Savannah's monument to a war hero
The celebrated Sergeant John William Jasper was a Revolutionary War hero. He served the country proudly and fought passionately for independence. As a young man, he set sail to the New World in search of a better life, little did he know, he would leave an indelible mark. After his untimely death, his legacy remained, forever ingrained in our minds as an essential part of American History.
Accounts of who John William Jasper was and how he came to America are conflicting. The most widely accepted story, however, is that he sailed to Philadelphia from Germany on the Minerva when he was 16 years old.
Upon Jasper’s arrival, he was given a bowl of soup and an Oath of Allegiance to sign. Since Jasper was illiterate, he signed the document with a simple "X." An unknown man standing next to him wrote John William Jasper - an interpretation of Johann Wilheim Gasper, his actual name - next to the mark, giving the young immigrant a new identity he went on to preserve for the rest of his life.
While it has been confirmed that he worked for years as an indentured servant in Pennsylvania, his life after he fulfilled the terms of his contract is also widely debated. According to one account, he moved to Georgia, bought some land, and married a woman from Pennsylvania named Elizabeth; others claim he moved to South Carolina, married a woman named Mary Wheatly, and had three children.
Although the details of his personal life are a bit unclear, we are confident that he joined the military soon after moving down south.
On June 28, 1776, Jasper was called to Sullivan's Island as part of the 2nd South Carolina Regiment to protect Charles Towne Harbor from the British Navy. Several days before the battle, Colonel William Moultrie - whom Jasper served under - ordered the construction of Fort Sullivan to help protect the harbor.
The soldiers scrambled to gather slaves from local plantations and hurriedly began to construct the fort using sand and palmetto logs. The Royal Navy arrived before the fort was finished, with the back completely open. With little ammo and plenty of vulnerability, the soldiers raised the Liberty Flag over the fort, and the fight began.
Sometime during the ten-hour conflict, the Liberty Flag, designed by William Moultrie, was shot down, landing in a ditch at the base of the fort. Upon realizing this, Sgt. Jasper ran out in the open to retrieve it. He returned with the flag in hand, climbed the parapet, and tied the flag to a cannon sponge. He held on tightly to the makeshift flagstaff, and he did not let go until another was installed.
Sgt. Jasper's act of heroism inspired the other soldiers to fight fearlessly until eventually, the British fleet retreated. That day, Charles Towne Harbor was victorious, and Fort Sullivan was renamed Fort Moultrie.
The story of Jasper's courageous actions spread, attracting the attention of South Carolina Governor Edward Rutledge. Sgt. Jasper met with the Governor, who gifted him a sword and offered him a promotion to Lieutenant, a development he immediately rejected stating an illiterate Lieutenant would be an embarrassment.
Colonel Moultrie offered Sgt. Jasper a "roving commission" after he turned down the role of Lieutenant. This role as rover involved Jasper and several others traveling the country, spying, and attacking enemy outposts. The position was an excellent fit for the young hero, and he soon proved to be a great asset to the team. His most notable achievement being when he and Sgt. John Newton overpowered a group of British soldiers who were holding Americans captive. The two men managed to free the Americans and capture the enemy soldiers.
The Second Battle of Savannah, also referred to as the Siege of Savannah, was an American Civil War conflict during the Revolutionary War that raged from September 16, 1779 to October 18, 1779.
The battle was a collective effort between French and American forces to take back Savannah, Georgia, a year after it was captured by the British. Their attempt to reclaim the city failed, and St. Jasper was fatally wounded on October 9, 1779, while he fastened his regiment flag.
According to Colonel Moultrie's account of the event, Sgt. Jasper did not let go of the flag even after he was shot, and he retreated to make sure the state's colors were safe before he died. Sgt. Jasper and the others killed that day were buried in an unmarked grave just outside city limits.
In 1888, the Sgt. William Jasper Monument was erected in honor of the late war hero. The large 15 ½ feet tall bronze monument is located in Savannah's historic Madison Square.
The statue, designed and sculpted by famed artist Alexander Doyle of New York, depicts Sgt. William Jasper in uniform; his right hand is gripping his sword while pressing tightly on his fresh gunshot wound. His left hand is raising the regiment flag he gave his life to protect; his hat is at his feet, covered in bullet holes.
The sculpture’s face evokes determination and a strong will, an expression the artist made sure was evident while admiring the work.
Below the statue, there is a multiple-tier pedestal containing three bas reliefs. These were the artist's interpretation of the Sergeant's life: the Fort Sullivan battle where Jasper first demonstrated his courage, the liberation of American prisoners, and capture of British soldiers in Savannah; and finally the campaign of 1779 where he was fatally wounded.
The Sergeant William Jasper Memorial Ceremony takes place every year in Savannah, Georgia, after the St. Patrick's Day Parade. The event honors the Revolutionary War hero, as well as the general military. After the parade, the group meets at the nearby Johnson Square in preparation for a march down Bull Street, ending in Madison Square. As part of the celebration, there is a wreath-laying at the monument.
You can find the Jasper Monument in Madison Square, which is located in the Historic District of Savannah at 332 Bull Street.