George Washington Papers

To George Washington from John C. Ogden, 12 February 1799

From John C. Ogden

Prison in Litch field Con[necticu]t Feby 12th 1799


It is painful to trouble a man whom I have so long revered with these letters—But Oliver Wolcott whom you honored with a place, has cast me into prison for a small sum due honestly to him. The suit is pushed for two causes—One to defeat my hopes and expectations of the place of collector of the customs in New Haven. He wishes to have it given to Eli⟨zur⟩ Goodrich—Brother to the member of Congress who married Mr Wolcott’s sister.1

A second reason is to revenge upon me for my errand to President Adams, with the petitions of the people of the western district of Vermont in behalf of Colol Lyon.

After Oliver Wolcott joined with the church plunderers in Portsmouth to destroy me—I went into Vermont, six years ago—during that period Colol Lyon has been my benefactor—and the general friend to the clergy of every faith. He is a churchman, mason and a man. For all these, he is entitled to my love, & care & good offices, as a clergy man & friend. He is an abused man—If his political opinions differ from others, he must abide the consequence.2

President Adams was offended at my interference, and give me a very particular answer—He did not ask me reasons—he judged without hearing and evidence—Misinformation was circulated in Philadelphia concerning Colol Lyon—the church, My Mother in-law,3 & myself—All these things I strove to place right—The infringements upon religious liberty in New England came into view.

All this has freted Mr Wolcott—But he may do his best. The cell in this place is empty—I could live in it six or ⟨seve⟩n months—It is high ti⟨me⟩ th⟨ey⟩ had a Lyon in Connecticut, ⟨mutilated⟩ hierarchy & aristocracy are most oppressive. The press is fettered. Bigotry is exalting its head and forging chains.

These are serious sentiments. They are not expressed in the style, in which I love to write to Genl Washington. At all times & in all places I will revere your person, name and memory. I am Your devoted servant

John C. Ogden


1For references to Ogden’s seeking the post of collector of the customs at New Haven, Conn., and to the letters that he wrote to GW over the years, see Ogden to GW, 20 Sept. 1798, n.1. Chauncey Goodrich (1759–1815), a Federalist member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Connecticut from 1795 to 1801, married Mary Ann Wolcott in 1789. On 4 Mar. 1799 Elizur Goodrich (1761–1849) joined his brother as a member of Congress, and in 1801 John Adams made the younger Goodrich collector of customs at New Haven, but shortly thereafter Thomas Jefferson removed him from office.

2Matthew Lyon, an indentured servant from Ireland, left Connecticut and in 1773 settled in Vermont where he became both rich and influential. Emerging in the 1790s as a strident Antifederalist, he was elected to Congress in 1797. After withstanding a caning from Roger Griswold (see James McHenry to GW, 1 Feb. 1798, n.2) and the Federalist attempt to expel him, he became the first man to be tried under the Sedition Act. He was convicted in October 1798, fined, and sentenced to jail.

3Ogden’s wife was the daughter of Mary Clap Wooster and of David Wooster, a general in the Continental army who died in 1777. Ogden enclosed a sheet headed “Copy of a letter from Mrs Ogden the daughter of an American general who Sacrificed his life & fortune in the late war.” Ogden’s copy of the letter reads: “Ask the officers of government if their consciences can rest in quiet, when they are informed, that the widow of an American officer, who has spent his days in serving the public and spilt his blood in the defence of his country, and purchasing those rights and liberties, which they are now enjoying, is in distress—She who is borne down with infirmities, and old age, and lost her husband & property by the ravages of war, together with cruel taxes, now depends mostly upon the charity of her friends, and the attention of two young grand children, and a daughter of one of those heroes, who fell in battle, whom they often boast of as sealing their love for their country, with their blood. Can they rest in quiet, when she whose birth, education, and father’s & mothers fortune, gave her a right to expect a better fate is reduced to hard labor for her bread, while many both male and female are pampered up and living at their ease, enjoying every thing which government can bestow, while those who have lost all, and whose merits deserve attention from the public, or at least to have justice done them, are lingering ⟨mutilated⟩ life of trouble and poverty.”

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