Reverend Doctor Jonathan Odell

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Reverend Doctor Jonathan Odell

Birthplace: Newark, Essex County, New Jersey, USA
Death: November 25, 1818 (81)
Fredericton, York County, New Brunswick, Canada
Place of Burial: Old Burial Ground, Fredericton, York County, New Brunswick, Canada
Immediate Family:

Son of John Odell, Jr. and Temperance Odell
Husband of Ann Odell
Father of William Franklin Odell
Brother of Eunice O'dell Ford

Managed by: Private User
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About Reverend Doctor Jonathan Odell

Rev. Jonathan Odell, graduate of Princeton and grandson of its first president, was a physician, poet, and clergyman. He went over to the British side in 1777, and patriots promptly confiscated his property in New Jersey. Odell probably helped arrange the first meeting between Benedict Arnold and Joseph Stansbury in New York in May 1779. He also translated the secret ciphers and decoded the invisible ink of the spy letters passing among John André, Joseph Stansbury, and Benedict Arnold.


Jonathan Odell (25 September 1737 – 25 November 1818) was a Loyalist poet who lived during the American Revolution.

Early life and career

Odell was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1737 to John and Temperance Odell. He graduated from Princeton University (at the time known as the College of New Jersey) in 1754. Although he had studied medicine, instead of becoming a doctor he joined the Church of England ministry. As a minister he preached at parish priest at Burlington and Mount Holly, both in New Jersey.

The American Revolution

When the revolution broke out Odell became a strong loyalist and wrote poetry promoting the loyalist cause. He was brought before the New Jersey Provincial Congress for such actions and on July 20, 1776, he was ordered to sign a loyalty oath and remain within eight miles of the Burlington County courthouse. In December of that year, he fled to New York, with the help of local citizens, and served as an administrator and satiric poet-propagandist for the British. After the war in 1784 he emigrated to New Brunswick, Canada, where he received the post of provincial secretary as a reward for his loyalty. He remained in New Brunswick and died in Fredericton.

Odell was portrayed by George Sanders as a highly intelligent but cynical loyalist in the 1955 Hollywood film The Scarlet Coat.

DICTIONARY OF CANADIAN BIOGRAPHY ONLINE for Odell, Jonathan says he was a Church of England clergyman, office holder, and poet. Born Sept 25 1737 in Newark NJ, son of John Odell, a joiner, and Temperance Dickinson; married May 6 1772 Anne De Cou in Burlington NJ, and they had four children; died Nov 25 1818 in Fredericton NB. His ancestor 4 generations earlier was William Odell, who had come to Concord in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, probably in 1635. He graduated in 1754 from the College of New Jersey (Princeton University), and taught in 1755–56 at the grammar school attached to the college. He studied medicine, and served in a medical capacity with the British forces in the West Indies. Then he went to England, where he was employed for more than two years as an assistant at an academy in Kensington (London). Next he was ordained deacon in London in 1766 and priest in 1767. He returned to New Jersey to Burlington, where he took over a church, and in 1774 he became a member of the New Jersey Medical Society. He could converse in French, and when negotiating with Hessians during the Revolutionary War, rebel troops with fixed bayonets hunted him with orders to take him dead or alive, but he was much beloved by the people of Burlington who would not give him up. He narrowly escaped capture while in hiding in a secret chamber of a house. In 1776 he was able to flee to the British lines in New York, but he had to leave his wife and children behind and was not reunited with them until three years later. In 1777 he was appointed the commander-in-chief of the British forces as superintendent of the printing office and of periodical publications in Philadelphia, and he became known for his passionate satire prose and verses, sometimes boisterous drinking-songs, written as a Loyalist against the whigs. After the revolution in 1783, he proposed the establishment of a college in New Brunswick and became the provincial secretary and assistant secretary to the commander of the British forces responsible for the evacuation. One of Odell's first duties after arriving in New Brunswick in November 1784 was to travel over the 90 miles of the frozen Saint John River to St Anne's Point, which they chose as the site of the future capital of the province. In 1785 the governor ordered that immediate steps be taken to establish the new settlement on the site of an old Acadian village which was to be called Fredericstown in honour of one of the sons of George III. This place was to be Odell's home for the rest of his life. He erected a new house and eventually the family owned one of the largest estates in the area. When the New Brunswick academy, established as early as 1785, received its university charter in 1800, Odell was named as one of its governors. He retired in 1812, when he was succeeded by his son, William Franklin Odell (father and son together held the influential office of provincial secretary for a period of 60 years). He had helped to form the early institutions of the province, and had exercised a great influence on political decisions, partly because of his close personal relationship with the province's first governor. During his lifetime the new capital had only 120 houses and was largely unconnected by roads with the outside world, but Odell wrote prose praising the city and the people of it.

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Reverend Doctor Jonathan Odell's Timeline

September 25, 1737
Newark, Essex County, New Jersey, USA
October 19, 1774
Burlington, Burlington County, New Jersey, USA
November 25, 1818
Age 81
Fredericton, York County, New Brunswick, Canada
Old Burial Ground, Fredericton, York County, New Brunswick, Canada