Sussex County History Today: My new book

| 05 May 2024 | 04:26

CORRECTION: The column published in the May 2-8 issue was written entirely by a guest historian, the well-known and respected Jennie Sweetman. This was omitted from the article.

I am very happy to report that I am coming out with a new book, “Honest Ogden.”

I have worked on several books for about 10 years, a decade of preparation to embark on this new endeavor.

This included taking a creative writing certificate from a college (the reputable writing program at the University of California, Berkeley extension), performing research, gathering relevant information, compiling all into a cluster of three overall stories, and publishing these stories into book form in this new age of publishing.

The three stories are about our very own local notables from the Revolutionary War era: Judge Robert Ogden II, Col. John Seward and Lewis Morris III.

The first book, “Honest Ogden,” is launching on May 15 and is available now for pre-order on Amazon.

There also will be hard copies of the softcover book available at Sparta Books after the launch date. I will be doing a book signing there June 16 when the books arrive.

In these books, I have tried my best to bring together the many myths and legends in our area. These usually represent a recall by our ancestors of deeds and events that actually took place, sometimes embellished with retelling but still containing a kernel of truth.

I have taken what few facts are available on these outstanding individuals and considered these and other local tales and tried to tie them together into a larger story, one that can be believable and perhaps may make sense of the scant details concerning the variety of characters and the swirl of actions from the time period.

For “Honest Ogden,” I centered the story on Judge Robert Ogden. I built a probable personality for him based on his beliefs. He was a learned man, one who was steeped in the importance of respectability. He held honor, dignity and faith as central to his life.

From a century of a family graced with good fortune and comfortable city living, Judge Ogden encountered some hard impediments in his disciplined life. Problems attributed to him with the British-imposed Stamp Act, a necessary move from the civility of city life in Elizabethtown to the hardscrabble living in Sussex County, to the robbery with a threatening decision.

He was forced to vow, on the risk of death, an oath to keep the robbers’ names secret at the jeopardy of harm to his family. What implications might arise from a decision to refrain from revealing the robbers? Perhaps placing his sons in danger?

About this time was the Battle of Springfield, in which two of his sons fought, with one involved keeping the British from crossing a vital bridge. Among the sons, one had designs to kidnap the king of England’s son from Manhattan as he wrote to Gen. Washington; one led the heroic and surprising assault on the last redoubt at Yorktown; one brought the news of the Treaty of Paris over the Atlantic; and one became the New Jersey governor after the war.

More of the folklore involves that which can be associated with those ne’er-do-well characters who took advantage of the conflicts in our region. One was Claudius Smith, who robbed the judge. Another well-known one was Loyalist James Moody.

Claudius was notorious throughout the Ramapo Mountains and reaching down here. He carried a bounty from the New York governor and was finally hanged in Goshen.

Moody robbed the mails, tried to blow the gunpowder in “Succasunny,” escaped prison at West Point and Morristown, and led a jail break from Newton. Moody also attempted to steal the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, resulting in the hanging of his brother and his narrow escape beneath a haystack.

Last week, the well-known and respected historian Jennie Sweetman did a review of the book in this column.

As a whole, I have tried to gather the facts, stories and legends of our rich history and bring them into a reasonable story that, I hope, is also a good read.

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