a decade later, he was not very well and died May 11, 1825, leaving $15,873 in personal effects (almost all in the value of slaves). He owned a store and gristmill and was owed $89,000 ($2.1 million 2014 dollars) in debts due, including at least one juror from the treason trial who owed him $30.00 ($729.00 in 2014 dollars), and his star witness, William Bradley Beanes. At the trial, his lawyer, William Pinkney, convinced him not to seek or accept a Nol Pros, even though that is what the only other defendant charged with treason chose to accept. As to the facts brought out in the trial, the British visited his town, Upper Marlboro, twice in less than two weeks. One of his former slaves, Washington, ran off with the British and for whom Hodges petitioned for reimbursement. The British soldiers came twice in August of 1814. The second time he prevented them from burning Upper Marlboro to the ground (including his house) by convincing the militia to permit the surrender of four British POWs and allowing a 5th, a British deserter to escape. The previous June his relative, Benjamin Hodges, lost almost 400 hogsheads of tobacco to a British raid at three inspection warehouse on the Patuxent. Was what he did treason? The jury said decidedly NO. Who were the jurors? 2/3 were his neighbors as was Justice Duvall. All of the testimony from the Prosecution and Defense witnesses, including the testimony of the British Deserter who he helped escape death, seemed favorable to Hodges's actions. In sum, why him? Why not the commander of the militia, former Republican governor Robert Bowie who agreed to turn the 4 POWs over to the British. Why not the whole town of Alexandria which paid ransom to save their town while Washington burned. Why not the Commander of Ft. Washington who surrendered his fort at the first volley of cannon from the British men of war? The main issue was the definition of constructive treason and the role of juries in deciding treason cases. In 1824 a London newspaper commented on the complexity of deciding constructive treason: "the legal fiction of "Constructive Treason" was invented in those days [ca. 1794], and explained with such consummate clearness, in a speech of nine hours, by the present [1824] Lord chancellor, then Attorney General --that not twelve honest men could be found to understand it--consequently, the accused were most ignorantly acquitted. May never a Jury be more enlightened for thirty years to come!" From the London Mirror published in the Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), XII, p2, Monday, September 6, 1824.