by Ken Raymond
(reprinted from The Rindge Connection, Volume 5, Issue 2, February 2010)
It would be difficult to find a more fascinating character from local history than Ezekiel Jewett. He was born in Rindge on Oct. 16, 1791 into a family that had been among the earliest settlers of this town. The fourth child of Dr. Stephen and Nancy (Colburn) Jewett, he grew up on the property best known today as the Ware Farm on South Woodbound Road in West Rindge. He was educated in local schools in Rindge and Jaffrey, and when the time came for higher education, it was assumed that he would follow in the footsteps of his father as a physician. This apparently being outside his plans for the future, he did not pursue university studies. Being an active and enthusiastic officer in the local militia, the outbreak of war in 1812 presented an opportunity for Ezekiel to follow his dreams. He secured an appointment as an officer in the 11th U.S. Infantry.
The 11th U.S. Infantry served with distinction in the Niagara campaign and most famously in the battles of Chippawa, Lundy’s Lane and the Siege of Fort Erie. It was at the Battle of Chippawa on July 5, 1814 where the 11th U.S. Infantry, deployed in line with the 9th, the 22nd and the 25th along with a company of artillery under the command of General Winfield Scott, was recklessly attacked by the British under Major General Phineas Riall. Thinking the American troops to be merely militia, Riall expected his opposition to flee under direct attack. When the Americans stood firm under artillery fire and delivered volley after volley, Gen Riall made his famous exclamation “Those are regulars, by God!” The British learned a hard lesson that day as they were routed. Today’s 6th U.S. Infantry was formed by the consolidation of the 25th, the29th and the 37th and retains the motto “Regulars by God” from this battle. Legend has it that the cadets of the United States Military Academy at West Point wear grey parade uniforms in commemoration of the dress of Scott’s troops at Chippawa.
The Battle of Lundy’s Lane was soon to follow on July 25, 1814 in present-day Niagara Falls, Ontario. It was one of the bloodiest battles of the war. Though a technical victory for the British, they suffered heavy losses in this fight and were not able to pursue the American retreat to Fort Erie. Within a short period of days the siege of Fort Erie ensued. The Siege of Fort Erie was one of the most protracted engagements between British and American forces during the Niagara campaign where the Americans successfully defended Fort Erie against the British, who suffered very heavy casualties from a disastrous failed attempt to storm the fort. It was during this failed storming of the fort that Lieutenant Jewett was noted for a dashing act of valor in the repulse of the British. During his service, Lieutenant Jewett became acquainted with, and friends for life with, General Scott.
At the conclusion of hostilities of the War of 1812, Ezekiel Jewett’s thirst for adventure being apparently unquenched, he became a soldier of fortune. Chilean General Jose Miguel Carrera was in the U.S. recruiting officers to serve in their revolution against Spain. Considered one of the founders of independent Chile, Carrera was the most important leader of the Chilean War of Independence. Lieutenant Jewett joined General Carrera and accompanied him to Buenos Aries where he served several months as Major of the “Directors Guard,” then subsequently journeyed across the continent from Argentina to Chile including a daring and dangerous mid-winter crossing of the Andes. This group crossed the Andes, in a feat recognized by military historians as akin to Hanibal’s crossing the Alps, and defeated the Spanish in the Battle of Chacabuco on Feb. 12, 1817. Later in life Col. Jewett was quoted as saying that they were greeted by the inhabitants of a village at the foot of the mountains “with as much surprise as if they had descended from the sky.” This mountain crossing is over the roof of the Americas by Mt Aconcagua and Mt Mercedario, the highest peaks in the western hemisphere. After this he served with distinction as a commander of cavalry at the rank of Colonel until the successful conclusion of the war, resulting in Chilean emancipation from Spanish colonial rule. After the conclusion of the Chilean War Carrera was intercepted in Mendoza, Argentina and taken prisoner. After a show trial, he was hanged on Sept. 4, 1821, Col. Jewett named his third child and only son after his friend. John Joseph Louis Carrera Jewett was born July 29, 1826.
After visiting Rio de Janeiro and traveling into the interior of Brazil, Col Jewett returned to Rindge In 1818 and married to Elizabeth Arnold on June 10, 1819. She was the daughter of Capt. William Arnold of Westmoreland. She is described by Ezra Stearns in his History of Rindge as “A lady of many attractions and unusual loveliness of character, who was his cheerful companion in the journey of life for 44 years.” Col. Jewett remained in Rindge and resided at the family farm until 1823 when he and his wife moved to Sackets Harbor, New York, and three years later to Fort Niagara after accepting an appointment in the U.S. Army. Col. Jewett became the commander at Fort Niagara and continued in that capacity for 17 years.
In the same year that Col. Jewett became commander at Fort Niagara, he became embroiled in the greatest national scandal up to that time. Now known as the “Morgan Affair” the scandal involved the kidnapping, imprisonment and the likely murder of William Morgan. The Morgan Affair dominated the national press and spawned a huge backlash against secret societies, especially the Masons. William Morgan appears to have been a braggart and a drunkard, who claimed to have been an officer during the war of 1812, although no search of military records bears that out. He is known to have several failed business ventures in the Niagara region and during this time became a member of a local Masonic Lodges. He does not seem to have been popular with the local membership. When he was refused admittance as a member in a new area lodge he conspired with a local newspaper publisher to write a book exposing the secrets of the Masons. His threat to expose the Mason’s secrets led to trouble for Morgan when he was arrested, charged, imprisoned, fined, released and rearrested several times on minor charges. It was on the release of William Morgan after the third such minor offense that he was abducted from the jail never to be seen again.
In the court proceedings that followed, Col. Jewett was implicated and charged with conspiracy along with twelve others. It became known that William Morgan was held in the powder magazine at Fort Niagara after his abduction. Since Col. Jewett was the commander of the fort, his involvement was assumed. What happened next would be described today as a circus. Numerous witnesses refused to testify and suffered fines and imprisonment rather than divulge what had happened. In the end, all 13 of the alleged conspirators were acquitted. Only the actual abductors were ever tried and convicted in this case. Additional inquests and investigations followed with the attention of the New York state legislature and the governor, but nothing was ever proven. This provided fodder for much scrutiny and speculation by the national press, who rode this story into the ground. William Morgan disappeared without a trace and his fate remains a mystery to this day.
With the Morgan Affair behind him, Col. Jewett settled into a long term as commander of the peace time garrison on a friendly border. This position provided him with the time to pursue new interests, specifically the study of the local geology and the collection of fossils. This became a passion for Col. Jewett and his lasting legacy. During his time at Fort Niagara he hosted a summer school in geology where he became mentor to several young men that went on to become leaders in the new field of paleontology. These men included Yale paleontologist Othniel C. Marsh and Secretary of the Smithsonian Charles Doolittle Walcott. After his retirement from the military in 1843 he devoted his full attention to this field. He soon became Curator of the State Museum of New York, Albany, where he was a colleague to James Hall of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute fame who is considered a giant in early paleontology and geology. In 1868, Col. Jewett sold his personal fossil collection, considered at the time the largest private collection in America, to Ezra Cornell founder of Cornell University for the sum of ten thousand dollars, a small fortune at that time. This collection known as the “Jewett Collection” is still part of the Cornell University system and is housed today at the Paleontological Research Institution’s Museum of the Earth at Ithaca, New York. Col. Jewett devoted the rest of his life to this pursuit and is known to have traveled to every state, Mexico and Central America for the study and collection of paleontological interests. The remarkable Col. Jewett died at the age of 84 on May 18, 1876 in Santa Barbara, California.