The 1912 Genealogy of the Olmsted Family in America has a lengthy entry for my ancestor Ebenezer Olmsted (1748-1801). It includes many details about his service in the Revolutionary War, along with a transcription of a pension declaration made by his widow in 1838. I have been interested in Lt. Olmsted not only for his war record - three campaigns, three promotions, wounded at Germantown - but also because despite these accomplishments he remains something of an enigma.
For a former Continental officer and the son of one of the most respected men in town and a Continental Officer, he sure drops out of the spotlight in the conventional histories of Ridgefield, Connecticut where he lived all his life. I have searched the Olde Town "Titicus" cemetery in vain for his grave, and I have yet to find a record in Town of a veteran's marker for him. True, it appears he sired my direct ancestor with the minister's daughter a year before they were legally married, but that was more common than you might think in the late 18th century.
It turns out there was another skeleton in his closet, though, and it was a big one.
A terrific online timeline for the Town of Ridgefield maintained by Jack Sanders Books and based largely on public records, notes that on December 21, 1780, the Town Meeting appointed Lt. Ebenezer Olmsted constable "“to collect the state tax for the year ensuing." The following March he was among five leading citizens, including his old regimental commander Col. Philip Burr Bradley and his kinsman Captain David Olmsted, chosen to serve on a committee “to procure soldiers to compleat (sic) the town’s quota for filling up the Continental Army and this state’s service.” These were marks of public trust and approbation, but it appears that in at least the former case they were sadly misplaced. My ancestor, while very good at collecting taxes, was much worse at forwarding them along to Hartford, and appears to have robbed the town blind.
April 10, 1786 – The Town Meeting agrees to “accept the resignation of Lt. Ebenezer Olmsted of his office of collector of ye state taxes on ye list of 1780, on conditions of his accounting with and paying to the Select Men the full that he has collected and received on the rates made on said list, and deliver up said rate bills and warrants to the Select Men.” The same meeting appoints Capt. Nathan Dauchy to “be ye collector of ye rates missing on the list of 1780 that are not collected, which Lt. Olmsted has resigned.”
Aug. 18, 1786 – The Town Meeting appoints Col. Philip Burr Bradley and three other prominent residents “a committee to assist the Select Men in a settlement of the taxes which appears by Ebenezer Olmsted, ye late collector’s rate bills, to be due on ye bills he lately resigned to the select man, which we made on ye list of ye year AD 1780.”
Sept. 30, 1786 – The Town meeting votes that “Ebenezer Olmsted, late collector of ye state taxes for ye town of Ridgefield, holden under arrest at the suit of the town of said Ridgefield, shall be liberated and discharged from said suit, upon condition for the said Olmsted shall fully vest the fee simple right” to a list of his property holdings in town. The property includes his 13-acre homestead on Main Street, about 25 acres scattered around town, eight tons of hay, his right to some cows, and “2,258 Continental Dollars.” He is ordered to deliver all to the town treasurer and told to post a 1,000 pound bond to guarantee payment of the owed taxes.
Dec. 4, 1786 – A committee that includes such notables as Col. Philip Burr Bradley, Capt. David Olmsted and lt. Joshua King, is ordered by the Annual Town Meeting to “to make sale of the real and moveable estate that the town hath obtained of Ebenezer Olmsted, late, failing collector of state taxes.”
Ebenezer Olmsted had by this time a fair number of children to support and his landholdings -however ill-gotten- were relatively modest. Whatever else he may have done with the embezzled funds, the proceeds of the sale of all his property did not cover the taxes that were due to the State.
March 12, 1787 – The town holds a sale of the property of Ebenezer Olmsted, who had pocketed the state tax collections he had made in 1780. The house fetches only 129 pounds – Olmsted had paid 300 pounds for it in 1782. The sale and confiscations are not enough to cover what is owed to the state, however, and the issue drags on.
There were problems with taxes collected after 1780 by another tax collector as well. In December, 1790, Ridgefield was still dealing with the issue, requiring tax collectors to post performance bonds and authorizing the Selectmen to "hire a collector to collect the arrears due on the rate bills … as cheap as they can." In 1792 the Town Meeting voted “that ye Select Men be instructed and authorized in ye behalf of ye town to borrow such sums as shall be necessary to settle ye demands the state treasurer has against this town.”
All this time, Ebenezer Olmsted appears to have remained Ridgefield, though I do not know how he supported his family. He received a very small allowance in 1792 relating to lost claims as a veteran to lands in Connecticut's Western Reserve. His eldest children lit out for the sea, or for Canada, or the circus as soon as opportunity presented itself, and not one of his brood remained in Ridgefield as adults. Still, in 1800, the year before his death, the Congregational Church records that Ebenezer Olmsted still was assigned to the 4th pew. After all, he did make an honest woman the former minister's daughter, though he seems to have been less than honest himself.