A Historical Novel
American Decision: Ogden – The Honest Lawyer
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William R. Truran
Judge Robert Ogden II was a proud and respected man. He came from a noted family line and founders of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, not far from the waters separating the colony from Manhattan and Staten Island.
Ogden was a successful leader, becoming Speaker of the Assembly and was outspoken in his views. He was a devout Presbyterian and held his faith deeply as an integral part of his life. He became a Patriot.
Those many citizens who knew Judge Ogden held him in the highest regard as a good and righteous man, and one who could preach the Bible and the moral teachings in an effective and memorable manner.
The Judge was to be tested in matters small and large.
As the tensions of the Revolutionary War were building, Robert Ogden was disliked by those who wanted to remain British subjects in an increasingly violent way. Those Loyalists or Tories were a significant number in Elizabethtown, and the Judge had become so hated that his likeness was burned in effigy. His crops were burned necessitating that he and his wife Phoebe were forced to take the family and household to the west, to their estate in the northwestern area of Sussex County.
Sussex County at the time was a frontier region. His home and garden seemed an oasis in the vast forest and mountains. The Ogdens settled into their new place, but trouble brewed.
A lawlessness persisted in the region. General Washington’s army passed through, and there were the militia men called up periodically. But the bands of thieves at times reigned. The Judge was robbed and threatened, at knife point to the throat with death if he told who had done it.
The robbers were led by Loyalist James Moody. He was a mastermind who had a number of followers. Moody holed up in a cave in Muckshaw Swamp. Claudius Smith was another hooligan and was known as “The Cowboy of the Ramapos” due to his many exploits just to the north.
At first, the Judge avoided answering the question of “who robbed him” when the sheriff came by. But then there was a prison break led by Moody, and the Judge realized that a moral issue had now come to his doorstep. Should he keep his oath of secrecy? Or does a common good supplant his oath?
Additional issues test the Judge’s resolve as the war progresses. Moody attempts to release the royal governor William Franklin. Then he attempts to kidnap Governor Livingston. He again puts forth a plan and venture to steal the Declaration of Independence. Moody has captured several pieces of mail from Washington’s messenger riders and this plays into the Battle of Springfield where the Judge’s two sons—Matthias and Aaron, have their own lives in jeopardy. The Judge’s resolve may break.
Messenger duping and Smith’s hanging at Goshen depict events influencing the final battle at Yorktown.