Jonathan Odell was born in 1737 in Newark, New Jersey, and died in 1818 in Fredericton, New Brunswick. His father was John Odell and his mother was Temperance (née Dickenson) Odell, the daughter of Reverend Jonathan Dickenson, who was the founder and the first president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) (Edelberg 2). John and Temperance had three daughters and one son, Jonathan (Edelberg 2).
Odell attended Princeton University, where he studied to become a teacher, graduating in 1754 (Edelberg 2). He then returned to Princeton to study medicine, and graduated with an MA in medicine in 1759, later signing on with the British Army as a surgeon in the West Indies (Benson & Toye 878). After his service with the British Army, Odell studied theology; he was ordained in the ministry of the Church of England in 1766 and became rector of Burlington, New Jersey (Story 597). Odell’s primary areas of residence were Newark, New Jersey; London, England; and Fredericton, New Brunswick (Toye 360-61).
Odell wrote about New Brunswick from the perspective of an observer, since he was not native to the area. He moved to the province in 1784, the year that New Brunswick became a province. His work can therefore be divided into three categories: the pre-revolutionary years (1759–1775), the years of conflict (1776–1783), and the New Brunswick years (1785–1818) (Gibbs 12).
Odell’s importance in New Brunswick literature stems from the fact that he was a Loyalist; he gave Loyalists a voice within this province. He was primarily influenced by Loyalist ideology and followed the English classical and satiric models of John Dryden, Alexander Pope, and Charles Churchill (“Jonathan Odell”). His criticism and contempt for the American government often motivated him to write poetry. During his literary career, Odell published three of his major verse satires in a New York newspaper: “The Word of Congress” (1779), “The Congratulation, a Poem” (1779), and “The Feu de Joie, a Poem” (1779) (Toye 360). All three poems contain satirical criticism of political figures and the government, and are written in heroic couplets (Toye 360). Many of his Revolutionary War poems appeared in Rivington’s New-York Gazette and the Royal Pennsylvania Gazette (“Jonathan Odell”). These poems were widely read, and the publication of his poems in the newspapers increased his following. One of Odell’s best-known works, The American Times (1780), was also published in New York and London as a pamphlet (Toye 360-61).
Another of Odell’s literary preoccupations is his admiration of Britain. He displays great regard for Britain’s strength and stability as a nation, which he writes about in his poem “Ode for the New Year”: “Shine Britannia, Rise and Shine! / To Bless Mankind the Task Be Thine!” (Odell 17-18). In this same poem, Odell is also unapologetically patriotic in the lines, “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves / And ruin all intruding slaves! (Odell 59-60).
However, politics was not Odell’s only influence and inspiration. He was also inspired by his wife, Anne De Cou of Burlington, whom he called Nancy. He writes about her with great affection in his poem “Our Thirty-Ninth Wedding Day,” which combines his passion for her with his satirical treatment of republicanism. Passionate is a fitting word to describe Odell, as it was passion that drove him to write about both politics and love. Other themes in his writing include death and grief, both of which appear in “To a Young Lady, on the Death of Her Father” and “To a Mother, on the Death of an Infant” (Gibbs 20-21). In the second of these poems, Odell writes, “Sad mourner, let my friendly verse / The balm of sympathy impart / Till calm reflection may disperse” (Odell 1-3). In these lines, Odell deals not only with death and grief, but also overcoming grief.
Odell’s work is no longer in print; however, his poems can still be found in anthologies and collections, such as The Loyalist Poetry of the Revolution (1857), The Loyal Verses of Joseph Stansbury and Doctor Jonathan Odell; Relating to the American Revolution (1860), The Book of Canadian Poetry: A Critical and Historical Anthology (1949), Narrative Verse Satire in Maritime Canada (1978), Political Satire in The American Revolution (1960), The Literary History of the American Revolution (1897), and The New Brunswick Poems of Jonathan Odell: A Selection (1982). A chronological listing of Odell’s poems can also be found in Jonathan Odell: An Annotated Chronology of Poems by Thomas Vincent (1980).
Odell is an important figure in New Brunswick history as well as New Brunswick literature. He worked for the partition movement, which was formed in order to aid New Brunswick’s efforts in becoming a province. With his help and expertise, the Committee on Trade and Plantations accepted the Loyalists’ partition concerning the establishment of New Brunswick (Edelberg 151-52). Furthermore, Odell was one of the best-educated Loyalists in the province: this led him to become the province’s first parliamentary secretary, which gave him great political influence (Edelberg 154). Odell used his political influence for what he thought to be the betterment of the province. In 1790, the province faced a crisis as its economy depended greatly on the cheap labour of African Americans who were trying to leave the country. Odell, who was a slave owner at the time, used his administrative authority to block this exodus (Edelberg 156).
Odell held many prestigious titles throughout his lifetime, such as Deputy Chaplin 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 (Edelberg 201-02).
Janice Innes, Winter 2008
St. Thomas University
Bibliography of Primary Sources
Granger, B.I., ed. Political Satire in the American Revolution, 1763–1783. Ithaca, NY: Cornell U, 1960.
Odell, Jonathan. An Essay on the Elements, Accents, and Prosody of the English Language: Intended to Have Been Printed as an Introduction to Mr. Boucher's Supplement to Johnson's Dictionary. London: n.p, 1805.
---. Jonathan Odell: An Annotated Chronology of the Poems, 1759–1818. Ed. Thomas B. Vincent. Kingston, ON: Loyal Colonies Press, 1980.
---. The New Brunswick Poems of Jonathan Odell. Ed. Robert Gibbs. Kingston: Loyal Colonies Press, 1982.
---. On Spring. Early American Imprints. Philadelphia: n.p., 1788.
Sargent, Winthrop, ed. The Loyalist Poetry of the Revolution. Philadelphia: n.p. 1857.
Smith, A.J.M., ed. The Book of Canadian Poetry: A Critical and Historical Anthology. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1943.
Stansbury, Joseph, and Jonathan Odell. The Loyal Verses of Joseph Stansbury and Doctor Jonathan Odell. Ed. Winthrop Sargent. Munsell's Historical Ser. 6. Albany, NY: J. Munsell, 1860.
Tyler, M.C., ed. The Literary History of the American Revolution, 1763–1783. New York: G. Putnam's Sons, 1897.
Vincent, Thomas, ed. Narrative Verse Satire in Maritime Canada, 1779–1814. Tecumseh Working Texts Series. Ottawa: Tecumseh Press, 1978.
Bibliography of Secondary Sources
Bailey, Alfred G. “Odell, Jonathan.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Vol. 5. Toronto, ON: U of Toronto P, 1983. Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online. 2003. U of Toronto/U Laval. 26 June 2020
Benson, Eugene and William Toye, eds. The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature. 2nd ed. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1997.
Edelberg, Cynthia. Jonathan Odell: Loyalist Poet of the American Revolution. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1987.
Marsh, James, ed. The Canadian Encyclopaedia. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Inc., 1999.
Story, Norah, ed. The Oxford Companion to Canadian History and Literature. Toronto: Oxford UP, 1967.
Toye, William, ed. The Concise Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature. Toronto: Oxford UP, 2001.