Jacko, the monkey soldier at Fort Jefferson


GREENVILLE — On April 1*‘, 1845, Thomas Hinde wrote a long letter to his daughter, Martha Constable, about her grandparents. Martha had asked her father to do this for quite a while and he finally got around to it. Thomas told her stories of how he had met her mother and other tales he had heard about the grandparents’ life on the frontier. One of the stories was about a pet monkey/orangutan/baboon that Martha’s grandfather, Captain James Bradford, had during his service in two wars.

Capt. Bradford served in the American Revolution and kept a huge “Our-ang-atang,” as Hinde called it, or a large monkey, as a kind of servant, which was said to be “quite well-trained for service.” The monkey, named Jacko, would entertain spectators by attaching a chain end up in a tree and dangle and swing down. Jacko also entertained the troops by dancing jigs, performing these activities in a uniform, and after the Revolution was with Capt. Bradford at Fort Harmar in Marietta, Ohio, when Bradford reenlisted in the First American Artillery Regiment in the 1780’s. Bradford was later sent to Vincennes, Ind., where he married Martha’s grandmother. While stationed at Fort Knox for three years, the Bradfords had a baby boy, in whom Jacko took great interest and would “dawdle” over the child. Jacko would periodically check the child’s scalp for vermin, seemingly very elated with being able to carry out motherly duties. One day, Jacko carried the baby up on top of a building and after repeated coaxing, it was found that the only thing that would get Jacko to come down was a bowl of sugar, a delicacy on the frontier. The baby was safe, but Jacko received a harsh punishment and hopefully learned a lesson.

Jacko liked to watch the activities in camp. He was very interested in the soldiers who were sick and suffering in the garrison, and he watched the doctors administering medicines to the sick. The monkey slept in the kitchen in a fort where once a sick soldier’s bunk was placed to separate him from the others at night. The sick soldier suffered from an abscess in his lungs. One night, the cook had an unusually large dinner and was asleep in the corner making all kinds of various noises. Jacko found a vinegar cask with a faucet or spigot and was able to remove it and use as a type of syringe, forcefully injecting into the sleeping cook to “help” him as Jacko had seen done.

The cook woke up screaming and the sick soldier had a “violent fit of laughter” and discharged the matter from his lungs and “recovered and got quite well.” Jacko had cured a patient!

These events about Jacko as related in Hinde’s letter did not happen at Fort Jefferson, but earlier. Jacko, Bradford and his artillery company were with St. Clair’s Army in October of 1791, when Fort Jefferson was built. Jacko surely continued his antics when Bradford’s unit camped at present day Fort Jefferson as they helped construct Fort Jefferson. Jacko accompanied Bradford to the camp along Greenville Creek for a little less than a week before continuing to the disastrous defeat at Fort Recovery. The Native Americans singled out the officers and artillery during the battle. Capt. James Bradford was killed when a musket ball passed through him as described by another surviving officer who helped Bradford write his will. lt was presumed Jacko followed the retreating soldiers back to Fort Jefferson. Hinde wrote that since no one took care of Jacko during the retreat, he probably “perished from cold and hunger after a long service in the Revolutionary War and Indian War.”

This story was found in Thomas Hinde’s letters in the Draper Manuscripts at the University of Wisconsin. Can it be believed? After all, he wrote it 54 years later on April 15! Hinde was six-years-old when the events happened and was not with the army. He had only heard these stories. Through good research, a reference was found in a letter from John Hurt, the Chaplain of St. Clair’s Army, dated January 1, 1792, to close friend George Washington, President of the United States. Hurt is illustrating a point about some of the officers in the army and he refers to Captain James Bradford’s “Baboon.”

Hunt is a respectable source and wrote this less than two months after Bradford’s death. He was surely writing about Jacko!

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