Women during the Revolutionary WarRevolutionary War

The Letters of Joseph Hodgkins and Sarah Perkins

(Featured image: Engraving, “New England Kitchen Scene” from A Brief History of the United States by Joel Dorman Steele and Esther Baker Steele, 1885)

David McCullough’s book 1776: The Illustrated Edition tells the story of Joseph Hodgkins, who sent letters home from the Revolutionary War battlefronts to his wife, Sarah Perkins Hodgkins detailing the desperate troop conditions and longing for home.

In 1775 a company of Minuteman had been formed with Captain Nathaniel Wade and Lieutenant Joseph Hodgkins of Ipswich in command. The Ipswich Company included members of the Appletons, Farley, Fowlers, Goodhue, Lakemans, Lord, Ross, Stanwood and several other families. They took part in the Siege of Boston and the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17. The next day, Hodgkins wrote Sarah,

Dear wife. I take this opportunity to inform you that I am well at Present. I would Just inform you that we had a very hot engagement yesterday. But God Preserved all of us for which mercy I desire ever to be thankful we have been alarmed today but come to no engagement. It is all most night now and we are going to be entrenching tonight, therefore I cannot be particular. Don’t be discouraged, I hope that we shall be carried through all our difficulties and have abundant occasion to praise the Lord together So, no more at present, but I remain your Loving Husband till Death. Joseph Hodgkins.”

When the original enlistments ended in 1776 many Ipswich soldiers returned home rather than re-enlist for three years, and the original Ipswich company disbanded in January 1777. Hodgkins re-enlisted with Wade and was promoted to Captain, but only seven men from Ipswich served within his new company. Wade was placed in command of West Point, New York after the treason of General Benedict Arnold. Hodgkins led his company in the Battles of Saratoga. The American victory at Saratoga was a turning point of the Revolution, but the victory was dimmed by the suffering of the army in its winter camp at Valley Forge. Joseph Hodgkins, then a Captain in Col. Timothy Bigelow’s Battalion, wintered there. His letters to his wife brought the dreadful truth home to all the people of Ipswich. On Feb. 22, 1778, he wrote:

“I must just inform you that what our Soldiers have suffered this winter is beyond expression, as one half have been bare foot & almost naked all winter; the other half very badly on it for clothes of all sorts …. and to complete our misery, very short on provisions. Not long since, our Brigade drew a half-day’s allowance of meat in eight days. But these defiities the men bore with a degree of fortitude becoming soldiers.

But I must say one word to the People at home who I fear have lost all bowels of compassion if they ever had any …. for the Country Towns have provided clothing for their men and brought them to Camp. But as there has been none from the Seaport Towns, I fear they have lost all their Public Spirit. I would Beg of them to rouse from their stupidity and put on some humanity and stir themselves before it is too late. I would not have them think hard of maintaining their soldiers, for what the soldier has suffered the past year deserved a pension for life.”

Throughout the war Hodgkins maintained an ongoing correspondence by mail with his new wife, Sarah Perkins. His first wife and four of his five children had all died of disease before the war began. He was quite torn between his allegiance to the cause and his concern for the welfare of his family back home. “Our people are almost bewitched about getting home,” he wrote. “I hope I and all my townsmen shall have virtue enough to stay all winter as volunteers, before we will leave the line without men. For our all is at stake, and if we do not exert ourselves in this Glorious Cause, our all is gone.

Sarah acted as a conduit to the Ipswich community providing news about their husbands and sons, but as the war drug on, she began to despair. “I want you to come home and see us. I look for you almost every day, but I don’t allow myself to depend on anything, for I find there is nothing to be depended upon but trouble and disappointments.” By the spring of 1778, she was “very Low in Spirits” but always ended her letters “I remain your Loving wife till Death.

Col. Hodgkins finally returned home in June of 1779, but he and Col. Nathaniel Wade stayed in the field throughout the war. On October 19, 1781 General Cornwallis surrendered to the American commanders at Yorktown, ending the last big battle of the Revolutionary War. When news reached Ipswich there was great cheering and bells rang on Meetinghouse Green.

Joseph Hodgkins’s gravestone at the Old North Burying Ground reads:
“Erected to the memory of Colonel Joseph Hodgkins who died Sept. 25, 1829, aged 86 years. A Soldier and a Patriot of the Revolution, he Commenced his Military Sevices in Cpl. Wade’s company of minute men, and fought at the battle of Bunker’s Hill. He was also at the Battles of Long Island, Haerlem’s Heights, the White Plains, and Princeton; and at the capture of Burgoyne and his Army. After the war of Independence, he served as a Colonel in the Militia.”
Two daughters of Joseph and Sarh Hodgkins who died in 1794 and 1795
Tombstone of Sarah Hodgkins at the Old North Burying Ground in Ipswich
To the right of Joseph’s marker is Sarah’s tombstone with the words “Pass on, my friends, dry up your tears. Here I must lie till Christ appears. Death is a debt to nature due. I’ve paid the debt and so must you.”

The Perkins-Hodgkins house is located at 80 East St on the corner with Jeffreys Neck Road. This First Period timber-frame house was rebuilt in 1709 after the original 1640 thatch-roofed home burned when an indentured servant dropped ashes from her pipe on the straw roof. Ownership passed through generations of the Hodgkins family to the current owners, remaining in the original family after over 300 years!

Perkins-Hodgkins house 80 East St.
The Perkins-Hodgkins house on East Street

The home of Joseph and Sarah Perkins Hodgkins is protected by a preservation agreement between the owners, the town of Ipswich and the Ipswich Historical Commission. Protected elements include the exterior of the building and the frame.

Sources and further reading:

Categories: Revolutionary War

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