In early Spring, 1779, Colonel Matthias Ogden of the 1st New Jersey regiment found himself in considerable hot water. One of his officers, Captain Isaac Morrison, brought court martial charges against him, listed as follows in General Orders:
- 1st. Neglect of duty in general.
- 2nd. Repeated frauds against the Public and also the officers and soldiers under his command.
- 3rd. Cowardice.
- 4th. Gaming.
There was a thorough scolding in General Orders, after which the chastized Colonel was returned to his duty. After all, he was something of a favorite of Washington’s, a valuable intelligence officer and brave commander whose services would soon be needed for the planned campaign that summer against the Iroquois.
The same cannot be said for a number of those who gave testimony at Colonel Ogden’s court martial. Several of these men transferred from the regiment or left the army, and one – Ensign Asher Levy, the only Jewish officer known to have served in the Jersey Line – was imprisoned under suspicion of being a Loyalist and later escaped to New York.
There was one witness, however, who was in all likelihood not hostile to the Colonel (though his testimony may have been the most damning). This was former militia Brigadier General Matthias Williamson, who like Ogden was from a respected Elizabethtown, NJ family and part of the same social set. I have often wondered whether it was he, a gentleman not subject to military discipline, who may have admitted at trial to playing what he considered a harmless game of chance with the Colonel, but there is no transcript available of the court martial proceedings, aside from its outcome.
One section of Belcher Journal, however, does provide tantalizing clues about the nature of the gambling debt that the Colonel incurred, and how he managed to settle them, as well as new insight into what got Captain Morrison's breeches all in a twist. As usual, Belcher plays a prominent, though unwitting part in what transpires.
Colo. Ogden spoke exceedin’ fond of his stallion - Major Gen’l so called - 7/8 blooded sixteen hands high & as well made as any horse in this state / Gen’l Williams’n did propose a wager ‘gainst his own Irish Horse– Skewball by name – to run 3 two mile heats ye length of Broad street to Stone Bridge & back, ye stakes to be these same Beasts / Colo. Ogden did blinch at ye High nature of the Purs but agree’d as a man of honor / Maj. Ogden bid me ride Jockey for his brother, which I thot hard service as little Billy Shoemaker of Meeker’s Troop rides for Williamson.
[Febr. 26th 1779] This day did hear Colo. Ogden to be charg’d at Court Martial for what I know not by sum sor-head Gentlemen of ye Battalion.