Freed slave and battle hero Jordan Freeman to be honored at Fort Griswold
Groton ― Every year, the Friends of Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park hold a ceremony on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of Groton Heights on Sept. 6, 1781.
Descendants read aloud the names of the defenders of Fort Griswold, and as their names are read, candles are extinguished in their memory.
This year, the Friends will honor a hero of the Battle of Groton Heights, Jordan Freeman, a freed slave who killed a British major during the battle but later was killed himself.
The Friends announced they will unveil and dedicate a marker in honor of Freeman at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 4 inside Fort Griswold before the commemoration of the anniversary of the Battle of Groton Heights.
“JORDAN FREEMAN, BLACK PATRIOT OF THE BATTLE WAS KILLED IN DEFENSE OF THIS FORT,” states the inscription on the stone marker. “THE PLAQUE BEFORE YOU DEPICTS FREEMAN, A FORMER SLAVE, USING A PIKE TO KILL BRITISH MAJOR MONTGOMERY DURING THE BATTLE.”
“Connecticut’s Battle of Groton Heights was the last one prior to the Battle of Yorktown, which led to the end of the Revolutionary War,” the Friends group wrote in a letter to The Day. “The commander of the militia was Lieutenant Colonel William Ledyard, who resisted the British forces during the battle on September 6, 1781.”
“The British finally took the fort, and Ledyard surrendered—but the British officer took Ledyard's sword and used it to kill him in the very act of his surrender, then led the British forces to slaughter the surrendering Americans,” the Friends wrote in a letter. “By his side was his freed servant, Jordan Freeman, who remained loyal to his former owner and vowed to fight alongside him. It was Jordan Freeman who speared and killed the leader of the attackers, Major (William) Montgomery, as he scaled the walls of the fort.”
Hali Keeler, president of the Friends of Fort Griswold Battlefield State Park, said an existing bronze plaque inside Fort Griswold, with the legend, “The Death of Major Montgomery while Leading the British Attack on the Fort at this Point. Sept 6, 1781,” depicts Freeman killing Montgomery with a pike.
Stories have been written about Freeman, including a book by Richard White based on his life, and Kevin Johnson of the Connecticut State Library has gone around the state re-enacting and representing Freeman’s life, including at the 240th anniversary of the Battle of Groton Heights, Keeler said.
According to the website of the Jordan Freeman Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Freeman was born in October 1732 to a man of color, named Oxford, and a biracial woman, named Temperance, who were in the house of Richard Lord, Jr. of Lyme. `
“In 1755, Jordan married Lilly, a servant to Mary Prentice of New London, and the couple remained in that area,” the site states. “In time, Jordan became a servant to John Ledyard and, subsequently, the body servant of Colonel William Ledyard.”
Colonel William Ledyard freed Freeman before the war, according to the DAR chapter.
Freeman’s name is nowhere to be seen on the existing plaque and Keeler said the Friends of Fort Griswold felt that was not fair.
“He’s a well-known figure and deserves to be recognized,” she said.
Keeler said to rectify the wrong, the Friends applied and received a $2,000 grant from the Society of the Cincinnati in Connecticut for the marker and arranged with Byles-MacDougall Funeral Service to engrave and install the marker.
“African Americans played an integral role in the fight for our country’s independence, including Crispus Attucks, killed in the Boston Massacre and for whom a monument was erected on Boston Common, and Peter Salem at the Battle of Bunker Hill, whose monument is in Framingham, Mass,” the Friends group wrote in the letter.
Elliott Bristol, chairman of the historical donations committee of the Society of the Cincinnati in Connecticut, said in grant application material that the society supports “meaningful commemoration of significant achievements/actions/sacrifices by Connecticut officers and soldiers in the conduct of the American Revolution.”
“The Connecticut Society was more than happy to be able to provide support to such a worthy and timely project,“ Bristol added.