Virginia Merchants: William Hodgson of Alexandria: His Daybook for 1800-1803



Charles Hamrick

William Hodgson (1765-1820) was a native of White Haven, England, born in 1765; emigrated to America, and settled in Alexandria, about the year 1785. In 1790, Hodgson bought a house at 207 Prince Street. After his marriage to Portia Lee (1777-1840) in May1799 he conducted a dry goods business on the first floor, using the upper floors for family quarters. From the Day Book presented here, it is clear that Hodgson’s commercial ventures were spread across a vast area, with Hodgson frequently involved with ship cargoes from the Caribbean, England, and the Continent. Hodgson’s business thrived, and in 1806 he acquired a second house on Prince Street, between Fairfax and Water Streets, to handle the growing stocks of goods. In addition, Hodgson maintained a frame warehouse adjoining his primary business at 207 Prince Street.

More than 700 items are listed in Hodgson’s inventory of goods, ranging from the finest livery for ladies and gentlemen to the ordinary nails, axes, adzes, and tools for the workman. Through his wife, Hodgson had access to the elite of the city at that time, and the most notable of his clients was Martha Washington. He also conducted long-range ventures in the Caribbean and Europe. The entries not only give an accurate account of business dealings of the time, but they offer a rare window into the lifestyle and buying habits of early nineteenth century townfolk. What is remarkable is the prolific selections of goods which were purchased from this “drygoods” dealer.

1997, (2011), paper, 115 pp.