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.