General Roscius Judson’s Most Excellent Speech

By Ted Como

General Roscius W. Judson was never a general though that’s what residents of Ogdensburg called him from about the end of the Civil War until his death May 25, 1894.
Born at Norfolk in 1810, Judson was one of the more prominent residents of the city, the oldest member of the St. Lawrence County Bar. But his highest military rank was that of colonel in the county’s 142nd Infantry, one of five regiments raised by Judson during the Civil War, the others being the 16th, 18th, 60th and 106th.
Judson was well known as a lawyer, historian and lecturer but best remembered for one thing: his remarks one evening at a meeting of the then village fathers in 1867, a speech reprinted numerous times over the years as one of the best, if not the best, ever delivered in Ogdensburg.
At issue was a water system to replace wells, rain barrels and water obtained from cartmen at 25 cents per barrel. A well-attended meeting was called to decide which river to pump water from. A committee had been formed including village President William J. Averell and four esteemed residents, Judge Amaziah B. James, attorney, state representative and justice of the state supreme court; Judge William C. Brown, attorney, first mayor of Ogdensburg and county judge; Dr. Benjamin F. Sherman and Dr. Robert Morris, prominent physicians. They had sent water samples of the Oswegatchie and St. Lawrence rivers to an eminent chemist in Boston.
The chemist reported in favor of the Oswegatchie, stating that while its water was slightly colored due to vegetable matter which could be easily removed by filtration, it was soft and pure. In contrast, he said that while the St. Lawrence water looked good, it was hard and contained much lime that would clog the pipes. And it was not as wholesome, or potable, as the Oswegatchie water.
In the audience at that meeting, the specific date of which is lost to history, was Judson, who supported using water from the St. Lawrence. When the committee voted for Oswegatchie water, he rose to address his fellow residents, as follows:
“When neighbors and fellow citizens of a small community such as ours gather together in mass meeting as we are here tonight, we are very apt to learn some things which we did not know before and this occasion has proved no exception to the rule. We have learned that the St. Lawrence river, the river that we have been taught to venerate from our youth, is played out, no good. Looks clean but it ain’t clean. Smells pure but it ain’t pure. Tastes good but it ain’t good. Judge James says so. Judge Brown says so. Dr. Sherman says so. Dr. Morris says so and gentlemen, it must be so.”
He then turned his back upon the audience and faced in the direction of the St. Lawrence, saying, “Flow on magnificent stream. Flow on down to the rapids that thousands of people come here to see. Flow on to Montreal and clog up their pipes. Who cares? You are played out, no good. Judge James says so. Judge Brown says so. Dr. Sherman says so. Dr. Morris says so and it must be so.
“Flow on to Quebec and poison all the Frenchmen there. Who cares? Flow on to the grand old gulf that bears thy name, that opens wide its arms to the commerce of the world, and poison all the codfish and mackerel there. Who cares? You are played out. Judge James says so. Judge Brown says so. Dr. Sherman says so. , Dr. Morris says so and it must be so.
“But thanks to the mercy of divine Providence we are not left without succor in this time of our dire necessity. We turn as the Mussulmen (Muslims) turn to Mecca, to the sparkling Oswegatchie. It looks dirty but it ain’t. It smells nasty but it ain’t nasty. It tastes filthy but it ain’t filthy. Judge James says so. Judge Brown says so. Dr. Morris says so. Dr. Sherman says so and it must be so.
“To be sure the Oswegatchie flows over the dead Injuns of Black Lake and washes the shores of yon cemetery where many of our beloved dead are buried. But if you object to drinking down the Injuns of Black Lake all you have got to do is to put a filter in your cellar and catch the Injun, and some morning you may go down into your cellar and find a great big buck Injun sitting on the top of the filter with a tomahawk in one hand and a scalping knife in the other.
“But never mind, it’s all right. Judge James says so. Judge Brown says so. Dr. Sherman says so and Dr. Morris says so and gentlemen, it must be so.”
In 1912, 18 years after his death, General Judson was proven right when the city converted to St. Lawrence River water due to waterborne disease, mud from spring floods and sawdust from lumber mills clogging the Oswegatchie intake.

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