My 4th great-grandfather was Henry Jordan (1755-1847). He came to the US from Germany, as a Hessian soldier paid by the British government during the Revolutionary War. The family story was that he was captured after the Battle of Trenton in December of 1776 and joined the American army. In 1836, Henry applied for a military pension, but was denied because there were no records found at that time documenting his military service. Records are now available online that list him as a private in General Casimir Pulaski’s Legion. Pulaski, a respected and experienced officer from Poland, drew many of his recruits from French and Hessian soldiers.
Because no service record was found at the time of his pension petition, the presiding judge had to rely on testimony from Henry himself, as well as character references from some prominent local citizens from his home of Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. His testimony included memories of his two years of Revolutionary War experiences, recalled about fifty years later. Starting from his enlistment in June 1777 at Easton, Pennsylvania, Henry recounts his movements through New Jersey and Pennsylvania, until his discharge in June of 1779 near Charleston, South Carolina.
Henry stated that his only battle experience was at a place called Egg Harbor. The details sounded interesting, including British navy ships, deserters, and a late night ambush resulting in the deaths of several officers. Some quick Google searching led to a notorious massacre called “The Affair at Little Egg Harbor”. Except for a few minor details, Henry’s account was quite accurate, even told fifty years later by a man in his 80s. What he failed to convey was the full loss of life, and the particularly savage nature of the British attack.
A British company commanded by Captain Patrick Ferguson was camped near Little Egg Harbor in New Jersey, for the purposes of routing out a local group of privateers who were preying on British supply ships. General Pulaski’s men were marched to a small island nearby. One night in October of 1778, a deserter from Pulaski’s Legion named Gustav Juliet reached the British encampment. He gave Ferguson the numbers and locations of the American troops, and told him that the morale of Pulaski’s soldiers was low, and they were set up with almost no security. Seizing on the opportunity, Ferguson led about 250 men in the middle of the night, across the water to Pulaski’s Legion. When he reached the American’s infantry outpost near the main camp, his force encircled and killed nearly 50 men. The attack was silent and swift, starting with bayonets instead of rifles. Ferguson himself later wrote that the legion was “almost entirely cut to pieces”.
When General Pulaski was alerted to the battle, he quickly mounted and led his troops from the main encampment to the infantry outpost. He was too late, finding Ferguson’s party gone and the area littered with the butchered bodies of his men. Our Henry told the pension hearing judge that the British
“…killed a colonel, a captain, and a lieutenant, French officers with the bayonets without firing, and took two men prisoner…”
Pulaski pursued the British with a group of rifleman and light cavalry. They were stopped at a creek, where the British troops had pulled up a plank bridge behind them, so that they could not be followed. The riflemen were able to do some damage by shooting on the retreating soldiers. Henry Jordan testified that
“…our army there pursued them, but when they crossed a bridge near the place, they took the plank up and we could not get over until they were out of our reach.”
Henry Jordan was a member of Pulaski’s company of riflemen, so he could well have been one of the men firing across the creek. Henry further stated that
“The same night a British soldier deserted to our army who told us it was our deserters who piloted the enemy to our camp”.
From his start as a Hessian mercenary named Heinrich Jordan, Henry married, raised a family, and became a well-respected citizen of his Pennsylvania town. He lived to the ripe old age of 92.
- The Affair at Egg Harbor New Jersey October 15 1778 by William S. Stryker, 1894
- Count Casimir Pulaski: From Poland to America, A Hero’s Fight for Liberty by AnnMarie Francis Kajencki, 2005
- National Museum of the American Revolution, The Affair at Egg Harbor by Joseph Wroblewski, Newsletter Volume 7 Issue 3, Autumn 2010
- Ancestry.com. American Revolutionary War Rejected Pensions [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA, 2000