Captain David Olmsted – Revolutionary War veteran, Ridgefield, CT

I am yet again stretching the relevance of a post, as this one definitely is not in Ossining.  However, it does connect to running. 

Credit: http://www.naturegeezer.com/2017/05/capt.html

I’ve run by this house six or seven times over the past 10 years – it sits at about the 5 and the 10 mile mark of the Ridgefield Half Marathon. In fact, think I’ve run this race more than just about any other race – there’s something about the season (it’s always in October), the weather (it’s generally crisp with peak leaves) and the fact that it’s super well-organized (this year they gave out locally crafted wooden medals and a very comfortable hoodie.) 

Best of all –  it benefits the Boys and Girls Clubs of Ridgefield.

So let’s learn about the Captain David Olmsted house c. 1750.  

Who was he?  Did he really live here?  Was he related to Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park fame?  This is a classic Ossining History on the Run post, because I’ve thought about all of these questions over the years and never looked it up.

Until now . . .

As far as I can tell, the David Olmsted of this house was born in 1748 in Ridgefield, and died in 1815 in Jamesville, NY.  He came from a long line of Olmsteds who came to the New World from Essex, England in the 1600s – at some point, one of them helped found Ridgefield. I also believe our David Olmsted was indeed distantly related to Frederick Law Olmsted as that Olmsted was also born in Connecticut and was also descended from Olmsteds who came here from Essex, England in the 1600s.

Our David married Abigail Ingersoll in 1768 when he was 20 and she was 18. (Abigail was related to Jared Ingersoll who helped write and then signed the Constitution as a representative for Pennsylvania.) 

David and Abigail went on to have about eight children, one of whom, born in 1776, was named George Washington Olmsted.  Nice.  

David was apparently one of the first young men in Ridgefield to join the Revolution and lead a company to join Washington’s army in 1776. (Hence the naming of his son?)   As a Captain, he served honorably in several skirmishes – at West Point, at Fairfield, and at the Battle of Ridgefield.

It’s here that legend takes over, and the Story of the Red Petticoat emerges.  Supposedly, as the British approached Ridgefield at dawn on April 27, 1777, the Patriots fought valiantly at the barricades (led by none other than General Benedict Arnold!) but scattered to the woods surrounding the town as the British advanced.  According to Silvio A. Bedini’s 1958 history “Ridgefield in Review” the tale goes something like this:

Abigail Olmsted remained at home with her children, anxiously awaiting word of her husband and of the progress of the conflict. When the detachment of British troops came marching along Olmstead Lane to the camp site [on Wilton Road West], she feared that her home would suffer the fate of others that had been burned by the British during the day. Looking about for some means of saving it, she thought of posing as a Tory. Having no other suitable symbol at her disposal, she removed her red petticoat and waved it from the house as the British soldiers came marching off West Lane Road and along the lane. The British, thinking it was a Tory house, left it unharmed.

When her husband arrived home at last during the night or on the following day, Mrs. Olmsted proudly recounted the incident, pleased with her presence of mind. Not so her husband. Livid with rage, Captain Olmstead thundered: ‘Woman, if I had seen you, I would have shot you dead!’ Far better it would have been to have this home destroyed than to have his wife suspected of being a Tory.

Now, this story raises several questions in my mind –  did nice gentlewomen in 18th century Connecticut habitually wear red petticoats?  Would Captain Olmsted really have threatened to shoot his wife?  And finally, why would anyone make this story up?  What’s the germ of truth behind it?

Alas, I can answer none of those questions (but if any of you dear readers can, please comment in the notes section!)

Apparently, the Olmsted house suffered a fair amount of damage from the British onslaught, red petticoat notwithstanding.  According to some pretty serious sleuthing by Keith Jones, in his book “Farmers Against the Crown,” we learn that Captain Olmsted requested reimbursement from the Connecticut government for property damage to the tune of £54, which was a significant sum in those days.

Ridgefield Town Historians have, over the years, confirmed that the house I’ve repeatedly run by, at 91 Olmsted Lane, was indeed owned by Captain David Olmsted of Revolutionary War (and Red Petticoat outrage) fame.  At least, they put up a sign to that effect in 1976 during the Bicentennial celebration.

By the end of the War, Olmsted was apparently promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel, but was always known around town as Captain.  After the War, he became a well-respected member of the community, holding several offices in local government.  

At some point he decided to leave Ridgefield for reasons I haven’t uncovered, moving to Jamesville, NY, located in the Syracuse area. (Maybe because no one in Ridgefield would call him Colonel?) 

Perhaps the move had something to do with the fact that at that time New York State, in dire need of money to pay off its war debts, began pushing the Iroquois off their lands, despite the new Federal government’s promise to honor the sovereignty of the Six Nations.  (I actually read a fascinating article about all this called “The Iroquois And New York State: Two Centuries Of Broken Treaties And Map Lies” by Jo Margaret Mano of The College at New Paltz, State University of New York.  Google it if you want to know more.)  

The upshot was that millions of acres of Iroquois land was “purchased” by New York State and then sold to the highest bidder in the 1780s.  I guess after serving in battle, Captain Olmsted still had an itchy foot for action and decided to make a move. 

Wife Abigail died in 1805 in Jamesville at the age of 63.  

Olmsted is said to have remarried, to an Abiah Keeler.  However, my desultory research (which consisted of a quick glance through Ancestry.com and Google) has turned up nothing about this marriage.

Captain David Olmsted died in 1815 and is buried next to first wife Abigail in the Walnut Grove Cemetery in Jamesville, NY.  No word on where second wife Abiah Keeler ended up.

Sources:

http://www.naturegeezer.com/2017/05/capt.html

http://dunhamwilcox.net/ct/ridgefield_ct_rev_war.htm

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