The Hobsons

By Christopher Bretz

 

This is still a work in progress.

Our Hobson family were peaceful Quakers from the county Armagh, Ireland, and whose involvement with the Society of Friends goes back to its arrival in Ireland from England during the mid 17th century.

Quakers are a Christian religious group whose basic tenets promote peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality, love, joy, and social justice. Theirs is an evangelical sect which believes in building a personal relationship with God, and as such do not build grand churches or have extensive clergy, as these are believed to distract from this goal. They are pacifists who refuse to swear oaths, and who believe in equal rights between races and sexes. They were staunchly anti-slavery at a time it was a part of British and American society, and have had women in the role of ministers centuries before other Christian religious groups allowed it.

The first recorded Friends Meetings in Ireland were held in 1654 at the home of William Edmondson in Lurgan, county Armagh. Around the same time, the first gatherings also occurred at Ballyhagan, and a meeting house was set up there shortly afterward. Although initially persecuted and discriminated against, by the late 1600s worship had taken root and had spread to other regions.

A family book called the History of the Rise and Progress of the People Called Quakers in Ireland has been passed down and is now in the care of Cory Bretz. The book is signed by a Fred Hobson and and Charles Wright and dated 1903. It was printed in 1751. It is thought that Fred Hobson was Annie Hobson's (our Alice's sister) second husband.

In this book there is mention of a Francis and Lawrence Hobson at a Meeting in Charlemont (near Moy) in 1655, among the first Hobsons on record to be converted to Friends. Unfortunately it is not known how these individuals relate to our branch of the family.

In his memoirs, Pilgrim to the left: memoirs of a modern revolutionist, 1937, Samuel Hobson noted that the first Hobson came to Ireland as a member of the 'Merchant Venturers in the colonization of Ulster' during the reign of James I. The older Hobson lines which have been documented are of the aforementioned Francis Hobson, whose ancestors came from York in England during the 16th century. It is possible most Hobsons in Ireland can trace their ancestry back to this group.

It has been difficult to research our line's distant Hobson history due to a lack of records in Ireland, but there are several interesting clues to the family in the county Armagh which haven't yet been directly linked to our family line. For example, there is a record of a Francis Hobson immigrating to Pennsylvania from the area in 1715. However this predates our earliest confirmed ancestor by several generations. Another record is for a Lawrence Hobson, who was a contemporary of our family's Benjamin Hobson or possibly slightly older, and who was actively involved in the building of a new Grange Meeting House during the early 19th century. There is also William Hobson and his descendants who came to Canada in 1818 (and returned briefly to Ireland in 1828-29). William had at least two sons who journeyed with him, Robert and George, and he would also have been the right age to be our family's father, although there is not a known connection beyond proximity of Armagh. More on this family can be found here. Finally there is also the line of Quaker minister William Hobson, whose family also came from Armagh, and whose father's alternated the use of the names Benjamin and William for six generations. Surely our Hobson line fits among these Armagh families in some fashion.

Currently our research shows Benjamin Hobson (~1795-1873) is the oldest confirmed father of our branch of this family in Ireland. He was born about 1795, probably the county Armagh, where he was known as a farmer. His son noted that the family was from Ballyhagan, where there was a Friends meeting house for many years until it was removed to Richhill in 1793. There are many Hobsons listed in the county at that time, but unfortunately we have not been able to tie Benjamin to anyone further back. Given the naming traditions of other Hobson Quakers, it is not unreasonable to think that Benjamin's father would have been a Benjamin or William.

A Benjamin Hobson was noted as an avid reader of books from the local Quaker parish library at Richhill in 1827, having read 19 books that year. There is also a list of other Hobsons from the area, likely children, who borrowed books between 1822-1824. It seems plausible that these are relations of our line as the names George and Jacob have both been shown to be children of our Benjamin Hobson.

Anne Hobson
Benjamin Hobson
George Hobson
Geoge Hobson
Isabella Hobson
Jacob Hobson
Joshua Hobson
Mary Hobson
Phen Hobson

 

To provide one with an idea of what they were reading, some of the 411 available books between two Richhill libraries included; Views on Creation, Natural History of Animals, Natural History of Trees, Natural History of Birds, Captain Bligh, Aesop's Fables, History of Tithes, and the Destruction of Jerusalem.

This map is from an ordinance survey done between 1824-1846. It shows the area around the townland of Ballyhagan. The neighboring townland of Money was the location of the Ballyhagan Meeting's graveyard for many years. Numerous Hobsons are found here. As one can see, the townlands themselves were not very big, comprising just a few farms over 1 square kilometre.

A Benjamin Hobson was also recorded in Griffith's Valuation of 1838 living in Taghnevan in County Armagh. This would appear to be minister William Hobson's father. And there is a Benjamin Hobson listed on the Freeholders Lists of 1819 and 1826 living in Cloughan, of the county Armagh. This one is found renting from the lands of Sir Capel Molyneux and could very well could be our Benjamin as it is very near Ballyhagan.

Bob Sinton has done a tremendous amount of work on his own Quaker roots in the area and has collected some intriguing information on Ballyhagan. For instance, in January and February 1779, Samuel Spavold and Thomas Carrington, two Quaker minister, visited the families of the Ballyhagan meeting house. They recorded the names and locations of these Friends and provide a wonderful census of the area of the time. There is a Benjamin Hobson listed among the group, with a family of eight (presumably two parents and six children), who lived perhaps a kilometre and a half southwest of the meeting house, in the townland of Ballytyrone. As yet we cannot confirm this is our ancestor, but if it were, judging by his age he would be our Benjamin's father.

Benjamin would have married around 1820 and he had at least four sons and a daughter; Jacob, George, Frances, Benjamin, and William, although admittedly their connections are somewhat circumstantial. His wife is unknown. Benjamin emigrated to Canada sometime before 1871, when he was recorded living in Blenhiem township, Ontario with his son (also Benjamin) and his family. He would have died about 1875 in Ontario at age 80, but no record has been found. As a Quaker he would not have wanted a grave marker.

There are two Hobson's recorded as grocers in Charlemont near Moy in Armagh in 1846 in the Slater National Commercial Directory of Ireland. E. Hobson & Co. and William Hobson, both on Charlemont Square. The would appear to be relatives to our line as it is around this time that young Benjamin (see below) also gets into the grocer business.

A Ben Hobson is found to have have signed the William Smith-O'Brien Petition in 1848, and lists his home as being in the county Armagh. This seems to very possibly be our Hobson ancestor and it interestingly hints at some of his politics. In 1848 the Irish nationalist William Smith O'Brien was arrested in Ireland after the failed the ''battle' of Widow McCormack's cabbage patch'. He was found guilty and sentenced to death, which caused great consternation among all parts of the Irish community, and soon various petitions in favour of clemency for were collected around Ireland. Petitioners signed in support of Smith-O'Brien for many different reasons, some of them political, some religious and humanitarian.

 

Benjamin Hobson (1824-1901) was born in 1824 at Ballyhagan in the county Amagh, Ireland. No record of his birth has been found but this is what Benjamin himself said. Ballyhagan was a townland about one and a half miles north-west of the village of Kilmore. It was here where a Meeting House was located on the road from Kilmore to Annaghue.

Benjamin's future bride, Elizabeth Pillar (1815-1911), was born in nearby county Tyrone into a farming family who lived at Moy. Her father was James Pillar. She had many brothers and sisters and was among the youngest of the children.

Shown here is a hand stitched linen sampler created by Elizabeth. A linen sampler was used by women of the 19th century to demonstrate their skill in needlework, a kind of portfolio of their craft. Presumably this dates to when she was a young women still living in Ireland before 1851. It has generally been passed down the female side of the family and is currently in the care of Harry McFee.

Benjamin and Elizabeth were married on May 30th, 1849 at the Grange Meeting House in the parish of Clonfeacle, in the district of Dungannon, County Tyronne. On the marriage record it states that both of them are 22 years old, when in fact Elizabeth is quite a bit older than Benjamin. Actually, both Benjamin and Elizabeth seem to have difficulty remembering (or at least stating) their ages as nearly every document throughout their lives is unique.

The marriage was recorded in the Clonfeacle Parish Marriage Announcements, 1832-69 thusly;

HOBSON-PILLAR. On the 30th ult., at the Friends' Meeting House, Grange, county Tyrone, MR. BENJAMIN HOBSON, merchant, Belfast, to ELIZABETH, youngest daughter of the late JAMES PILLAR, Culkerin, Moy, county Tyrone

Elizabeth's wedding dress still exists and has been preserved and passed down the family line. It is hand stitched, cut from a golden/mustard, satin-like cloth, with a simple design as was the tradition of the Quakers of the time. The dress is under the care of Harry McFee and is in excellant condition.

Although there are few hard records of Benjamin and Elizabeth in Ireland, the census did record Ben working as a grocer and/or shopkeeper in nearby Belfast in 1849. It is not known when he moved to the city, but he appears to have arrived after 1846. A George Hobson is also found in directories from this period as the owner of a grocer business, called Hobson & Co., perhaps indicating George was a brother or other relation. In 1846, the business was located at 63 High Street.

The Henderson Directory for 1850 found Benjamin and his wife living at 19 Great Patrick Street. George Hobson is also listed nearby. By the time of 1852 directory, no Hobsons at all are to be found in Belfast.

The couple's first child, Alice was born in July 1851.

Benjamin Hobson, his wife and daughter decided to emigrate to Canada when young Alice was only a few months old. His exact reasons are unknown, but possibly they were fleeing the Great famine. They travelled from Belfast to New York aboard the ship Riverdale and arrived November 12th, 1851. The customs records indicated their intent to settle in Upper Canada and that Benjamin was a labourer. This ship held 310 other immigrants.

The Riverdale was commanded by Henry Maxwell and had a fine reputation as an immigrant vessel. Below is a letter written by passengers from an earlier voyage which commends the captain and his ship.

"We, the undersigned cabin and steerage passengers of the ship Riverdale, from Belfast to Quebec, come forward, under a sense of gratitude, to return publicly our united thanks to Captain Henry Maxwell, for his strict attention and unwearied zeal in administering to our wants and comforts during the passage. His attention to us was more like that of a father than a master or commander, and to which we may greatly attribute the healthy state in which the passengers arrived. He has with us established his general character; and our fervent wish and prayer is that he may be spared long in the enjoyment of health to command the good ship Riverdale."

Quebec, 25th July, 1848

The family settled in Galt, Ontario by the middle of 1852 and lived there from 1852-1859. The couple had 4 more children between in that time. The 1851 census of Canada West (taken in 1852) recorded them thusly;

1851 Census, Waterloo County, Galt
            Benjamin Hobson 27 grocer
            Elizabeth Hobson 27
            Alice Hobson 1

 

Galt was a small town on the Grand River which eventually became modern day Cambridge. It was first settled in 1816 as a grist and saw mill known as Shade's Mills. Galt was the largest and most important town in the region until the early 20th century when Berlin (Kitchener) overtook it.

The Dumfries Reformer newspaper recorded the birth of several of Benjamin and Elizabeth's daughters.

Event   Details Newspaper Issue
16 Sep 1853 Daughter Mary In Galt. To Elizabeth, wife of Benjamin Hobson. 28 Sep 1853
25 Oct 1855 Daughter Caroline In Galt. To Elizabeth, wife of Benjamin Hobson. 7 Nov 1855
6 Jul 1859 Daughter Annie In Puslinch. Mr. Hobson, formerly of Galt. 20 Jul 1859

It appears that Benjamin had at least two brothers who arrived in 1853 from Ireland, named William and Jacob. Both were also Quakers from around Ballyhagan and have lines which show in the Canadian census records. William settled in the Beverly township area, and Jacob moved to near Puslinch.

Benjamin was quite involved in the politics of early Galt, representing its fifth ward on the first Town Council in 1857. From the book Reminiscences of the early history of Galt and the settlement of Dumfries in the province of Ontario by James Young, 1880. p. 252.

On the 1st January, 1857, forty years after its founders, Messrs. Dickson and Shade, visited the spot, Galt became a town.

[...]

The first Town Council of Galt was composed of the following gentlemen :

First Ward:

Mr. Morris C. Lutz (First Mayor)
Mr. James Kay
Dr. Richardson

Second Ward:

Mr. John Young
Mr. William Robinson
Mr. Dominick Ramore

Third Ward:

Mr. Thomas Armstrong
Mr. Thomas Sparrow
Mr. John McNaughton

Fourth Ward:

Mr. Francis Lowell
Mr. Richard Blain
Mr. E. L. Cutten

Fifth Ward:

Mr. William Osborne
Mr. Benjamin Hobson
Mr. Robert Scott

The election of Mayor was at that time vested in the Council, and a good deal of speculation took place before the Councillors were elected, as to which citizen should have the honour of being the first Mayor. At one time there seemed some likelihood of the election of Councillors turning chiefly on this question, and there can be no doubt it did enter into the matter in some degree, although not to such an extent as to become the principal issue.

The new Council met for organization on the 19th January, Mr. Adam Ker, Municipal Clerk, in the chair. It having been ascertained that a majority were prepared tie in favour of Mr. Morris (\ Lutz for the first chief magistrate, on motion of Dr. Richardson, seconded by Mr. McNaughton, he was unanimously elected. The Council then proceeded to elect the Reeve. Mr. William Robinson was nominated by Mr. Ramore, seconded by Mr. Young ; Mr. William Osborne, by Mr. Kay, seconded by Mr. Hobson. On a vote being taken, Mr. Robinson had the majority, and was declared duly elected. And, thus equipped, the wheels of our first Town Council began to move.

Benjamin's name is found in the Galt town council minutes book for the year 1857. He served on the Finance committee. For example, below is an entry on purchasing a new fire engine;

Galt 9th March, 1857

The Finance Committee to whom was referred the Petition of John Barbour and others beg to report. Your Committee would recommends the Council to comply with the said petition, believing that an Engine of smaller construction would prove very efficacious in many instances commanding fire where it would be impossible. One of such size as is at present provided by the Municipality which would add greatly to the efficiency of the Brigade and the safety of our town.

Council to grant the sum of seventy five pounds to be expended in purchasing the engine and hose required.

Signed

Sam Richardson
Benjamin Hobson
Wm Robinson
E L Cutten

Benjamin would have also attended the groundbreaking for the old Galt city hall on May 13th of that year.

The family moved to Puslinch, Ontario around 1859, so it would appear Ben only served a year or two on the council.

The 1861 census found Benjamin and his family were living with his brother Jacob Hobson and his family in Puslinch. Jacob is thought to have been in the country since 1853. He is noted elsewhere as a Quaker while his wife is Presbyterian. The two families were living in a one and a half story log home. It is not known how long they lived together.

The Hobson family is recorded for the 1861 census thusly;

1861 Census, Wellington County, Puslinch
            Jacob Hobson 42 farmer
            Sarah Hobson 40
            Jane Hobson 2
            Benjamin Hobson 38 clerk
            Elizabeth Hobson 44
            Alice Hobson 10
            Mary Hobson 8
            Caroline Hobson 6
            Susan Hobson 4
            Annie Hobson 2
 

This photo to the right is believed to be of Benjamin and Elizabeth sometime in the 1860s or 70s.

Later, Benjamin moved his family to the town of Bright, in Blenheim township, sometime before the census of 1871. His elderly father, Benjamin Sr, is living with the family at this time and must have journeyed over from Ireland. It is not known when he came over or if he had been with the family for a while. Benjamin Sr probably died around 1875, but no records has been found yet. The census also records that Benjamin Jr worked as a storekeeper.

1871 Census, Oxford County, Blenheim
            Benjamin Hobson 49 storekeeper
            Elizabeth Hobson 55
            Alice Hobson 19
            Mary Hobson 17
            Caroline Hobson 15
            Susan Hobson 13
            Annie Hobson 11
            Benjamin Hobson 76
 

In 1874 Phoebe Hobson was born, and while it is always recorded that she was the daughter of Benjamin and Elizabeth, this seems hard to believe. Elizabeth was nearly 60 years old at that time and it makes more sense that Phoebe was an 'accidental' birth by one of her other daughters. While it is possible to have children till quite late in life, perhaps Benjamin and Elizabeth claimed the baby so that their daughter's honour would remain intact.

Daughter Alice married Abram Bretz in 1876 in Bright, Ontario. The couple had 5 children between 1878-1887, although two died young. They moved to Tavistock around 1876, then to Lambton county around 1880, before moving to Toronto in 1885.

Ben Hobson moved his family north to Muskoka, Ontario around 1880 where they were recorded by the census in 1881. He was listed as a bookkeeper.

1881 Census, Muskoka County, Muskoka
            Benjamin Hobson 57 bookkeeper
            Elizabeth Hobson 65
            Caroline H Hobson 25
            Susan P Hobson 23 clerk
            Annie P Hobson 21
            Phoebe E Hobson 7
 

Daughter Mary met William Risk in Blanford then married him in 1882 in Muskoka. The couple moved to Winnipeg sometime soon after and was recorded there on the 1891 census. They had five children but only one son survived, Frederick James Risk. All of his siblings died as infants. The family moved to Toronto before 1901, where they lived at 30 Brooke Avenue.

Daughter Annie married David Smith in 1882 and remained in the Muskoka area with him for some time. The couple had one son, Grover Smith.

Sometime around 1887, Benjamin, his wife Elizabeth, daughters Carrie, Susan, and young Phoebe moved from Muskoka to East Toronto. They settled in St Davids Ward at 405 Gerrard Street and lived there for a number of years. The home was directly accross the street from the old Toronto General Hospital.

Benjamin got a job as a bookkeeper/clerk with Elias Rogers & Co. by 1883-84, a role which he held until his death. Elias Rogers was a locally born Quaker who ran a large lumber and coal supply business in the Toronto area. His advertisements were a staple in Toronto papers and directories for decades. The head office was located downtown at 20 King Street, and was possibly the location at which Benjamin worked. Toronto Illustrated claimed that Rogers owned “the largest yards and the most improved facilities for handling coal in Canada,” used “one of the best arranged telephone systems in the city,” and compared his position in the coal trade to that of Macy’s in retail. Later Rogers started an oil company called the Queen City Oil Company, which later became Imperial Oil.

The Toronto City Directories show Benjamin had moved his family to 436 Gerrard by 1891, and then again to 454 Logan in 1892, where they would remain for many years. They also confirm he worked for Rogers & Co. from 1887 through 1901.

Daughter Susan married William Armstrong in 1889 in Toronto and moved to Fullarton in Perth. They later settled down in Mitchell, Ontario where William was a physician for the town. William was a widower with young twin daughters, Hester and Mildred, whom Susan cared for as her own. She never had children herself. Abram Bretz was a witness at their wedding. The couple was known as Willy and Susie.

The 1891 census showed Benjamin and his family lived in East Toronto in, St Davids Ward.

1891 Census, East Toronto, St Davids Ward
            Benjamin Hobson 66 bookkeeper
            Elizabeth Hobson 75
            Carrie Hobson 35
            Phoebe Hobson 17 clerk
 


In 1899, the 50th anniversary of Benjamin and Elizabeth's wedding was marked the creation of a silver fruit spoon with gold inlay. The spoon is cared for by their descendant Harry McFee.

Youngest daughter Phoebe married Fred Moss in Toronto in 1899. They were found on the 1901 census but afterward it is not known what happened to them.

The family still lived in East Toronto in 1901, at 454 Logan, only a few blocks from daughter Alice and her husband Abram Bretz.

1901 Census, East Toronto, St Davids Ward
            Benjamin Hobson 76 bookkeeper
            Elizabeth Hobson 85
            Caroline H Hobson 45

 

Ben Hobson died shortly afterward on May 28th, 1901 at age 77 of Toxemia. He was buried in Mount Pleasant cemetery. His funeral was annouced on the front page of the Toronto Star of May 30th and read;

BENJ. HOBOSN BURIED

The Funeral on Anniversary of His Birthday and His Wedding Day.

To-day, the fifty-second anniversary of his wedding, Benjamin Hobson was buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, the end coming by strange coincidence on the day of his birth. Mr. Hobson had been a trusted employee of the Elias Rogers Coal Company for the past 18 years, and many floral tributes were sent to the residence, 454 Logan avenue, including a wreath from Mr. Rogers, and another from the staff. The services, simple yet impressive, were conducted by Mr. W. J. Moore of the Society of Friends, of which Mr. Hobson was a most consistent member. The bearers were: A. E. Stovel, secretary-treasurer of the Rogers Company, and F. Helliwell, C. H. Rogers, A. Ross, T. H. Hutchison, and R. S. King, all of the staff.

Daughter Caroline Hobson married Matthew Wardell Smith in 1902. She was already 46 when she married and never had children.

Mary Hobson and her son, Frederick Risk, moved to the United States around 1903 and settled in New York city. They were recorded living in Manhattan by the 1910 census, but it is unclear what happened to her husband as it was just the two of them. Fred married in 1912 and got into the cotton business, opening several companies which dealt in underwear. In 1925 he was president of Risk and Johnson Co. He was recorded to have traveled quite a bit to Florida, Bermuda, and in 1921 to Havana, Cuba. Fred and his wife had at least one son, James Risk.

Sometime between the 1901 and 1911 census Annie Hobson, her husband David Smith, and son Grover moved to Toronto from Muskoka where they lived at 46 Castlefield Avenue. In 1915 the family appears to have moved to Illinois, but it has been hard to follow their movements after they left.

This photo to the right shows Elizabeth Hobson with her daughter Alice, her great granddaughter Madeline, and her grandson Frank Bretz in 1908.

This photo to the left shows Elizabeth with two of her daughters, Carrie and Susie, and her great granddaughter, Madeline Bretz.

Elizabeth Pillar Hobson died in 1911 in Brantford of Pneumonia at age 96. She was buried at Mount Pleasant cemetery in Toronto, although Elizabeth's name is not on the gravestone.

Ben and Elizabeth's daughter Alice died in 1911 at age 60 of heart failure. She and her husband Abram Bretz lived in Toronto and she is buried there, at Mt Pleasant cemetery. She died just a month before her mother.

Although Benjamin and Elizabeth had all daughters, the Hobson surname was kept alive by tradition in the Bretz family as a middle given name for several generations.

 

 

Shown here are some of the locations of the Hobson family in Ireland.