John was also an M.D. Resident of Pachog. (Browning, Charles. Americans of royal descent, 7th ed., Baltimore : Genealogical Pub. Co., 1969, pg. 71).
By profession he was a physician and at the commencement of the Revolutionary War was widely known with a large practice. He raised and equipped through his personal fortune a regiment of troops which he, as Colonel, commanded. Captured in 1777 he remained a prisoner on Long Island until December 25, 1780, meanwhile devoting himself to the care of many American prisoners. For his career see "Recollections of a Lifetime" by S.G. Goodrich, Vol. 1, page 533. Also "History of the Ely Family Reunion in 1878" by Margaret E.D. Stuart. (Stuart, Inglis. The Mayflower ancestry of Elizabeth Ely Goodrich. Rhinebeck, NY : Rhinebeck Press, 1932).
Performed a tour of duty at Fort Trumbull during the U.S. Revolution as a Captain and a Major, and also as physician and surgeon. In July 1776 he was sent to visit the northern army, and employ his skill in arresting the small-pox, which was the raging in the camp with great virulence (Caulkins history of New London, p. 520). Colonels Latimer, Ely etc. performed tours of duty, with their respective regiments, at New London and Groton, 1777. ("Caulkin's history of New London, p. 521 as cited in Goodrich, Samuel Griswold. "Recollections of a lifetime," NY : Miller, Orton & Co., 1856, v.1., p. 466).
"Col. John Ely, son of Daniel, was a native of Lyme, Conn. and born in 1737. He devoted himself to the practice of medicine, and speedily became eminent. He was particularly successful in the treatment of small-pox, and he erected several buildings for the reception of patients to receive inoculation for that disease. Two of these, constituting a regular hospital, were upon Duck Island, which lies off the shore of the village of Westport, where he established himself in practice. He married Sarah, daughter of Rev. Mr. Worthington of this village, then a parish of Saybrook, and bearing the name of Pachoug. He had a decided military turn, and engaged with patriotic ardor in the revolutionary struggle. As early as 1775, he mustered and marched with a company of militia to Roxbury, under his command. In 1776, he performed a tour of duty at Fort Trumbull New London, as major, also officiating as physician and surgeon. Among the few of his papers which remain, I find a copy of a pithy letter, which he sent, as commandant of the fort, to a suspicious ship, lying at anchor, at the mouth of the harbor; in consequence - as is said in the note - "she disappeared, and we hope to see her no more." In July, he was sent to visit the northern army, and employ his skill in arresting the small-pox, which was then raging in the camp with great virulence." In 1777 he was again the commandant of Fort Trumbull, with the rank of colonel, his regiment having been fitted out with his own money. He was at this time wealthy, and the country was poor, and with the liberality of his nature he devoted not only his services but his means to the cause which filled his breast.
"His subsequent military career may be told in the report of the committee on revolutionary claims in the House of Representatives, January 23, 1833:
"Colonel Ely, at the commencement of the Revolutionary War, was a physician of great celebrity residing at the town of Saybrook, in the State of Connecticut; that, in the early stages of the conflict, he abandoned his profession, and raised a regiment of regular troops, and was commissioned as a colonel; and, at the head of his regiment, he entered into the service of his country.
"On the 9th of December, 1777, he was captured by the enemy, and became a prisoner of war, and was paroled at Flatbush, on Long Island, where were also, several hundred American officers. Among these officers, a distressing sickness prevailed, and Col. Ely, from the humanity that belonged to his character, from the day of his captivity to the day of his exchange, faithfully and exclusively devoted his time and attention to them as a physician. In discharging this duty, he encountered great hardship and much expense, as the residences of the sick officers were scattered over a considerable space of country, many of them being as much as twenty miles apart. Col. Ely, when unable from bodily infirmity or the state of the weather, to perform his long tours on foot, hired a horse at an extravagant price, and paid the cost out of his own private means. He was also frequently compelled to purchase medicine for the sick at his own cost.
"Soon after he became a prisoner, his son, Captain Ely, in conjunction with other friends, fitted out, at their own expense, a vessel, and manned her, for the purpose of surprising and capturing a British force, with which to effect the exchange of Col. Ely. The object of the expedition succeeded, so far as regarded the surprise and capture of the enemy, and the prisoners were delivered to the proper authorities, to be exchanged for Col. Ely. This, however, was not done, by reason of the earnest entreaties of the sick American officers, who considered their lives as greatly depending upon the continuance, attendance, and skill of Col. Ely. He was induced to forego his right to an exchange, and consented to remain, for the comfort and safety of his sick brother officers. It appears, from a certificate of Samuel Huntington, President of Congress, that still, subsequent to the time when his exchange might have been effected, through the valor of his son and friends; and when he became entitled to an exchange, by the regular rule, that a deputation of exchanged officers, who had been his fellow-prisoners, was appointed to wait on Congress, by the sick officers who still remained in captivity, and to urge the continuance of Col. Ely as their physician and surgeon. At the head of this deputation was Col. Matthews (since a member of Congress, and Governor of Georgia), and Col. Ramsay, of the Maryland line. Col. Ely was, in consequence of this representation, not exchanged, although entitled to an exchange. He remained, and acted as physician and surgeon till the 25th of December, 1780, when he was released - a period of more than three years."
"On his final return to his family, early in the year 1781, Col. Ely found himself broken in health and constitution, his lands run to waste, his house in a state of dilapidation, his poverty dissipated, and a considerable debt accumulated against him. With good courage, however, he set himself again to his profession. He rose in the morning early, cut his wood, carried it in, built his fires, fed the cattle, and then went forth upon his professional duties. In those days of depression, the great staple of the family was hasty pudding - Col. Ely cheering his wife by saying that the children of the poor were always the healthiest, because of the simplicity of their food. By these efforts and sacrifices he partially recovered from his difficulties. His health, however, gradually gave way; and when the country had risen from the chaos of the war under the new constitution, he, with others, applied to Congress for remuneration for his extraordinary services, Gen. Knox, the Secretary of War, made a highly favorable report, and the House of Representatives immediately adopted it by passing a bill in favor of Col. Ely, granting him twenty thousand dollars. He was at Philadelphia at this time, and wrote to his daughter at Ridgefield that in a few days he should be able to give her the marriage outfit which his poverty had hitherto prevented him from doing. Not doubting that the Senate would ratify the action of the House, he returned to his family.
In a short time he received the mortifying intelligence that his claim had been thrown out by the Senate. Oliver Ellsworth, a man of great pertinacity of character as well as wisdom in the conduct of affairs, had acquired immense influence in that body - it being said by Aaron Burr that if he should chance to spell the name of the Deity with two ds, it would take the Senate three weeks to expunge the superfluous letter! He was generally opposed to money grants, from a just anxiety as to the means of the government, and hence was called the "Cerberus of the treasury." This formidable senator opposed the bill in Col. Ely's favor, and it was consequently defeated.
Sick at heart, borne down with a sense of neglect, if not injustice, the more keenly felt because he had sacrificed his fortune and his health in the most generous manner for his country; indignant at the refusal of compensation for his extraordinary services, promised by letters from Washington addressed personally to himself, and placed before Congress, he turned his back upon the hope of further success in life, and after a few years - October, 1800 - he was numbered with the dead. About forty years later, the heirs of Col. Ely presented his claims to Congress, and they were readily recognized. Most of his papers, however, had been lost, and only a small portion of his claim - about five thousand dollars - was allowed.
The character of Col. Ely may be inferred from what has already been said. In person he was tall, erect, and of a manner marked with dignity and ease. In conversation he was lively, full of wit, and abounding in illustrative anecdote. As a commander, he was the idol of soldiery, and uniting to his military office the skill and practice of the physician, with a tenderness of humanity which knew no weariness, he acquired a degree of love and friendship which few men ever enjoy. It is painful to reflect that it was owing to these amiable traits of character, and to the confidence and affection they inspired, that his days were shortened and the latter part of his life darkened with comparative poverty and gloom. It was in consequence of the earnest solicitations and representations of the invalid soldiers and officers that remained in captivity on Long Island, and who felt that they could not part with his services, that he was induced to forego his privilege of restoration to his family, and continue on in captivity - and that too after his son, a youth of twenty years of age, by his enterprise, had provided the means of deliverance - devoting himself to arduous duties, which finally resulted in breaking down his vigorous constitution and his elastic spirit. (Goodrich, Samuel Griswold. "Reflections of a lifetime. -- NY : Miller, Orton & Co., 1856, v.2, pg. 533-537.
Ely, John (Conn). Captain 6th Connecticut, 1st May to 18th December, 1775; Colonel Connecticut Militia Regiment in 1777; taken prisoner on the Long Island Expedition, 10th December 1777; exchanged 5th December, 1780. Died 1800 (Database : Revolutionary War officers - Ancestry.com. From Alphabetical list of officers of the Continental Army, E, Fifteenth Virginia, pg. 216)
Colonel John Ely. By Mrs. M.E.D. Stuart. Read by Rev. Lewis Lampman, of Jamaica, L.I.:
If Col. John Ely could to-day be fully unveiled, he would stand out unchallenged as the most picturesque and knightly figure in the colonial history of our country.
But to tell the full story of his life is no longer possible All its records are incomplete; his personality hidden away in the debris of nearly a century.
It is my good fortune to know one survivor who looked upon his face in life - the venerable Prof. William Chauncey Fowler (who, I hope, is here today). He gave me some valued particulars of his personal appearance. When a child he sat upon his knee, and remembers him as tall, erect, with a manner of dignity and winning grace. His face was regular, with prominent brown eyes of tender expression. But this is all. The witty sayings with which he sparkled, the abounding stories he told, the songs he sang "are whelmed in time's neglect." Of the magnetism of his presence, which made him the idol of soldiers, friends, and family, we have no contemporary portrayal. The generation that listened, fascinated by the rich overflow of his converse, is to-day silent. The "Republican Court" can show no higher no more distinguished, social circle than that of Col. Ely before, during, and after the Revolution. I have before me a note of invitation in the elegant and somewhat flourishy handwriting of Benedict Arnold. It reads thus:
"General Arnold's compliments wait on Col. Ely, asks the favor of his company to dine with him at his house to-day at two o'clock. Thursday morning, at eight o'clock."
The month and year are not given, but of one thing we may be sure, it was before he betrayed the fortress.
Mrs. Alelaide Ely Lampman well remembers hearing her grandfather, Dr. John Ely, of Coxsackie, describe the visits of Generals Washington and Layfayette to his father's (Col. Ely's) house in Saybrook.
The facts of his military services remain in the archives of the nation, reported by a committee on revolutionary claims (Report on Revolutionary Claims, and Recollections of a Lifetime," by S.G. Goodrich).
We know that scientific tastes, and a passion for alleviating suffering, led him to espouse the medical profession with enthusiasm. In it he rose readily to eminence. He became especially prominent for success in treating small-pox.
He purchased an island which lies off the shore of Westport, and there erected regular hospitals for the management of the disease by inoculation.
Those were the days of early marriages. At twenty he became the husband of Sarah Worthington, on the the celebrated beauties of Connecticut. Mrs. A. E. Lampman has a very interesting pocket-book embroidered upon silk canvas by this beautiful Sarah Worthington, probably before her marriage. The Worthington coat of arms is exquisitely wrought in the silks of the true heraldic colors. Above the crest is worked in letters, still distinct, "Sarah Worthington." Beneath the shield, "By the name of Worthington."
In 1775 he was the father of seven children, the most eminent physician in the county, and wealth flowed in abundantly. There was every enticement to hold him in his elegant, prosperous and happy home. But with patriotic ardor he promptly left all to aid the Revolution. He was then thirty-eight years old. He first mustered and commanded a militia company. The next year he united the duties of major, physician, and surgeon at New London. Small-pox breaking out in the Northern army, he went thither, and by his skill arrested its progress. The next year, with the rank of colonel, he commanded at Fort Trumbull over a regiment he had raised by his own exertions and equipped with his own money. To do this he sold one of his farms. After supplying perfectly the needs of his soldiers, the remainder of the money in gold and silver, tied in a silk handkerchief, he brought and poured into his wife's lap, saying: "Here, Sarah, is all that is left of the Griswold farm." She, like a true mother of the revolution, replied with a smile, "It is the price of liberty."
In the winter Col. Ely made the attempt to cross the Sound, and effect a landing on Long Island with his regiment. But it so happened that Col. Ely's boat was captured by the British and he was carried to Flatbush, where were several hundred American officers also prisoners. Sickness was raging among them. From the day of his captivity he threw the whole ardor of his nature, all the skill of his profession into unwearied nursing of these suffering compatriots. The winter was severe, and the sick scattered over a distance of twenty miles. He made his patient round on foot, through the snow, until compelled by exhaustion to go on horseback. For the hire of his horse he was charged enormously, he paying from his own purse the expense, as also for medicines, at the same extortionate rates.
His son, Worthington Ely, was then a student in Yale College, afterwards Dr. Worthington Ely. He determined th effect the rescue of his father. Some friends united with him in manning a vessel, and with the utmost daring they captured a British force, which entitled them to the exchange of Col. Ely. Even then his release did not come. The sick prisoners with the selfishness of invalids absorbed in their own sensations, sent a deputation to petition Congress that Col. Ely might not be exchanged, but might remain and minister to them. And so this strong-hearted man stifled his yearning for his lonely wife, for his brave eldest son, who purchased his ransom at the risk of his own life, for his young children growing out of his knowledge, and remained three years longer the Good Samaritan of the Continental prisoners. No Jesuit missionary on the frontier ever made great sacrifices than this martyr-patriot, in his zeal for country and humanity.
At last the tower bends to fall. Not until he was utterly broken in constitution was he permitted to go home. The wife he had left blooming he found prematurely aged by care and anxiety. It had been her habit at night, after her little children were asleep, to sit up in the bed and weep over her desolation. His wealth had disappeared. Even his house was falling with decay. Debts started up on every hand; but this hero accepted poverty with the same bravery which he had welcomed danger and hardship. When they were reduced to a diet of mush and milk, he cheered his wife, telling her their children's bones should be made of Indian corn, and they as strong as young Spartans. He rose early and worked late, resumed his profession, and with victorious patience would have retrieved all, but "the sword had worn out the sheath." His spirit remained indomitable, but his glorious physique was broken.
It has been said of republics that they are ungrateful. Certainly in this instance the stain rests upon ours.
Although Gen. Washington wrote, acknowledging Col. Ely's incomparable services in many affectionate letters addressed to him, yet Congress, when the hour of her prosperity had come, permitted this true knight who had rendered triple service of sword, and brain-skill, and purse, who had kept back nothing, but had laid upon the altar of sacrifice his wife, his children, and his household Gods, - Congress permitted him to languish in feebleness nearly twenty years, and to die in privation. When his youngest son John was fourteen, he left home to seek his fortune. His clothes were tied in a small bundle, and Col. Ely accompanied him on foot to a crossing in the highway, where John was to take the stage. Here the fond father bade him good-bye, saying, "I am sorry, my son, that I have nothing to give you but my blessing." Nothing but his blessing! Did not the blessing of such a father prove a richer heritage than houses or lands? It rested upon the boy, and the man, Dr. John Ely, of Coxsackie, through a life of eminence in his profession, in the Church, in the State, and in community, prospered under that benediction. So long as the "New York College of Physicians and Surgeons" remains a corporation, will his name stand as its most influential founder. And where to-day you find in the States any descendant of Col. Ely, you shall find him the representative man of the town in intellect, wealth, and influence.
Among those most eminent were the brothers Charles A. and S.G. Goodrich. The first and elder was distinguished in pulpit eloquence, served the State as Senator, and his three United States histories have gone through hundreds of editions. The younger, Peter Parley, is a household name. As story teller, as poet, as historian, as Senator, as Consul at Paris, he adorned whatever he touched. Nor have the daughters been without gifts. Perhaps the queenly Mrs. Wolcott, of Litchfield, inherited most remarkably the disinterestedness of her grandsire; while her sister, Mrs. Whittelsey drew from him her superior powers of conversation and broad sympathetic nature. These two shall shine as he stars forever, for by their earnest, unselfish labors they turned many to righteousness.
His third daughter, Elizabeth Ely Goodrich, lived to see thirty of her own grandchildren. Perhaps Mrs. Sophia Goodrich Ashton, daughter of Rev. Charles A. Goodrich, led this band in richness of character. She was a deep scholar and a ready writer. Her "Women of the Bible" is an authority in religious biography. Her life was transfigured by a faith that made Heaven just as real to her as Earth, and her home was a centre that drew thither friendship of the richest minds. All her gifts were consecrated, and her exquisitely beautiful hands were diligent in dispensing help, not less to orphan children than to her own. The void she left was so wide it has never closed, and some hearts that learned on her will always suffer sense of loss.
A few months younger was her cousin, Mary E. Smith, wife of Hon. J.J. Monell, of Newburgh. She represented in large degree the beauty and genius of her mother, Mary Ann Wolcott Goodrich Smith. Her early death removed a star from a brilliant, social constellation. No portrait has ever done justice to those large, dark eyes of velvet softness which led captive friends and strangers. Her poetic gift was most delicate, and responded whenever her taste was pleased, or her heart touched. In the widely circulated volume called "The Changed Cross," I find an anonymous waif, which I recognize as written by her son on the death of her aunt, Mrs. A.G. Whittlesey. I give it, not as her best, but as her last, having been written a short time before her own death:
Gone home! Gone home! She lingers here no longer
A restless pilgrim, walking painfully,
With home-sick longing, daily growing stronger,
And yearning visions of the joys to be.
Gone home! Gone home! Her earnest active spirit,
Her very playfulness, her heart of love!
The heavenly mansion now she doth inherit,
Which Christ made ready ere she went above.
Gone home! Gone home! The door through which she vanished
Closed with a jar, and left us here alone,
We stand without, in tears, forlorn and banished,
Longing to follow where one loved has gone.
Gone home! Gone home! Oh! shall we ever reach her,
See her again, and know her for our own?
Will she conduct us to the heavenly Teacher,
And bow beside us low before His throne?
Gone home! Gone home! O human hearted Saviour!
Give us a balm to soothe our heavenly woe;
And if thou wilt, in tender, pitying favor,
Hasten the time when we may rise and go!
The tributes of song that begin and will conclude our programme to-day, are my best testimony that our harp neither moulders nor is muffled, but when daughters of Ely strike its strings it still vibrates as sweetly as in other generations. Can we believe that all these shining ones owe nothing to ancestral inheritance?
Forty years after Col. Ely's death, Congress allowed to his heirs (when they no longer needed it) five thousand dollars, in faint recognition of his services and losses.
I would that such tardy and inadequate justice had been declined, or that with it, some enduring monument had been erected to his memory.
Perhaps the time will come when, either on this spot where he was born, or at Fort Trumbull where he commanded, or at Long Island where he was a prisoner, or at Westport where he lies buried, there shall rise a shaft on whose granite sides shall be graven the romance of this chivalrous life.
Here, to-day, after the lapse of seventy-eight years, his kindred, collateral and descendant, all the members of this re-union
And gather up his ashes
To place in History's Golden Urn."
[History of the Ely re-union, held at Lyme, Conn., July 10th, 1878. Salem, Mass. : Higginson Book Co., reprint, pg. 59-64]
The Revolutionary War account of Col. John Ely was placed for sale on eBay for $1295.00 in November 2009, including two photograhs and the following description:
Connecticut Doctor John Ely Revolutionary War Accounts
October 1776, Revolutionary War, Manuscript Document, Abstract of Money Due to Colonel John Ely from the State of Connecticut, Very Good.
An original handwritten document, written by and Signed "John Ely." Headed, "Pay Abstract of Money Due to Jn. Ely," this 1 page, 12.5" x 7.75" document is an account covering the period from August 1775 through October 1776. This document reads, in part: August & Sept. 1775 To attendance as Physician and medicines ... for Col. Parson's Reg. March 18th 1776 To medicines procurd (sic) for the companys stationed at New London. Feb, March & April 1776 To travill expenses in proceeding to New Jersey by the Gen Order July 5th - To expenses for myself & Peter Granger on my journey too & from Ticonderoga October 1776 To paid doctr. Atwater Jun. Bill for Medicines for the use of 3 Reg of this state as no supply's from the Continental Stores were to be had ... To wages as Paymaster to 3rd Reg. as none has been appointed..." The reference to Col Parson's regiment here is the same Samuel Holden Parson who helped plan the siege at Fort Ticonderoga. Without a shot fired in May of 1775, the Continental Army captured the crucial fortress and with it the necessary arsenal to fight the battle in Boston. The 100 cannons, which Col. Ely in Parson's 6th Regiment helped secure, were brought back to New England with a great deal of difficulty and did not arrive in Boston until January 1776. Ely was also engaged in the brutal New York Campaign in 1776 and these notations reflect some of his expenses. Docketed on the back, "Accounts wt the State of Connecticut." A rare and important Revolutionary War Document from an officer in the Connecticut Militia.
Dr. John Ely (1737-1800) in 1775 raised a military unit at his own expense and was made a Captain in the 6th Connecticut Regiment. The following year he was promoted to Major, and was a Colonel of the 4th Battalion in 1777 when he was captured by the British at Long Island. He was not exchanged until 1780, and during that time acted as physician in the, treating smallpox victims. His experience in treating smallpox was well known. In a July 19, 1776 letter, Governor Trumbull wrote to Gen. Schuyler that he was sending Major John Ely to him, as he was skilled in the treatment of smallpox.
A Col.ohn Ely biography prepared by descendant Gregory Bell Smith and posted to The Society of Cincinnati in the State of Connecticut web page (http://theconnecticutsociety.org/ely-john/):
Birth: 24 Sep. 1737, Lyme, CT
Death: 03 Oct. 1800, Pachog (now Westbrook), CT
Marriage: 15 Jul. 1759, Pachog, CT. SARAH WORTHINGTON daughter of WILLIAM WORTHINGTON and TEMPERANCE GALLUP. She was born 15 May 1735 in Pachog, CT and died 15 Jan 1808 in Sand Lake, NY (now Averill Park, NY).
Children: Children of JOHN ELY and SARAH WORTHINGTON are:
i. WORTHINGTON ELY, b. 1759, Saybrook, CT; d. 1803, Coeymans, NY.
ii. EMMA ELY, b. 1760; d. 1837.
iii. ETHLINDA ELY, b. Abt. 1764; d. 15 Aug 1829, Goshen, NY.
iv. ELIZABETH ELY, b. 22 Feb 1764, Saybrook, CT; d. 03 Mar 1837, Berlin, CT.
v. ANNA ARNOLD ELY, b. 13 Jul 1766. Anna Arnold Ely only appears in “The Ely Ancestry” and no other evidence has been found for her. Some DAR lineages claim it was she who married Matthew Cole others show Amy/Amah/Emma married to Cole.
vi. TEMPERANCE ELY, b. 1768.
vii. LUCRETIA ELY, b. 04 Mar 1770, Saybrook, CT; d. 26 Feb 1839, Sand Lake, NY (now Averill Park, NY).
viii. TEMPERANCE ELY, b. 10 Oct 1772.
ix. DR. JOHN ELY, b. 1774, Saybrook, CT; d. 20 Aug 1849, Coxsackie, NY.
x. EDWARD ELY, b. 06 Jan 1777, Saybrook, CT; d. 22 Nov 1825, Goshen, NY1; m. DOLLY UNKNOWN. Edward was a lawyer in Goshen, NY. Some sources give his name as Edwin. His will mentions wife Dolly and his six brothers and sisters: Worthington(deceased), John, Ethelinda Elliott, Elizabeth Goodrich, Emma Cole, Lucretia Gregory. No children named.
Note: There are no Ely surnamed descendants after the 5th generation from John.
Occupation: Medical Doctor.
Education: There is no record of Ely attending College, but his career as a successful Doctor would indicate that he had some education.
Military: Captain 6th Connecticut,1st May to 18th December, 1775; Colonel Connecticut Militia Regiment in 1777; taken prisoner on the Long Island Expedition, 10th December, 1777; exchanged 5th December, 1780. (Heitman, p216). Col. of the 4th Battalion of CT Militia under Gen. Joseph Spencer starting 4 Oct. 1777. Since he was in a militia unit in Continental Service under Gen. Spencer of the Continental Army, his 3 years in captivity are qualifying Continental service.
Cincinnati: Not an original member. First represented by LEONARD BRONK LAMPMAN (1872-1939) a great-great-grandson who joined in 1895, a lifelong bachelor. From 1970 to 1994, Ely was represented by THEODORE FROTHINGHAM III, a great-great-great-great-grandson. Ely is currently represented by GREGORY BELL SMITH, a great-great-great-great-grandson who joined in 2013 and his son AMOS KENDALL SMITH III is his designated Successor. JAMES PARKER (1854-1934), a great-great-great-grandson was made an honorary member of the Rhode Island Society in 1929. PRIESTLEY TOULMIN III, a great-great-great-great-grandson is a member of the Connecticut Society through collateral descent from Col. John Ely’s brother, Capt. Christopher Ely. Another current CT member is a great-great-great-great-grandson who joined the Connecticut Society in 1995 through descent from 2nd Lt. Elias Mather and his son is his designated Successor. The obituary of HOMER HOWLAND STUART, Jr. (1918-2011) a great-great-great-great-grandson, indicated he was a member without specifying his Propositus or Society but no record of his membership has been found in Cincinnati records.
Discussion: John Ely became a physician and surgeon with a reputation that reached far beyond the Westbrook village in which he lived. He specialized in the treatment of smallpox. He bought Duck Island off the Saybrook shore and then built a hospital for his smallpox patients. When this dread disease broke out in the Army of General George Washington in July 1776, Dr. Ely was sent for and did much to arrest the plague.
But Colonel Ely is remembered better as a soldier of the Revolutionary War and as a patriot who gave not only his skill as physician and military commander to the cause, but his fortune and his health.
In 1775 Ely, after the news of the battle of Lexington came to Westport, mustered a company of militia as Captain and marched with it to Roxbury, now part of Boston. The next year as Major he performed a tour of duty as commandant at Fort Trumbull, New London, also serving there as physician and one day he sent a “pithy” letter to the Captain of a vessel at the mouth of the harbor suspected of being English. She promptly sailed away.
Major Ely was a man of wealth, mostly invested in farms. One of these in 1777 he sold and used most of the proceeds in raising a regiment of which he was commissioned Colonel. To many of his men he furnished arms, uniforms and other supplies at his own expense. What little remained of the money he poured, one day, into the lap of his wife saying: “Here Sarah is all that is left of the Griswold farm.”
“It is the price of liberty,” she replied with an approving smile.
He marched his regiment to New London and was again appointed commandant of the Fort.
After the war, broken in health and fortune, Col. Ely applied to Congress for recompense for his services and for the money he had devoted to the great cause. As a result, long after his death, we have the following official report of his services from the Committee on Rev. Claims of the House of Representatives, January 23, 1833:
“Col. Ely, at the commencement of the Revolutionary War, was a physician of celebrity, residing at the town of Saybrook, Conn. In the early stages of the conflict he abandoned his profession and raised a regiment of regular troops and was commissioned as a colonel; and at the head of his regiment he entered into the service of his country. “On the 9th of Dec. 1777 he was captured by the enemy and became a prisoner of war, and was paroled at Flatbush, on Long Island, where were also prisoners several hundred American officers. Among these officers a distressing illness prevailed, and Col. Ely, from the humanity that belonged to his character, from the day of his captivity to the day of his exchange, faithfully and exclusively devoted his time to them as physician. In discharging this duty he encountered much hardship and expense as the residences of the sick officers were scattered over a considerable space of country, many of them being as much as twenty miles apart. Col. Ely, when unable because of bodily infirmity or the state of the weather, to perform his long tours on foot, hired a horse at an extravagant price and paid the cost out of his own private means. He was also compelled frequently to purchase medicine for the ill at his own cost.
“Soon after he became a prisoner his son Capt. Worthington Ely, in conjunction with other friends, fitted out at their own expense a vessel and manned her for the purpose of surprising and capturing a British force with which to effect the exchange of Col. Ely. The object of the expedition succeeded so far as regarded the surprise and capture of the enemy, and the prisoners were delivered to the proper authorities to be exchanged for Col. Ely. This, however, was not done by reason of the earnest entreaties of the ailing officers, who considered their lives as greatly depending on the continuance, and skill of Col. Ely. He was induced to forego his right to an exchange and consented to remain for the comfort and safety of his sick brother officers. It appears from a certificate of Samuel Huntington, president of Congress that still subsequent to the time when his exchange might have been effected, through the valor of his son and friends, and when he became entitled to an exchange by the regular rule, that a deputation of exchanged officers, who had been his fellow prisoners, was appointed to wait on Congress, by the sick officers who remain in captivity, and to urge the continuance of Col. Ely as their physician and surgeon. At the head of the deputation were Col. Matthews (since a member of Congress and Governor of Georgia) and Col. Ramsay of the Maryland line. Col. Ely was in consequence of this representation not exchanged, although entitled to an exchange. He remained and acted as physician and surgeon till the 25th of Dec. 1780, when he was released – a period of more than three years.”
When he was captured by the British, Col. Ely and his regiment were in a ship crossing the sound from Conn. to Long Island for an attack there with other Continental forces. As to his application for recompense, General Henry Knox, Secretary of War, made a highly favorable report. President Washington wrote the Colonel promising a successful outcome for his petition. The House adopted a bill to grant him $20,000.00. Ely was at Philadelphia at the time. Much pleased he wrote his daughter, Mrs. Samuel Goodrich, that in a few days he would be able to give her the marriage outfit which his poverty had hither to prevented him from doing. But the Colonel did not have in mind what U.S. Senator Oliver Ellsworth could do to his bill. Ellsworth much opposed to special money grants and decidedly a watch dog of the Treasury, successfully fought the Ely measure in the Senate. Col. Ely returned home full of grief and despondency. About forty years later his heirs presented a claim to Congress, which was at once recognized, but as most of the papers in the case had been lost only $5,000.00 was allowed.
After his release from Long Island he returned broken in health to Westbrook to find himself in debt, his house dilapidated, his wife prematurely aged from care and anxiety, and weeping over the desolation of herself and children. But courageously Dr. Ely resumed his practice. He arose early each morning, saved and chopped his wood, built fires, fed and milked the cows then went forth on his Professional rounds, among patients who like himself were impoverished. So poor had the once prosperous Ely’s become they had little other food than hasty pudding, or mush and milk, He cheered his wife by saying that the children of the poor were always the healthiest because of the simplicity of their diet. “The bones of our children,” he added, “shall be made of Indian meal, and they shall be as strong as Spartans.” He partly recovered from his difficulties, but his health again gave way because of over work.
Those who knew Col. Ely described him as tall, erect, and having a manner marked by dignity, ease, and winning grace. His features were regular and his somewhat prominent brown eyes were tender and friendly. His conversation abounded in wit and illustrative anecdote. He was the idol of his soldiers, family and friends because of the magnetism of his presence, his intelligence and courage. Prof. William Chauncey Fowler of Durham, Conn. who when a child sat on the Colonel’s knee added this to the foregoing characterization, “The witty sayings with which he sparkled, the abounding stories he told, the songs he sang are ‘whelmed in times neglect’.”
Among his friends he numbered Washington, Lafayette and Rochambeau. Mrs. Ely was able to speak in their native tongue to the French officers she entertained. Washington wrote the Colonel affectionate letters acknowledging his “incomparable services.” There was preserved this bid to dinner from General Benedict Arnold, before the latter betrayed his country: “General Arnold’s compliments wait on Col. Ely. He asks the favor of his company to dine with him at his house today at 2 o’clock.”
His name is seen sometimes in DAR/SAR Applications as John Pierce Ely. No other evidence for this seems to exist.
1. The Refugees of 1776 From Long Island to Conn. by Frederic Gregory Mather, 1913, reprint 1972
2. The Ely Ancestry, by Beach and Ely, 1902.
3. A paper by Mrs. M.E.D. Stuart about Col. Ely read at the 1878 Ely reunion contained in The History of the Ely Re-union held at Lyme, Conn., July 10th, 1878, 1879.
4. Colonial Days and Ways by Miss Helen Evertson Smith, 1901.
5. Mayflower Ancestry of Elizabeth Ely Goodrich, compiled by Inglis Stuart, 1932
6. Ancestors and Descendants of Henry Gregory, by Grant Gregory, 1938
7. The Descendants and Antecedents of Dr. Wayne Smith & Elizabeth Bell and Richard Alfred Bury & Elida Maud Morden, by Gregory Bell Smith, 2011.
8. John Ely’s gravestone in the Old Burying Ground, Westbrook, CT.
9. Historical Register of the Officers of the Continental Army, Heitman, 1914
10. Unpublished research by Gregory Bell Smith on the descendants on Col. John Ely.
Biographical information compiled by Gregory Bell Smith.