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Edward Jordan was born into a small farming family in Carlow in 1771. At the age of 16 his father died and he inherited the farm. Jordan also became a deputy receiver of rents for a local landlord, but he moonlighted as an organiser for the United Irishmen association. Eventually, his activities with rebels in Carlow saw him arrested, but eight days into his imprisonment he scaled the wall of the jail and went on the run. While hiding nearby on the border with Wexford, word got through to Jordan that the red coats had burned down his farmhouse with his mother inside it. Instead of heading back to what was left of his home in Carlow, Jordan instead set out for New Ross where he joined up with the United Irishmen.
The year was 1798 and revolution was in the air. Jordan’s deeds during the failed United Irishmen rebellion of 1798 are rather sketchy and by some accounts when he was arrested in the aftermath of the revolt, he turned informer and was granted a royal pardon. Not long after that, he married Margaret Croke and the couple lived in Wexford for a brief time before venturing across the broad Atlantic for a fresh start in the new world.
Jordan and his wife first landed in New York before going north to Montreal and then Nova Scotia where the one time farmer and rebel decided to try his hand at fishing.
For a short time, Jordan’s life seemed to have settled into a comfortable state. The waters around Nova Scotia and Newfoundland produced a wealth of fish. This in turn made Jordan’s occupation a decent one to raise a family on. Margaret had given birth to three daughters and a son but, hard times were just around the corner for the Carlow couple.
Jordan decided to build a large schooner to avail of the large fertile fishing grounds of Canada. While constructing his schooner, which he would name ‘Three Daughters’ after his own brood, Jordan amassed a pile of debt which forced him to mortgage the schooner to J&J Tremaine Merchants who he traded with in Halifax. It was 1809, Jordan had been in Canada for just six years and he was now facing financial ruin.
The beginning of the end for Jordan occurred on the day he went to Halifax for supplies and was arrested there for non payment. When he was bailed out, J&J Tremaine demanded he pay up for all the debts he owed them or forfeit the schooner he had laboured on. Of course Jordan’s rebellious streak shone through and he refused to hand over ‘Three Daughters.’
On September 13th 1809, the merchants of Halifax hired Captain John Stairs and three crew men to seize Jordan’s schooner. He agreed to hand over the schooner if he and his family could sail it, one last time, from Gaspe to Halifax where he informed Captain Stairs that he and his family would relocate for a new life. Captain Stairs agreed to this settlement, but little did he know what Jordan had in mind.
One of the captain’s crew was a young Irishman by the name of John Kelly and Jordan had befriended him with a plan to get him on his side to overthrow Captain Stairs and retake the schooner. Three days into to the voyage to Halifax, Jordan put his plan into motion. It was a simple one really – use extreme violence to get what he wanted.
While Captain Stairs and his two crew men, Tom Heath and Ben Matthews, were busy up on deck, below it Jordan, his wife and Kelly took the pistols from the captain’s trunk. Jordan struck first, aiming to shoot Captain Stairs in his face, the bullet grazed his cheek and passed through the chest of Tom Heath killing him outright. Jordan then shot Ben Matthews as Kelly took the wheel of the vessel and Margaret attacked Captain Stairs with a boat hook. The injured captain knew the only escape was overboard and he duly flung himself into the freezing waters off Nova Scotia. Thinking that Captain Stairs would succumb to the deathly icy water, Jordan instructed Kelly to sail ‘Three Daughters’ to Newfoundland where he hoped to gather a crew and sail back across the Atlantic to Ireland.
Captain Stairs was picked up by a passing boat, still alive. He recovered from his ordeal and raised the alarm. The governor of Nova Scotia put up a £100 reward for the capture of the ‘pirates’ Jordan, his wife and Kelly.
The so-called pirates found their way to a few inlet towns around Newfoundland but tensions grew between Jordan and Kelly. After a heavy drinking session the two came to blows when Jordan accused Kelly of eyeing up his wife. The scuffle in a tavern resulted in Kelly absconding with little more than a black eye. He knew if he stuck around, he would get much worse. Kelly was arrested some weeks later, but was pardoned and never seen of again.
Jordan had gathered a rag tag bunch of seamen to sail with him across the Atlantic and he found a fellow Irishmen, Patrick Power, to pilot his schooner on the long journey. On the day of departure the Royal Navy schooner HMS Cuttle sailed hot on the heels of Jordan’s vessel. Power who was at the wheel saw the approaching Navy and much to Jordan’s annoyance he failed to steer ‘Three Daughters’ from their reach. Armed naval men boarded Jordan’s vessel and promptly arrested him. Jordan replied to the arresting officer, “The lord have mercy on me! What will my poor children do!?”
Jordan had been labeled a pirate and in the press the 38 year old was described as a man with “an unlined face, jet black hair, dark brown eyes and strong white teeth”, not your average grossly looking pirate but rather a swashbuckling matinee idol.
The so-called pirate was brought to trial to answer for his sea faring criminality, but his only defence was that he had taken a vessel which was his own. Margaret also stood trial and even though she also took part in the attack on Captain Stairs, she claimed she was doing so under duress as she had suffered years of abuse at the hands of her husband. The court believed Margaret’s story even though Captain Stairs hotly disputed it. Margaret was granted a pardon because she “acted out of fear of her husband” and after the trial local residents raised money for the destitute Mrs Jordan and her four children to pay for a passage for them back to Ireland.
As for Margaret’s husband, the dark haired pirate with white teeth, well he was found guilty and sent to the gallows on a beach near Freshwater Bridge in Halifax on November 23rd 1809. After a swift hanging, Edward Jordan’s body was then laced with tar and hung in an iron cage on Black Rock beach at Point Pleasant for nearly three decades. When it finally deteriorated, what was left of the body was taken down and Jordan’s skull was given to the Nova Scotia museum in 1844. Today the gruesome artifact still draws visitors who morbidly want to see the skull of the first man convicted of privacy in Canada – Carlow’s Edward Jordan.