Hopkins Family Story: Immigrating to America


In 1854 Robert Hopkins and family immigrated from England to the United States. Nothing unusual about an English family leaving London and coming to America. But at the individual family level this was a seismic decision and change. This is the Hopkins family story — before, during and directly after immigration pieced together from historic records.

The Hopkins Family in England

During the Industrial Revolution much of England’s comforts and hardships were based on one’s social class and related occupation. If born into the aristocracy you were one of 590 families that lived a life of leisure, land and everything wealth could provide. But much of the other 99% of the English lived a very different life.1 Robert Hopkins and his wife Susannah Holdsworth Hopkins were part of this 99%, in their case the working class.

Working class shared multi-story dwellings, typically with up to 6 family units in each

The working class made their living through manual labor. The top 15% of the working class was comprised of skilled physical laborers with most family members contributing towards food, fuel and rent.2 Robert Hopkins was a cordwainer by trade he was in that top 15% of the working class. In the early 1800s his trade flourished as everyone needed a pair of shoes and all shoes were custom sized and made. However, by the mid-1800s cheap mass shoe production had begun to limit the traditional shoe market.3 It is not surprising that by the 1851 England Census Robert is recorded as a wine porter even though he is documented as a cordwainer in his children’s baptism records from 1828 – 1842.4 5

Robert’s wife Susannah and their daughter Mary Ann (23 years old in the 1851 England Census), who was skilled enough to work along side her mother, were shirtmakers. Hannah (16) was noted as a tailoress, considered a lesser skilled shirtmaker. In the mid-1800s about 75,000 English women were shirtmakers or seamstresses, a form of “sweated” labor or outwork. Typically this work consisted of piece work done at home with multiple family members pitching in from early morning into the evening, approximately 14 hours per day, 6 days a week. The outwork process meant that the material required to produce shirts was dropped off at shirtmaker’s home each week and each week completed shirts were picked up after the hand-sewn seams and buttons were completed.6

Hopkins Family in 1851 England Census

Robert and Susannah’s eldest son, William (19), was apprenticed as a cooper by the 1851 England Census, training to make leak-proof wooden barrels so English goods could be stored and shipped. By approximately 1852 William began serving in the Royal Navy, likely honing his skills as a cooper through-out his five year assignment in India.7 By the time William immigrated to the United States in 1857 he not only has the gold sovereigns to purchase his own land, but he is also able to get good work as a cooper when the Pennsylvania oil boom begins in 1859.8

Typical school scene that John and Susannah would have experienced in England

In 1851, not unusual in Middlesex County, Robert and Susannah’s youngest two children, John (10) and Susannah Elizabeth (8), were scholars. Though free, universal education was still decades away, Middlesex County had abundant schooling options due to London’s need for clerks and domestics that could read and write. “Private venture schools of all kinds, both charitable and profit-making, industrial schools, Sunday schools, charity schools, ‘National’ schools, ‘British’ schools, Jewish schools, Roman Catholic schools, dissenting schools, ragged schools, reformatories, orphanages, poor law schools, and even factory schools, are all to be found.”9 Nonetheless, literacy was hardly a given in England with only 60% of men and 40% of women considered literate by mid-1850s.10 Robert and Susannah must have prioritized education for all their children as both of them plus all their children could read and write.11

London’s Increasing Urban Density

Typical of the times and their social class the Hopkins family lived in the same east London urban district from the time Robert and Susannah married in 1824 to the time they left for the United States in 1854. They moved almost every few years between tenements, all located within a few blocks of each other in Shadwell Parish, Tower Hamlets Borough, Middlesex County, England.12

Blue: Robert and Susannah Hopkins’ ‘tenement homes from their marriage until they immigrated; Red: churches where their children were baptized

The Hopkins family’s move from tenement to tenement was very different than how Robert and Susannah had grown up. Robert’s parents John and Mary Ann lived on Spring Street in Shadwell from 1793 thru at least 1811, when Robert’s youngest sibling was born.13 Susannah’s parents also moved very little across these years.

Historical records and maps show how much Shadwell, and London in general, evolved during this timeframe. When Robert and Susannah were born there were many gardens and fields surrounding their homes. However, over 50 years this same area became a densely populated city as the rural population was drawn into English cities in unprecedented numbers. From 20% of the English living in cities in 1801 to 54% only 50 years later the pressure on housing cost and availability, living density, wages, and work availability all dramatically changed. In fact, “England’s capital was in a league all its own. At the start of the Victorian Age, London was already the largest city in the world. Over the next sixty years, its population would skyrocket from nearly 2 million to an unheard-of 6.5 million. This rapid growth was not due to industrialization alone…An endless stream of products flowed in and out of its busy international ports.14

Pull slider to see Robert and Susannah’s childhood home areas change in surroundings from 1799 to 1843 — gardens and farms mingled among housing to a high density city with dock basins and businesses
Raw sewage ran into the Thames creating horrid sanitary conditions and an enormous stink that intensified during warm weather

By the 1851 census the Hopkins family was one of six families living at the same 190 High Street tenement. Tenement housing in East London was a hard existence. Each family rented one or possibly two rooms within a multi-family building with a shared outhouse and a water pump typically used by the entire street.15 Families lived and worked in these rooms, keeping warm with coal fires in the winter that blanketed the city with soot. In the summer, families sweltered from the intense humidity, not to mention the stench that invaded every breath of air all year.16

The middle of the street contained the refuse and waste from each family, plus all the animals living along side them such as horses, chickens and dogs. During rains this waste flowed into the Thames, within a few blocks of most of Shadwell’s tenements. “There was no system of refuse collection and most people just dumped their rubbish in the streets. Working-class homes did not have inside lavatories and people therefore had to share communal privies. These privies were often just holes in the ground covered by a wooden shed. When the privies were not cleaned out on a regular basis, the cesspits overflowed and the sewage ran down the streets.”17

Multiple diseases impacted average life span in 19th century England

Given these circumstances it is not surprising that Robert and Susannah’s daughter, Hester Emma is not found again in any records after her baptism in 1833. At the time, one in three English infants died before their 5th birthday.18 A cholera plague between 1831 and 1834 killed 52,000 across England due to London Port Authorities allowing a ship to dock from a known cholera hot spot.19 The disease returned three times, in the pandemics of the late 1840s, mid 1850s and mid 1860s. Unfortunately, “The cholera epidemic of 1848 visited the same places as the first outbreak and found the same state of unpreparedness. Treatments and preventative measures all failed, and evidence suggests that the death rate was higher.20 Between the lack of sanitation, the dense living conditions, and meager diets it is amazing that the Hopkins family managed within this environment and only lost one child in infancy.

Shadwell, London’s Sailortown

Nevertheless, there must have been a palpable excitement in Shadwell. This East End London district was brimming with shipping enterprises, including docks and basins supporting ship building, large import/export businesses, along with lay-over accommodations for sailors, captains, plus home to many shipwrights. England’s global empire was near its zenith and Shadwell, also known as London’s Sailortown, was one of the major ports connecting England and the world.21

Shadwell reflected the English Empire’s people diversity. “In the 19th century, Shadwell was home to a large community of foreign South Asian lascar seamen, brought over from British India by the East India Company. There were also from intermarriage and cohabitation between lascar seamen and local girls. There were also Anglo-Indians, smaller communities of Chinese and Greek seamen, who also intermarried and cohabited with locals.22

Shadwell’s vibrant docks: (starting at upper row from left) Gustave Dore’s “The Docks – the Concordia”, “The River-side Street”, “Inside the Docks” all from his visits around East End London; artist unknown, “Frost Fair” on the Thames showing winter fun on the frozen river

Ship mast forest on the Thames

Shadwell’s southern boundary follows the Thames which looked like a ship mast forest as ships would arrive, unload raw materials such as cotton, tobacco, indigo, and wheat and then load up on English manufactured goods such as iron, steel, steam engines, locomotives, ships, plus mass produced textiles and ceramics.23 In fact, by 1825 over 20,000 vessels per year would move thru the Port of London, typically requiring smaller boats to unload and load them as docks and wharfs could not accommodate the volume.24 It is not hard to imagine the accounts that must have come back from all these adventures and that likely those accounts influenced Robert and Susannah to make their own journey.

Immigrating to America, The Journey

The Hopkins journey to America was probably quite typical for families in the mid-1850s. Starting in east London they would have taken a horse drawn omnibus to west London where on the fringes of the city steam powered trains would take them to Liverpool.25 Once at Liverpool’s Waterloo docks they would receive a medical inspection along with hundreds of other immigrants.26

In early August 1854, the Hopkins embarked from the Waterloo Docks on the Richard Cobden, a 100′ X 25′ “fast sailing ship” leveraging both sails and screw-propulsion with about 150 other passengers, taking at least a few weeks for their Atlantic passage.27 28

The journey: (upper row from left) Omnibus in London, steam train to Liverpool, government medical inspections at Waterloo Docks, immigrants waiting to board ship at Waterloo Docks, the Richard Cobden screw-propulsion ship, Hudson River in front of Albany, New York

Upon arriving in New York a doctor would row out to their sailing vessel and inspect the passengers, as more formal immigration processes would not open for another year, and the Statue of Liberty would not exist for another few decades.29 After this passengers making their way west would typically take a steam ship on the Hudson River some 150-miles to Albany, New York.30 They would then traverse the 363-mile Erie Canal on a horse-pulled canal boat from Albany to Buffalo, New York.31

The journey continued: (from left) bridge over Erie Canal, Detroit Train Depot, Plank Road to Grand Rapids

Continuing their journey from Buffalo they had a choice, go by steam ship on the Great Lakes or steam train rounding southern Lake Erie towards Detroit, Michigan.32 Upon landing in Detroit they would have taken the Michigan Central Railroad steam train to Kalamazoo, the closest train station from their likely final destination, Wyoming, Kent County, Michigan.33 By 1854, 48-miles of the Plank Road had opened between Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids (located a bit north of Wyoming), so traveling by horse and carriage on this wood-planked road from the train station would have only taken one day.34

The Hopkins Destination

Robert’s brother-in-law Richard Suddick and his sister Mary Ann lived in Wyoming, Michigan with one of their children.35 There are no historical records suggesting this was Robert and Susannah’s initial U.S. destination, though it certainly would have been a typical immigration approach in the mid-1800s where immigrants would initially stop at close relations before determining their final destination. Richard and Mary Ann Suddick were already well established as Americans with a 40-acre farm, having immigrated to the United States in 1834.36 The families must have been close as nine years later Robert and Susannah’s eldest son William married his first cousin Jane Suddick in Kent County, Michigan.37

Hopkins’ family journey from Shadwell, England to Wyoming, Michigan, USA

End-to-end, the Hopkins immigration journey was somewhere between 6-10 weeks, but it had to have been the trip of a life-time as prior to this journey, typical for most English working class, Robert and Susannah likely traveled no further than Shadwell and its adjacent parishes.

The Decision to Immigrate

But why immigrate to America, especially when both Robert and Susannah were close to their early 50s? There are no family records that directly explain Robert and Susannah’s decision. Nonetheless, there are interesting circumstances that may have influenced their decision.

Workhouse scene depicted in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist

First, the most obvious impetus were the stories of others before them realizing something the working class English could not even hope for in their lifetimes — owning land, their own farm, their own home. In particular, land and water that was pristine, surrounded by quiet nature and not densely packed heaving populations. Sure, this meant you had to survive by your own wits, but was this really that different than in England? In Victorian England when you or your family hit hard times you landed in the streets or at a workhouse. In fact, workhouses that intentionally dehumanized their occupants through separating families, requiring coarse uniforms, forced work under the most repetitive and menial conditions possible, along with rations meant to starve.38 Comparatively the wilderness of America was no more threatening.

Second, their eldest son William may have decided to immigrate to the United States after he completed his Royal Navy service. The family certainly all intentionally located next to each other in Grand Traverse County. A young man with plenty of energy and freedom, cooper trade skills, prior global travel experience, and some saved military service earnings would be ripe to immigrate. William’s decision could have created a impetus for the entire Hopkins family to immigrate given he was the eldest son. Minimally, they all moved to Grand Traverse County within a year or so of each other and purchased adjacent land on Old Mission Peninsula.39

A more typical approach than the Hopkins used, a father sending his daughter away with his illegitimate grandchild in 1850s

Third, and more specific to the Hopkins immediate situation, in 1852 Robert and Susannah’s 17 year old daughter Hannah had had a child, Robert William, out-of-wedlock. In Victorian England an illegitimate child would not only destroy the mother’s reputation and prospects, therefore leaving her destitute, but also her family’s and her child’s. It was so damaging that grandmothers would pretend to be pregnant while hiding their unmarried pregnant daughter from view and claim the child as their own offspring.40 Robert and Susannah did baptize their grandson as their own child though they were both almost 50 at the time, utilizing a distant parish church, not their own and recording a parish address they did not live in.41 More than 10 years later Robert requested the Grand Traverse Court to make him his grandson’s guardian and allow him full inheritance rights, so ultimately the real story of Robert’s grandson was revealed.42 So it does make sense that this illegitimate grandchild could have influenced the Hopkins’ immigration decision also.

Final Stop, Grand Traverse County

With much of the world open to immigration, why select Grand Traverse County, Michigan? It was almost entirely wilderness. It was bone-chilling cold for over half the year. It was nothing like anything any the Hopkins had yet experienced. Though there are no direct records that provide the Hopkins family thinking, there are a few potential considerations that went into their decision.

The Grand River Times, Grand Haven, MI. 5 Dec 1855

Local newspapers near the Suddicks reported land availability, cost, and prospects for success such as government land information, sales, and farming conditions. Multitudes of immigrants were going into northern Michigan at the time, as published in the Grand River Times in 1855, “The emigration to the northern part of this State, continues unabated. The stages from this place to Grand Rapids, are daily filled to overflowing; and the train of emigrant wagons in that direction seems to be endless and unceasing.43

Certainly part of their consideration was land near their relatives the Suddicks was already selling for over $9/acre, while newly opened government land in northern Michigan was selling for $1.25/acre so it made financial sense that the Hopkins would go further north.44

In addition, the Suddicks must have provided a lot of personal experience as they had originally immigrated a few decades prior. First into New York, then Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, and then finally Michigan.45 They owned and farmed land in each of these locations.46 Given the Suddick’s 12 year old daughter Jane was made a servant in another family’s home while in Illinois, they must have had difficult experiences to share. Nonetheless, whatever impetus drove the Suddicks to move from place to place their experiences surely influenced what they recommended to Robert and Susannah.

Old Mission Peninsula beauty captured by William Holdsworth (Robert and Susannah’s nephew)

Finally, likely a most persuasive reason for settling in Grand Traverse County were the many news reports regarding its beauty, bountifulness, and pristine land and water. As one writer stated, “The scenery around the entire Bay is delightful, and the climate as healthy and agreeable as can be found any part of North America. The leading timber is hard maple, interspersed with beech, ash, oak, basswood, pine, cedar, hemlock and other varieties; and the soil is rich and productive as that of Western New York. We have no early frosts to injure the corps.48 And yet another writer stated, “When white men from southern Michigan first entered Grand Traverse Bay and, from its sunlit waters, saw miles of white, sandy beaches and, beyond these, the forest-clad hills, they declared this to be one of the most beautiful scenes human eyes had ever beheld. Between the hills, which ran in ranges generally from north to south, were sparkling lakes, rippling rivers and flowing brooks, all abounding with fish. Game inhabited the endless forest. A beauteous, plentiful land was this.49 Endless coastlines, natural deep harbors, perfect soil for growing fruits, grains and vegetables and some of the best land tracts just opening for purchase, or that soon would open, as the government controlled Indian reservation agreements ended.

Peninsula Township in 1855

Robert and Susannah settled in Grand Traverse County at least by 1855. They initially purchase land south of Traverse City. By the time their son William Hopkins arrives in 1857 the Hopkins family has settled approximately 4 miles north of Traverse City along the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay on the Old Mission Peninsula.50The earliest settlers had several sources for land purchases: The Indians (from whom they gained possessory rights by recorded deeds), the United States government, the State of Michigan, the St. Marys Falls Ship Canal Company, and through squatter’s rights.51

Robert and William Hopkins land patents on Old Mission Peninsula, mapped locations by Kenneth Robert Core (William Hopkins’ great grandson)
Once Upon a Time in Old Mission by Walter Johnson, Walter Johnson, Old Mission Gazette, 31 Aug 2019, https://www.oldmission.net/2019/08/old-mission-history-walter-johnson/
Brickman Boot and Shoe Shop established in 1853, Old Mission

When the Hopkins first locate on the peninsula it had about 80 white settlers across approximately 32 square miles of wilderness.52 In 1853 a trail was cut through the wilderness between Old Mission and Traverse City, with each town completing its half of the trail. Fifteen miles north from the Hopkins’ location at the northern tip of the peninsula Old Mission had one general store, a bootmaker, a post office (consisting of a raisin can holding incoming and outgoing letters), and a dock.53 At the head of the bay Traverse City was comprised of the Hannah, Lay & Co sawmill, a general store, five boarding houses for the sawmill laborers, plus a few houses.54 In between these two small settlements was thick forest.

At the time, Old Mission Peninsula was home to many wild animals such as porcupines, foxes, multiple varieties of squirrels, chipmunks, wildcats, bears, wolves and rabbits like the snowshoe hare. Flocks of passenger pigeons were so thick they darkened the sky.55 Besides pigeons the Peninsula had partridges, grouse, mourning doves, whippoorwills, screech owls, barred owls, loons, bitterns, nighthawks, eagles and so many of the common woodland birds we have today. The lakes and rivers were teeming with fish, especially whitefish, lake trout, sturgeon, walleye, and cisco.56

Michigan wild berries

Wild berries were abundant through much of summer including blueberries, strawberries, gooseberries, huckleberries and raspberries.57 The first cherry trees were planted a few years before the Hopkins arrived, with their initial yield expected in the late 1850s.58 The Indians long ago had planted apple trees on Old Mission so their large yield was already well known.59

Outside of towns, Traverse City, Old Mission, Northport, and Elk Rapids little logging had yet taken place in this northern region, though logging would soon explode. When the Hopkins arrived the Peninsula forests are thick with pine, hemlock, beech, maple, birch and many other hardwood trees. An early settler commented on what this benevolence of trees meant to those first farmers, “In soft-living modern days I do not believe that there are men sufficiently hardy and work-enduring to undertake the task of making a farm out of a forest such as this.60

One can’t complete a balanced description of northern Michigan in the mid-1800s without mentioning the swarms of mosquitos and the bitter cold of winter. From a settler at the time, “In 1858, the most notable and impressive event of the season was the fever and ague (malaria). The plowing and stirring of a hundred acres or more of new land with all its decaying vegetation turned loose an immense amount of miasma.”61 And to the cold, there is no better way to understand the region’s intense cold than Robert Hopkins’ own words in a letter sent to his children years after he returned to England in 1876, “I could not endure the extreme cold of Traverse not a single day at my great age. When I look back it fills me with wonder how I stood it so long nigh twenty two years. Traverse was then a wilderness indeed that was in 1854.”62

Peninsula Township Early Settlers and their neighbors in 1855

Indian wigwams at the mouth of Boardman River

The Indians were generally peaceful towards the white settlers, with their wigwams scattered along the beach in small family groupings.63 This relatively thin Indian population had not always been so in northern Michigan. In the early 1840s over half of the original Grand Traverse Region Indian population had left for Manitoulin Island, Canada.64 This was due to Indian distrust and dislike of the United States government’s Indian policy to relocate Indians west of the Mississippi River. After this major Indian migration there was a gradual scattering of the remaining Indians. Partially due to their migratory habits, partially because the Old Mission started by Reverend Daughtry in Peninsula Township moved west across the bay to Omena, and partially because the government established permanent Indian reservations in Emmet and Leelanau counties.65

A fellow settler group that impacted these early pioneers was the Mormon Strangite sect that migrated to Beaver Island and the surrounding mainland areas in the late 1840s following their leader James Strang after the death of Joseph Smith. A very controversial figure, Strang was assassinated in 1856. However, while Strang was alive his Mormon colony created much local concern with stories of the Mormons taking property and acting as pirates to ships coming near Beaver Island. The Strangites advocated polygamy, which was also not received well by the other settlers.66 Some of James Strang’s former sect members moved to the Peninsula after his death, including the Bowers (of today’s Bowers Harbor) and the Tuckers, both neighbors of the Hopkins, with Bishop Tucker mentioned in William Holdsworth’s A Long and Busy Life (Susannah Holdsworth Hopkins’ much younger brother).67

Old Mission Historical Society Newsletter, March 2006, https://www.omphistoricalsociety.org/uploads/1/1/2/3/112315361/march_06_2006.pdf
W. R. Stone was an early settler like Robert Hopkins

Not surprisingly the origin of these early settlers was quite diverse. Over half the settlers on the peninsula were from northern states including Vermont, New York, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Michigan. A little less than half of the settlers were immigrants from Germany, Canada, Mexico, Ireland, Austria, England, Scotland, Corsica (French region), Norway, Switzerland and Prussia.68

The early settlers arrived with existing trades and occupations such as blacksmith, carpenter, physician, sailor, teacher, shinglemaker, shoemaker, laborer, domestic, servant, merchant, trader, wheelwright, postmaster, cooper and printer. For these very early settlers, “Farming was the most important occupation… While lumbering sparked the initial growth of the area, farmers moved in once the land was cleared. Often the farmers and the lumbermen were the same men, moving back and forth between jobs as the seasons changed.69 Any food not raised by these settlers came into Old Mission by boat from Chicago and if navigation closed they would have to do without.70 In fact, in 1854 Peninsula residents still produced no agricultural products, though they did sell 88 barrels of fish.71

This somewhat eccentric group of early settlers and Indians combined into quite a spectacle at times. One writer commented on the Old Mission Peninsula parishioners, “The congregation sometimes presented the scene of a curious mixture of races and classes of people, and of the assortment of costumes that to one having a keen sense of the ludicrous might have been sufficient to banish all thoughts of devotion.”72 Given most were in a survival mode the initial differences likely quickly faded towards shared experiences, mutual support and pragmatism.

The Hopkins Family New Home

The Hopkins peninsula cabin would have been very similar to this one as rendered by William Holdsworth (Robert and Susannah’s nephew)

With almost complete wilderness as their starting point and few close neighbors, the Hopkins family had to persist through their own volition. Trees were felled and stumps removed so they could farm. A cabin was built so they could escape the outdoor weather and dangers. Food was shot, gathered, grown, or ground and then prepared for immediate consumption or winter storage. They would have also needed some basic equipment like a cookstove, a cooking pot, axes and farming implements, hauled or floated in from Old Mission or Traverse City.

There are limited records on how the Hopkins family managed in their very early years but given their remote location one can assume they faced hardships and deprivations that required continuous resourcefulness to survive. In common with what multitudes of Michigan pioneers experienced,

The people worked hard. They had to. The mid-west in general, and Michigan in particular, required persistent, intelligent effort to wrest a living from the small clearings. Grain was planted between the stumps, and sickles were used to harvest it… There was no waste in the pioneer household. The ashes from the wood fires were saved and put into a big container, often the hollowed trunk of a tree, set on end. Water was poured on the ashes, which soaked through and emerged as lye. The lye was put in a big kettle over a fire, and all the hoarded scraps of meat, pork rinds and the like were put in. The mass was boiled until it became soft soap to be used in scrubbing. The rest was boiled further until it hardened and was used in laundering. It was very strong, and hard on the hands… The pioneer women cared for the children, often helped in the fields, cooked and baked, sewed, kept chickens, milked. There was always problems of clothing. In time the farmers acquired sheep, which were shorn in the summer, and the wool washed, carded and spun… Then came the interminable knitting of socks, mittens and scarfs.”74

Yet early settlers also mention the extraordinary pleasures of their wilderness life. George W. Ladd, an early settler wrote, “This evening finds me here in my little cabin which overlooks Elk lake as it spreads its silver sheet of unrivaled beauty before me. Darkness is shutting in the scene, a huge pile of logs is on fire which affords novel music to my ear and sends gleams of light upon the giant trunks of the surrounding trees, while the shrill voice of the loon is loudly borne on the cool night air.“73

Typical pioneer’s cabin interior from mid-1800s

By 1858 Robert and Susannah had been on their land for at least 3 years when Susannah’s brother William Holdsworth and his family immigrate to Old Mission Peninsula and purchase adjacent land to Robert Hopkins and his son William Hopkins. William Holdsworth’s story sheds light on how the Hopkins were living at the time he and his family arrived. “My sister and her husband were glad to see us, but as their house was very small they would do the best to make us comfortable. We got our bedding ashore and after supper fixed up for the night, it was an awful cold one. In the morning we found ice half an inch think in the room. Thought we had got to a cold country.”75

In addition, though William Holdsworth’s daughters Clementine and Fanny were quite young when they arrived to the Hopkins’ farm, they recorded some of their assumptions and experiences from the time. It is interesting to note how they imagined their Uncle Robert and Aunt Susannah were wealthy and, therefore, would have a more elaborate English meal available upon arrival given their uncle owned land, such an unusual circumstance for British Commoners.

Clementine – “The captain steered his boat toward the shore and said this is Hopkins’ farm, the place you want to land. Back from the shore a short distance stood a log house and nearby a man digging potatoes. He was William Hopkins, son of Robert, the rich uncle. I remember mother asking aunt if she could give us children some bread and butter, we were so hungry. She said she had no bread but had some cold Johnny cake. The cake part sounded good so we said we would like some. It was made out of Indian meal, something entirely new to us. I took a mouthful but, hungry as I was, it would not go down, so I went out back of the house where there were some chickens and spat it out giving the rest of the piece to them. Aunt had some wheat flour and made biscuit of some kind for supper. I suppose we had potatoes and fried pork as that was the usual meal. Didn’t our castles come tumbling down? Of course the folks were looking for us some time but just when they did not know, neither had we any means of letting them know the exact time of our arrival. Nine people coming in on a family, already numerous enough to fill all the beds they had, would make it necessary to make up beds on the floor which was done but you may imagine there was not much spring to them.76

Fanny – “Here, at that time, was a clearing of perhaps five acres with a small log house and a barn. On our way up the bay the younger members of the family had told each other what they would order for supper. One would have roast beef and Yorkshire pudding; another, roast pork and mash potatoes; another, boiled leg of mutton with caper sauce — each one asking for his favorite meat. Can anyone imagine our disappointment at having nothing but fried salt pork, coarse cornmeal Johnny cake, and potatoes for supper? We have never eaten cornmeal before, and it was just like eating sand. We could not chew it sufficiently to swallow it… You want to picture in your mind an almost unbroken woods extending to the water’s edge, heavily timbered with large pine, hemlock and cedar, and in some places beech, maple and other hard woods. There was no road along the west shore of the Peninsula. Then a narrow Indian trail followed the shoreline a few feet back. The prevailing means of transportation was by rowboat and packs on the backs of men.76

So the best picture we can get of the Hopkins’ experience homesteading in the vast wilderness of Old Mission Peninsula in 1855 is intriguing, nonetheless, endlessly incomplete. Unlike Susannah’s brother and family, Robert and Susannah homesteaded when there were far fewer local resources and neighbors for them to depend upon than even a few years later. For example, by 1858 many things were starting to improve the lives of local settlers, such as the breadth of merchandise at Hannah & Lay Company’s general store in Traverse City, the Grand Traverse Herald begins publishing national and local news, mail frequency increases from once every 2-3 weeks to weekly, logging operations cleared tracts of land for farmers. Of course life was still very hard for settlers in 1858, just not the same as for the Hopkins and others that came before then.

Unfortunately, the situation for the Hopkins family was not going to calm down, even by 1858. The same year William Holdsworth and family arrive Robert and Susannah’s daughter Susannah Elizabeth gets pregnant out-of-wedlock at 15 years old.77 The child is born in 1859 and named Thomas Allen per court documents from the time.78 And even more traumatic, by the end of 1859 their eldest daughter Mary Ann dies from epilepsy.79 These events must have been devastating for the Hopkins family.

Hopkins on 1860 U.S. Census for Peninsula Township

By 1860, we learn from the U.S. Census that Robert (age 56), Susannah (54), Hannah (25), Hannah’s son Robert William (8), John (20), Susannah Elizabeth (17), and Susannah’s son Thomas (1) are farming on the Peninsula together with William (29) on an adjacent property.80 Susannah’s brother and his family are also on an adjacent land tract, though exactly how connected the families were at a daily level is not clear. Scant records exist between the two families across the following years.


It seems nothing about the Hopkins immigration was terribly unusual. However, it takes a good imagination to fathom the contrast they encountered between their life in a densely populated part of London and all the trappings of gritty city living and their life in a remote wilderness where they were fundamentally alone with nature in all its savagery and brilliance.

Whatever ultimately made the Hopkins leave England, journey to America, and settle on Old Mission Peninsula must have been formidable as they paid dearly in years of hardship and a family member lost. However, they also established a home in a most beautiful and wondrous location, changing everything about their lives and their descendent’s lives in the process.

@copyright Elizabeth Scott Wright 2020


  1. Aristocracy in England. www.avictorian.com/aristocracy_title.html
  2. Schomp, Virginia. The City: Life in Victorian England. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York, 2011, p 31.
  3. History of Shoemaking. Independent Shoemakers. shoemakers.org.uk/history-of-shoemaking/
  4. 1851 England Census. Ancestry.com Operations Inc., Provo, UT, 2005, p 14. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8860/images/MDXHO107_1550_1550-0237?pId=466940
  5. Robert Hopkins and Susannah Holdsworth Hopkins’ children’s baptism records —
    1. Mary Ann Hopkins (1828 – 1859). www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1558/images/31280_199075-00175?pId=4773121
    2. William Hopkins (1829 – 1912). www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1558/images/31280_199075-00190?pId=4827463
    3. Hatter Emma Hopkins (1833 – ~1833). www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1558/images/31280_199063-00489?pId=4927357
    4. Anna Maria “Hannah” Hopkins (1834 – 1895). www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1558/images/31280_199063-00603?pId=5272893
    5. John Hopkins (1840 – 1864). www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1558/images/31280_199075-00280?pId=5250857
    6. Susannah Elizabeth Hopkins (1842 – 1920). www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1558/images/31280_199075-00295?pId=5302734
  6. Murdoch, Lydia. Daily Life of Victorian Women. Greenwood, Santa Barbara, CA, 2014, pp 181-183.
  7. Hopkins, Bonnie and Hopkins, Arlys. Hopkins History. Hopkins Family Memories and Memorabilia.
  8. Wright, Elizabeth. William Hopkins and the Pennsylvania Oil Boom. theboatinggenealogists.com/2019/06/25/william-hopkins-and-the-pennsylvania-oil-boom/
  9. “The Education of the Working Classes to 1870”. The History of the County of Middlesex, Volume 1. British History Online, London, 1969, pp 213-240. www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/middx/vol1/pp213-240
  10. Lloyd, Amy J. Education, Literacy and the Reading Public. British Library Newspapers. Gale, Detroit, 2007, p 2. www.gale.com/binaries/content/assets/gale-us-en/primary-sources/intl-gps/intl-gps-essays/full-ghn-contextual-essays/ghn_essay_bln_lloyd3_website.pdf
  11. Note: Hopkins family members all have reading and writing examples establishing their proficiency within Scott-Hopkins Family Tree. Ancestry.com, Provo, UT. www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/54200939/person/26660389646/facts
  12. Note: Reference #5 has all Hopkins children baptism records which include their street addresses.
  13. Robert Hopkins and Susannah Holdsworth Hopkins and their siblings’ baptism records sorted by birth year –
    1. Sarah Hopkins (1793 – unknown) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100642-00074?pId=4605006
    2. John Hopkins (1795 – unknown) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100642-00080?pId=4598926
    3. Richard Hopkins (1797 – 1801) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100642-00088?pId=4599176
    4. Ann Hopkins (1799 – 1836)
    5. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100642-00093?pId=4605397
    6. Charlotte Hopkins (1800 – 1801) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100642-00099?pId=4601275
    7. Mary “Margaret” Hopkins (1802 – 1802) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100642-00105?pId=4599447
    8. Robert Hopkins (1804 – 1888) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100642-00111?pId=4605718
    9. Susannah Marie Holdsworth (1806 – 1874) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100423-00154?pId=4426817
    10. Issac Hopkins (1806 – 1875) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100642-00128?pId=4605837
    11. William Hopkins (1807 – unknown) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100642-00128?pId=4605857
    12. Thomas Hopkins (1809 – 1852) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31281_a100642-00129?pId=4603151
    13. Mary Ann Hopkins (1811 – 1872) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1558/images/31280_199063-00409?pId=304661659
    14. John Reynolds Holdsworth (1812 – 1827) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1624/images/31280_199065-00148?pId=4185658
    15. William Henry Holdsworth (1816 – 1907) www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1558/images/31280_199064-00072?pId=4612206
  14. Life in Britian in the 19th Century. Spartacus Educational. spartacus-educational.com/U3Ahistory21.htm and Schomp, Virginia. The City: Life in Victorian England. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York, 2011, p 10.
  15. Jackson, Lee. Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth. Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2014, p 181.
  16. Corton, Christine L. London Fog: the Biography. Belknap Press / Harvard University Press, 1 Dec 2017.
  17. Sanitation, 19th-Century London. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/19th-century_London
  18. O’Neill, Aaron. United Kingdom: Child Mortality Rate (under 5 years old) in the United Kingdom from 1800 to 2020. Statista, 9 Sep 2019. www.statista.com/statistics/1041714/united-kingdom-all-time-child-mortality-rate/#:~:text=The%20child%20mortality%20rate%20in,it%20to%20their%20fifth%20birthday.
  19. Bloy, Marjie. Cholera comes to Britian: October 1831. www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/p-health/cholera3.htm
  20. Bloy, Marjie. Cholera comes to Britian: October 1831. www.historyhome.co.uk/peel/p-health/cholera3.htm
  21. Merged from multiple sources –
    1. Dore, Gustave. London: A Pilgrimage. (Restored special edition from 1890).
    2. Morris, Derek and Cozens, Kenneth. The Shadwell Waterfront in the 18th Century. The Mariner’s Mirror, The International Quarterly Journal of The Society for Nautical Research. www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00253359.2013.767001
    3. Shadwell, British History Online. www.british-history.ac.uk/london-environs/vol3/pp383-390
    4. Morris, Derek and Cozens, Kenneth. London’s Sailortown, 1600 – 1800. The The East London History Society. porttowns.port.ac.uk/london-sailortown/
  22. Shadwell. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shadwell
  23. Varian, Brian D. British Exports and American Tariffs, 1870 – 1900. 14 November 2017. ehsthelongrun.net/2017/11/14/british-exports-and-american-tariffs-1870-1913/ and Victorians: Commerce. English Heritage. www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/victorian/commerce/
  24. History of the Port of London Pre-1908 (18th & 19th Centuries). Port of London Authority. www.pla.co.uk/Port-Trade/History-of-the-Port-of-London-pre-1908
  25. Victorian Railways. The National Archives. www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/victorian-railways/
  26. Emigrant Departure from Waterloo Docks. (blogger is not named, however, images and history on Waterloo Docks is good). www.moderatebutpassionate.com/2018/12/emigrant-departure-from-waterloo-docks.html
  27. New York, Passenger Lists, 1820-1957. Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. Provo, UT. www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/54200939/person/26660389646/facts
  28. Norway Heritage: Hands Across the Sea. www.norwayheritage.com/p_ship.asp?sh=ricco
  29. New York Emigration and Immigration. www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/New_York_Emigration_and_Immigration
  30. North River Steamboat. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_River_Steamboat
  31. Sadler, Jo Anne. Early Norwegian Immigrants on the Erie Canal. Norway Heritage, 30 June 2008. www.norwayheritage.com/articles/anmviewer.asp?a=150&print=yes
  32. The new Great Central Railway Depot at Detroit, Michigan. The Illustrated London News, February 1850. wqed.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/pnp246736eng/the-new-great-central-railway-depot-at-detroit-michigan-printed-in-the-illustrated-london-news-9th-february-1850-pnp246736-eng/
  33. “Historic Railroad Map of the Midwest – 1855”. The Great Western Railway Guide. D.B. Cook & Co, 1855. www.worldmapsonline.com/historic-railroad-map-of-the-midwest-1855/#mz-expanded-view-564526702969
  34. The Plank Road. Grand Rapids Historical Society. www.historygrandrapids.org/audio/2547/the-plank-road
  35. 1860 U.S. Census: Michigan>Kent>Wyoming. Richard Suddick, p 30. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7667/images/4232703_00033?pId=45092662
  36. Note: Logical proof – last English child born in 1832, first American child born in 1836. https://www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/54200939/person/26660395426/facts
  37. William Hopkins marriage to Jane A Suddick. www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/54200939/person/26660389251/facts
  38. Brain, Jessica. The Victorian Workhouse. www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofBritain/Victorian-Workhouse/
  39. William Hopkins on New York Passenger List. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7488/images/NYM237_180-0233?pId=1460926
  40. Oneill, Therese. Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners. Little, Brown and Company,
  41. Robert William Hopkins baptism record. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/1558/images/31280_197741-00415?pId=3845573
  42. Robert William Hopkins guardianship record. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8793/images/005640961_00136?pId=372401
  43. Northern Michigan. The Grand River Times, Grand Haven, Michigan, 5 Dec 1855.
  44. Barnard, Charles H. and Jones, John. Farm real estate values in the United States by counties, 1850-1982. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Washington D.C., 1987, p 46. www.card.iastate.edu/farmland/history/Barnard-and-Jones-1987-Farm-real-estate-values-in-the-United-States-by-counties-1850-1982.pdf
  45. Richard Suddick’s land patents and related land records. www.ancestry.com/family-tree/person/tree/54200939/person/26660395426/facts
  46. Multiple records –
    1. 1850 US Census, Richard Suddick, Farmer. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8054/images/4193363-00058?pId=16354063
    2. 1860 US Census, Richard Suddick, Farmer. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7667/images/4232703_00033?pId=45092662
  47. 1850 U.S. Census, Jane Suddick, Servant. https://www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8054/images/4193363-00252?pId=16361921
  48. Fidler, Richard. Who We Were, What We Did: Fresh Perspectives on Grand Traverse History, Traverse Area Historical Society, Traverse City, MI, 2009, p 112.
  49. Hooper, Grace. Pioneer Notes. Trek & Sail to Grand Traverse Bay, p 9.
  50. Wait, S.E. Old Settlers of the Grand Traverse Region. Black Letter Press, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1978 (originally printed 1918), p 80.
  51. Potter, Elizabeth Vaughan. “Chapter XI, The Early Settlers, 1850 – 1855”. The Story of Old Mission, published 1956, pp 66-67.
  52. Wait, S.E. Old Settlers of the Grand Traverse Region. Black Letter Press, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1978 (originally printed 1918), pp 75 – 86.
  53. Sobkowski, Molly. “The History of Old Mission Peninsula”. 23 Nov 1971. compiled by Meyer, Julianne. Memories Hidden, Memories Found: On the Old Mission Peninsula (single copy located in Traverse Area Library, Special Collections Room), p 105.
  54. Johnson, Walter. Once Upon a Time in Old Mission. Old Mission Gazette, August 31, 2019, www.oldmission.net/2019/08/old-mission-history-walter-johnson/
  55. Grand Traverse Trivia. Kinship Tales, Vol 13 No. 2. The Newsletter of the Grand Traverse Area Genealogical Society, Traverse City, MI, Nov 1994.
  56. Multiple sources –
    • Lindley, Laura. Our First Families. Chapter 8 “The Wild Pigeon” (single copy located at Traverse Area Library, Special Collections Room).
    • Hedrick, U.P. The Land of the Crooked Tree. Oxford University Press, New York, 1948.
  57. Hedrick, U.P. The Land of the Crooked Tree. Oxford University Press, New York, 1948, chapters 2-6.
  58. Historical Timeline of Grand Traverse County. Traverse Area Historical Society. traversehistory.wordpress.com/history/timeline/
  59. Wait, S.E. Old Settlers of the Grand Traverse Region. Black Letter Press, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1978 (originally printed 1918), p 11.
  60. Hedrick, U.P. The Land of the Crooked Tree. Oxford University Press, New York, 1948, p 62.
  61. Michigan Mosquito Manual, p 7. msu.edu/~crisp/documents/Michigan_Mosquito_Manual.pdf
  62. Hopkins, Robert. Letter to His Traverse City Children in 1884. www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/collection/1030/tree/54200939/person/26660389646/media/cf5ffa59-ec4b-4382-808a-972ad1a9fc51?_phsrc=lqe24031&usePUBJs=true
  63. Leach, Morgan Lewis. A History of the Grand Traverse Region. Grand Traverse Herald, Grand Traverse, Michigan, 1883. www.google.com/books/edition/A_History_of_the_Grand_Traverse_Region/zpgUAAAAYAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&dq=1850s+%2B+%22Grand+Traverse%22&pg=PA68&printsec=frontcover
  64. Traverse Region Historical and Descriptive with Illustrations of Scenery and Portraits and Biographical Sketches of some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. H.R. Page & Co, Chicago, 1884. www.migenweb.org/grandtraverse/history1.html
  65. Michigan Historical Collections, Volume 32. Michigan Pioneer and Historical Society, p 43. www.google.com/books/edition/Michigan_Historical_Collections/PSdCAQAAMAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=0
  66. Lewis, David. James J. Strang and Strangite Mormon Polygamy, 1849 – 1856. canvas.dartmouth.edu/files/2794421/download?download_frd=1
  67. 1860 U.S. Census: Michigan>Grand Traverse>Peninsula, p 12. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7667/images/4232696_00062?pId=44668151
  68. 1860 U.S. Census: Michigan>Grand Traverse>Peninsula. www.ancestry.com/search/collections/7667/?count=50&residence=_peninsula-grand+traverse-michigan-usa_43990&residence_x=0-0-0_1-0
  69. Farming. Kinship Tales, Vol. 17, No. 2. The Newsletter of the Grand Traverse Area Genealogical Society, Traverse City, MI, February 2000.
  70. Navigation closed & no food
  71. Sobkowski, Molly. “The History of Old Mission Peninsula”. 23 Nov 1971. compiled by Meyer, Julianne. Memories Hidden, Memories Found: On the Old Mission Peninsula (single copy located in Traverse Area Library, Special Collections Room), p 105.
  72. Traverse Region Historical and Descriptive with Illustrations of Scenery and Portraits and Biographical Sketches of some of its Prominent Men and Pioneers. H.R. Page & Co, Chicago, 1884, p 47.
  73. Lindley, Laura. Our First Families, Chapter 14 “Daily Pioneer Life”, pp 57-58 (single copy located at Traverse Area Library, Special Collections Room).
  74. Wait, S.E. Old Settlers of the Grand Traverse Region. Black Letter Press, Grand Rapids, MI, reprinted 1978 (originally printed 1918), p 22.
  75. Barnes, Al. “Doctor, Lawyer, Merchant, Inventor”. Supper in the Evening, Chapter 18, Horizon Books, Traverse City, MI, 1967, p 233. Taken from The Story of a Long and Busy Life by William Holdsworth. www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/collection/1030/tree/54200939/person/26660401097/media/6f6ae79e-7b5f-405a-abb7-71a79a68a348?_phsrc=lqe24059&usePUBJs=true
  76. Holdsworth, Clementine and Holdsworth, Fanny. Family addendum to The Story of a Long and Busy Life. www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/collection/1030/tree/54200939/person/26660401097/media/6f6ae79e-7b5f-405a-abb7-71a79a68a348?_phsrc=lqe24059&usePUBJs=true
  77. 1860 U.S. Census: Michigan>Grand Traverse>Peninsula, p 13. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7667/images/4232696_00063?pId=44668165
  78. Robert Hopkins’ 1885 Will notes his grandson’s name as Thomas Allen (one of multiple documents where Robert or Susannah state his name). www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/collection/1030/tree/54200939/person/26660389646/media/b518653c-bfaa-49d4-ac8e-7276a8846bfe?_phsrc=lqe24071&usePUBJs=true
  79. U.S. Federal Census Mortality Schedules. 1860> Michigan> Grand Traverse. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/8756/images/MIT1164_15-0137?pId=190827
  80. 1860 U.S. Census: Michigan>Grand Traverse>Peninsula, p 13. www.ancestry.com/imageviewer/collections/7667/images/4232696_00063?pId=44668165

2 thoughts on “Hopkins Family Story: Immigrating to America

  1. Libby – it’s great to hear from you and to read this post. You and your hubby have done a super great job. When we think of the days gone by, we usually think of them as a much simpler life, even romantic, but it was HARD so hard. Life was so hard for those early pioneers. But what a blessing to have clean, fresh air when they moved from London to America. That in itself would have been such an improvement.

    I am so looking forward to more stories on your blog. Thank you for trying to piece our (sometime crazy) family together.

    Wishing you and yours very blessed holidays, especially enjoying that grandchild’s first Christmas, if my memory serves me correctly. Thanks again.


    On Fri, Dec 18, 2020 at 1:10 PM The Boating Genealogists wrote:

    > TheBoatingGenealogists posted: ” Introduction In the mid-1850s Robert > Hopkins and family immigrated from England to the United States. Nothing > unusual about an English family leaving London and coming to America. But > at the individual family level this was a seismic decision and ch” >

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Libby, thank you for writing such a thoroughly researched piece on the Hopkins family history. It was Susannah Hopkins who induced her brother William Holdsworth to immigrate to America. Otherwise, me, my kids, and grandkids wouldn’t be here in this marvelous country. Your family story adds much interest to mine. Bless you.

    Robert H Holdsworth

    Liked by 1 person

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