John Ogden, the Pilgrim
(1609 - 1682)
A Man of More Than Ordinary Mark
(From the Introduction)
The first few men arrived at the heavy wooden door. They were unrecognizable with coarse woolen scarves wrapped tightly around their entire faces, only their eyes visible through narrow slits in the rough cloth. The meeting house sat in the middle of a clearing, only a few of the stumps from the recently felled trees tall enough to peek through the huge drifts of snow. At the edge of the clearing, the ice-caked branches on the naked trees sparkled in the moonlight like diamond tiaras. As the men listened, they could hear the sharp snaps and cracks as the branches bowed, then broke, under the weight.
The snow had already been shoveled away from the door, indicating somebody had arrived early. Chances were it was Rev. Richard Denton. As the minister and one of the town leaders, Denton also used the meeting house as his church, so he was usually the first one there.
As the men entered, they saw Rev. Denton in the front of the room, chatting amiably with one of the town’s newcomers, a tall, sharp-featured man who had come to build the dam and gristmill. The men silently took their assigned seats on the roughly hewn benches that lined the middle and both side of the room. They watched the two men as they talked, each spoken word punctuated by a small burst of frosty air. Finally the stranger walked to the back of the room and took his seat.
A wooden table, coarsely made of tree limbs and planks, sat at the front of the room, with five simple chairs behind it. A lantern sat in the middle of the table and three others were strategically hung from pegs in various spots throughout the room. The four lanterns cast an eerie glow across the hard-packed dirt floor and onto the faces of the men as they hunched over in their seats.
Soon the room began to fill as other men filed in. Most kept all of their heavy coats and gloves on. The temperature in the room was frigid. At least the mud-and-wattle that filled all the cracks between the logs kept the icy wind out. After a little while, when the door was closed for good and the room was full, body heat would raise the temperature quite a few degrees, and many of the men would shed their outer garments. They shifted around to find comfortable positions on the hard benches, and muttered weary greetings to one another. The chairs in the front filled, and soon Rev. Denton rose to offer a short prayer before the town meeting could begin.
Rippowam, or Toquams as the Indians who had only recently sold it to some New Haven investors called it, sat along the northern shore of an inlet of the ocean, today known as Long Island Sound. Stamford, as the settlement would be renamed in 1643, was toward the western end of the inlet, near the Dutch’s New Amsterdam settlement, and just across the inlet from Long Island. It had been settled in the spring of that same year by a group of twenty-nine men and their families from Wethersfield, seventy-five long and dangerous miles north through the thickly wooded forest, on the Connecticut River.
Most of these Wethersfield men had also known each other in Watertown, near Boston, before heading for the Connecticut River valley in 1635. For many of them, the friendships went back even further, to their homes, farms and parishes in England. These men knew deprivation and hardship; even in the dim glow of the lanterns, it could be seen in the rugged, lined faces of even the youngest among them.
In addition to Denton and Mitchell, the honored seats in front were filled by Andrew Ward, Richard Crab and Thurston Raynor. Raynor had also been elected constable at the October town meeting.
The election of new townsmen was just one of the important decisions that had to be reached. Two important town positions also had to be filled: fence viewers. Richard Gildersleeve and Robert Bates would be chosen for this important task. Building and maintaining strong fences was one of the most important jobs in the entire community. Fences controlled the livestock and kept it secure; protected the individual and communal planting fields and gardens from wild animals; and occasionally acted as a barrier to impede the progress of marauding Indians while the settlers could seek the shelter of the meeting house. Any man found neglectful in keeping up his fences would be fined.
By the time the meeting was over, all thirteen newcomers had been accepted. Each man was granted a house lot, and additional woodland acreage for his own planting and pasturing. Most received three acres for their house lot, but two were given ten acres, Thomas Armitage and the silent man at the rear of the meeting house, a man known to the settlers as John Ogden.
Ogden had arrived at the settlement with his wife Jane and young son John Jr. at some point after May 16, 1641, when the first settlers arrived from Wethersfield. They had arrived directly from their home in Lancashire County, England, following the rigors of a two-month ocean voyage. To most of the men in the settlement, John Ogden was a stranger when he arrived; but to a few, including two of the most influential leaders of the group, he was an old and trusted friend.