Sussex County History Today: ‘Honest Ogden’

| 05 May 2024 | 04:20

Sussex County history fans will be pleased to learn that Bill Truran, the county historian, has written yet another book dealing with the county’s rich history and legacy.

Unlike his other productions, this book, “Honest Ogden,” while based on factual material, is strictly a historical novel.

Truran explains that he deviated from expounding on precise local history as he doesn’t feel that sufficient new information is available to compile a book about the Hon. Robert Ogden II that hasn’t already been written.

In light of this, he opted to focus on Ogden as the principal character and to highlight living conditions in Sussex County during the American Revolutionary War as well as to incorporate principal characters, legends, myths, traditions and handed-down stories including events that could have or may not have happened.

As for Ogden, he descended from John Ogden, one of the four signers and founders of Elizabethtown in 1664.

Truran commences his story by describing Robert Ogden as a successful, prominent and esteemed society member. In what appears to be a twinkling of an eye, he fell into complete disfavor.

Theodore Thayer, writing in “As We Were - The Story of Old Elizabethtown,” provides an explanation for Ogden’s sudden disfavor. It was at the Stamp Act Congress in 1765 that he heartily endorsed resolutions condemning the stamp tax as violating the rights of the colonists and destructive of the liberties of America.

But he joined with Timothy Ruggles, president of the Congress, in opposing the sending of the resolutions directly from the Congress to Parliament and the King and refused to sign the resolutions, which he thought should be presented to the British authorities by the legislature of each colony.

As Thayer explains that by taking this stand, Robert Ogden found he had few supporters anywhere in New Jersey when he returned to Elizabeth. Everywhere he was denounced and held up to ridicule and scorn. In many towns, his burning effigies lit the streets by night as crowds shouted approval of the proceedings of the Stamp Act Congress.

With his prestige vanished like smoke, Ogden resigned from the Assembly and stayed close to home to weather the storm. Unlike Ruggles of Massachusetts, who became a Loyalist, Ogden continued to denounce the British colonial policies and by degrees regained the favor of his countrymen.

More problems followed for Ogden, his family and his countrymen. In 1776, he and his family fled to Sussex County for safety reasons. But the county, then viewed as a frontier, was not exactly safe for Ogden as he all too soon learned.

After the county was formed on June 3, 1753, its residents faced many difficulties. For example, its first county clerk/surrogate, Jeremiah Coady Russell, fled from the Jersies as he explained in a letter to his father, because “the country I was settled in grew in a very disturbed and dangerous situation, occasioned by the Indians, as it was a Frontier Country: several people being killed very near where I liv’d.”

“The people removing made me very uneasy ... .”

While the Ogdens fled to Sussex County for safety reasons, their home was attacked on March 1, 1779. Local historians recorded: As Judge Ogden recognized some of the Tories, they took him into the cellar, placed his hands on a Bible and threatened to kill him if he did not make a solemn oath that he would not divulge their identity. Some servants, however, sounded an alarm and pursuit was made. A silver bowl that the thieves had dropped in their haste and some of the other plunder was subsequently recovered. Fortunately the government money was not discovered or taken.

Incidentally, it is recorded that after this attack, Judge Ogden had his dwelling securely barricaded. He died on Jan. 1, 1787, and his remains were buried in the back of the Sparta Presbyterian Church, a congregation that he had helped to establish.

As for Truran, he was born in Franklin and has spent his life in Sussex County. Some of his ancestors settled here in the 1700s.

He attributes his interest in local history to his ancestors, especially his maternal grandfather, Sydney Hall, who spent his life employed by the New Jersey Zinc Co.

Hall, in his spare time, took many photos of the area, photos which have been handed down to Truran by his mother, Stella Hall Truran.

Stay tuned. Truran is busily engaged in writing yet a few more books on some of Sussex County’s other prominent men, who also left their imprint on the county’s historic past.

Bill Truran, Sussex County’s historian, may be contacted at

CORRECTION: This column was written entirely by a guest historian, the well-known and respected Jennie Sweetman. Her name was left off by mistake.