Ridgefield notables: Sgt. Jacob Nash, murdered by Redcoats
Sgt. Jacob Nash was killed in 1779 while trying to defend Norwalk, the home of his ancestors and where some of his descendants later settled. He wasn’t just shot, he was stabbed to death — while his hands were tied. Though at least eight Ridgefield soldiers died during the war, Nash may be the only one confirmed to have been killed at a battle.
Relatively little is known about Nash, born here in 1751, a son of Abraham and Rhoda Keeler Nash, farmers who had come from Norwalk with the early settlers. He grew up here, married Freelove Keeler of Ridgefield in 1771 and a year later, they had a son, Jacob Jr. Freelove (the name projected the idea of freely giving the virtue of love) died in 1775, possibly in childbirth. Two years later, he married Phebe Kellogg of Norwalk.
After the war broke out, Jacob joined the Continental Army. By January 1776 he was a corporal.
In July 1779, he was on furlough, visiting his family in Ridgefield, when news arrived that General William Tryon and 2,600 British troops were attacking and burning coastal towns, including Norwalk. Nash joined a company of local militia, led by Capt. David Olmsted, and headed for Norwalk. There on July 11, he was fighting the invaders during the “Battle of the Rocks,” the largest of several engagements called the Battle of Norwalk, when he was captured and executed by the enemy.
General Samuel Parsons, who commanded Continental forces during the battle, told General George Washington that Nash “was found dead with his Hands bound together & pierced with Bayonets, no Shot having ever entered any Part of his Body.” Another account says his body had seven stab wounds.
Jacob Nash was 28 years old.
It is unclear why the British would have killed a captive that way, but deaths by bayonetting were reported during the war. A 13-year-old black soldier fighting at the Battle of Groton in 1781 died after being stabbed 33 times by British troops.
The Redcoats burned 80 houses, two churches, 87 barns, 17 shops, and four mills in Norwalk. Oddly enough, casualties were few; some accounts say Nash was the only American killed in the battle. Another report said he and one other died.
British casualties, however, were higher and, in a touch of irony 50 years after the war ended, Daniel Kellogg Nash, a grandson of Jacob Nash, was digging on his farm in the Flax Hill section of Norwalk when he uncovered the skeletons of three British soldiers. They had been killed in the same battle in which his grandfather had fought and died. —Jack Sanders