The oldest primary source in our family archive is this letter, written on August 9th, 1779 by 18-year-old Hannah Ogden of Elizabeth New Jersey to a close female acquaintance. Hannah is a delightful correspondent - witty, engaging, and able in turns to share delicious gossip on the one hand and fervent hopes for the safety of relatives fighting in the Revolution on the other.
I find this letter fascinating for a number of reasons, not the least of which that it has survived in our family records for 228 years. Hannah Ogden (1761-1789) was the younger sister of my direct ancestor, Aaron Ogden, and I suspect that the letter was passed along in later generations to one of the genealogists in our collateral branch of the family tree, much as the entire collection passed from Great Aunt to me. I remember reading an entry in Henry Ogden Wheeler's genealogy of The Ogden Family, Elizabethtown Branch, that Hannah Ogden wrote a number of letters to another brother, Matthias Ogden, Col. of the 1st New Jersey Regiment, but this is the only example of her writing that I have been able to find. I believe the writing of this young patriot is worthy of wider recognition and so reproduce it here in full, with my own analysis and speculations provided in footnotes:
Eliz__th Town August 9th – 79 [i]
Much esteemed and worthy Freind (sic)
I with the greatest Pleasure Embrace this Conveyance of news, as I am sure the Distance of 60 miles[ii] Cannot make you Indifferent to what passes in Eliz th though I assure you I Scarcely know where or how to begin, The Trifling Chit Chat that is most generaly (sic) aloud (sic) our Sex Seems rather too frivolous to Commit to Paper, and the Lofty Subject of Politic is (you know) beyond my Sphere; as all Conversation is now adays is included in these two heads you must Conclude I am in agitation what to write. I think I will ene (sic) Compose myself and give you my Simple thoughts in Disshable – I last wednesday heard from our Freinds[iii] (sic) all well they marcht (sic) from Wyoming[iv] the the 31st [v] there next rendevous (sic) to be at Tioga[vi] Oh! When will they return and the Pleasures of Last winter be renew’d Watch over them O: our kind Protector guide and Direct them all ye Guardian angels and return them Safe Crown’d with Victory after A Short Campaign[vii] - Georg (sic) is well and Looks as if he wish’d to Send with Love and Kisses the Print of his Seven teeth which he is very Proud of [viii] – The Girls here Look upon the Command increse (sic) and multiply as very asential (sic) to happiness as they are all increasing; Mrs Pollock is return’d has Left behind her Daughter The Poor Little wretch is as yet Fatherless, through the Delicacy of her mother who Declines mentioning the amorous Youth who intic’d (sic) her to betray her Virtue Mrs. Ireland is increasing to Countenance the Mistress (word unclear, perhaps Hugh or Heesh), Sure this is Scandal but I must tell all I know, Aunt S (word fragment unclear) waited on her and informs me She is Very Penitent and much to be Pitied, I have Defer’d my Visit till Your return when if you Please I will attend you there- Our neighbors the British[ix] are rather troublesome but do us no material damage – Well madam if I don’t receive from you A Sheet of news I shall be much offended – If the Quantity of words will Compensate for the Quality I am Sure this will be acceptable-
I am dear madam with Love Compliments and respects to all the Family Your sincere and affectionate Friend
[i] Elizabeth Town, New Jersey, August 9th, 1779
[ii] An intriguing distance. Many Elizabeth Town residents left the vicinity because raids from Tories and British troops via Staten Island became an increasing threat after the fall of New York in 1776. Hannah’s parents Robert and Phoebe (Hatfield) Ogden left Elizabeth Town in 1777 and withdrew 36 miles to the northwest to their holdings in Sparta at Ogdensburg, New Jersey. Philadelphia is just over 60 miles in a straight line from Elizabeth on a modern map, and was in patriot hands in 1779.
[iii] Hannah’s brothers Matthias and Aaron Ogden, along with many other friends and relatives from Elizabeth Town, were then serving in Maxwell’s New Jersey Brigade as part of General John Sullivan’s Expedition against the Iroquois. Matthias Ogden was Colonel of the 1st New Jersey Regiment and his father-in-law, Elias Dayton, was Colonel of the 3rd New Jersey Regiment. Matthias' brother-in-law Captain Jonathan Dayton was Sullivan's 2nd Aide-de-Camp. Hannah Ogden's brother Aaron Ogden was General Maxwell’s Aide-de-Camp as well as Captain in the 1st Regiment. A brother-in-law, Col. Oliver Spencer, commanded another New Jersey Regiment, while another, Lieutenant Col. Francis Barber, was the expedition's Adjudent General.
[iv] Wyoming Valley, a 25 mile region along the Susquehanna below the mouth of the Lackawanna River and the site of a the “Wyoming Massacre” July 3, 1778. Sullivan’s expedition against the Iroquois was ordered partly in response to this notorious raid, in which a Tory and Indian force of about 1,000 commanded by John Butler burned over 1,000 houses in the valley and annihilated over 300 Patriot militia.
[v] Hannah’s news was quite current if she received word from those serving with Sullivan just over a week after they marched from Wyoming Valley on July 31st, 1779. Sullivan’s force of 2,500 men had been in the Wyoming valley since June 23rd and was ponderously slow in moving toward Tioga and launching the campaign.
[vi] Now Athens, Pennsylvania, the assembly point for the forces that would combine in Sullivan’s Expedition for operations against the Iroquois. Sullivan’s men arrived at Tioga August 10th, 1779.
[vii] Sullivan’s campaign was indeed short once it got going, and cut a swath of destruction through the heart of the Iroquois settlements in central New York from with that civilization never recovered. Although the military engagements were few (an advance guard was almost completely destroyed on September 13th), Sullivan reported the destruction of 40 Indian towns, over 160,000 bushels of corn, and the growing crops and orchards of the Iroquois. Sullivan returned to Wyoming on September 30th and Maxwell’s Brigade came back to the Elizabeth Town area soon after.
[viii] Not clear who this infant might be for certain, but with seven teeth "Georg "was several months either side of his first year. He is undoubtedly a close relative of Hannah Ogden’s and news of him was presumably welcome to the recipient of this letter. Matthias and his wife Hannah (Dayton) Ogden’s first child, George Montgomery Ogden, was born in 1779 and is the only George in his generation of cousins and siblings, but may be too young for this toothy fellow.
[ix] At Staten Island, NY. Maxwell’s Brigade had been posted at Elizabeth Town in the latter half of 1778 to defend against raids from this quarter, and perhaps Hannah and her fellow residents of Elizabeth had reason to be concerned when the New Jersey troops were off on campaign in Pennsylvania and New York. Maxwell’s Brigade returned in time to thwart two raids in 1780, in the repulse of which Ogdens and Daytons played a significant part.