This dwelling belonged to the Hon. Jonathan Odell, the inaugural Provincial Secretary, who was arguably the most distinguished of the Loyalist settlers.
Odell was born in 1737 in Newark, New Jersey, and passed away in 1818 in Fredericton. He was the son of John Odell and Temperance Odell (née Dickenson), the daughter of Reverend Jonathan Dickenson, the founder and first president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). John and Temperance had three daughters and one son, Jonathan.
Odell pursued his education at Princeton University with the intent of becoming a teacher and graduated in 1754. He furthered his studies in medicine at Princeton, earning an MA in medicine in 1759. Later, he joined the British Army as a surgeon in the West Indies. Upon completing his military service, Odell delved into theology and was ordained as a minister in the Church of England in 1766, assuming the role of rector of Burlington, New Jersey. His primary residences were in Newark, New Jersey; London, England; and Fredericton.
Odell chronicled New Brunswick from an outsider’s viewpoint, as he was not native to the region. He relocated to the province in 1784, the same year New Brunswick was established. His body of work can be segmented into three periods: the pre-revolutionary years (1759-1775), the conflict-ridden years (1776-1783), and the New Brunswick years (1785-1818).
Odell’s significance in New Brunswick’s literary scene stems from his Loyalist perspective. He was heavily influenced by Loyalist ideology and the English classical and satiric models of John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Charles Churchill. His dissatisfaction with the American government often drove him to pen poetry. He published three major verse satires in a New York newspaper during his literary career: “The Word of Congress” (1779), “The Congratulation, A Poem” (1779), and “The Feu de Joie, A Poem” (1779). All three pieces, written in heroic couplets, offer satirical critique of political figures and the government. Several of his Revolutionary War poems were published in Rivington’s New-York Gazette and the Royal Pennsylvania Gazette, which greatly expanded his readership. One of his most acclaimed works, The American Times (1780), was also published as a pamphlet in New York and London.
Though Odell’s work is no longer in print, his poetry can still be found in various anthologies and collections. A chronological catalog of Odell’s poems can be found in Jonathan Odell: An Annotated Chronology of Poems by Thomas Vincent (1980).
Odell is a central figure in both New Brunswick’s history and its literature. He was instrumental in the partition movement, which sought to support New Brunswick’s bid to become a province. His knowledge and expertise played a crucial role in the Committee on Trade and Plantations’ acceptance of the Loyalists’ partition pertaining to the establishment of New Brunswick. As one of the most educated Loyalists in the province, Odell became the first parliamentary secretary of the province, a role that granted him significant political influence. He used this power to steer the province in what he believed was the right direction. In 1790, when the province’s economy was heavily reliant on the inexpensive labor of African Americans seeking to leave the country, Odell, then a slave owner, used his administrative power to halt this mass departure.
Throughout his life, Odell held numerous distinguished positions, including Deputy Chaplain of the Royal Fuzileers, Chaplain to the First Battalion of Pennsylvania Loyalists, Superintendent of the Printing Presses and Periodical Publication, Secretary to the Corporation for the Relief of Widows and Orphans of Deceased Clergymen, Assistant Secretary to the Board of Associated Loyalists, Chaplain to the King’s Army, Assistant Secretary to Sir Guy Carleton, and Provincial Secretary to New Brunswick.
Although the present residence, at 808 Brunswick Street, was built in 1785, it was originally linked to a pre-Loyalist house that contained both the summer kitchen and quarters for Odell’s slaves. Unfortunately, this annex was torn down in 1959.
Most of the Loyalists settling the St. John River valley came from Massachusetts, and brought with them the same architectural styles and building processes that had graced their American communities for generations. Due to the harsh, rugged nature and lack of building materials, the houses built in the City in the 1780’s resembled more their cruder New England forerunners of 1700 to 1730.
The Odell house showcases simple shingle-clad wood framing, medium-pitched gable roofs, an absence of extravagant Classical-inspired decoration in favor of orderly simplicity, and slightly asymmetrical symmetry.
Some historians regard the Odell house as the most significant residence in Fredericton due to its influence on subsequent residential architecture in New Brunswick. The style was so prevalent that even four decades later, many houses were still being constructed nearly identical to Odell’s.
Roughly six years ago, when Dean Keith Joyce of Christ Church Cathedral and his family vacated the Deanery, Odell House was in rapid decline due to its age and nearly a year of vacancy. There was considerable concern about the building’s future, especially if it continued to be unoccupied.
Motivated by their faith, their love for historical buildings, and a desire to help, Carole and Michael Hines offered to reside in and maintain the building and garden until the house’s future was decided. Over the past six years, they have made numerous improvements to refresh and lighten the interior. The Bishop and Chapter mandated exterior repairs, including roof replacement and veranda and porch repairs, last summer. A close friend of Michael’s designed, made, and installed the Lychgate. The garden has also been reshaped and rejuvenated (building on previous hard work done by Nathan Cutler), hopefully to be enjoyed by all.Motivated by their faith, their love for historical buildings, and a desire to help, Carole and Michael Hines offered to reside in and maintain the building and garden until the house’s future was decided. Over the past six years, they have made numerous improvements to refresh and lighten the interior. The Bishop and Chapter mandated exterior repairs, including roof replacement and veranda and porch repairs, last summer. A close friend of Michael’s designed, made, and installed the Lychgate. The garden has also been reshaped and rejuvenated (building on previous hard work done by Nathan Cutler), hopefully to be enjoyed by all.
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