(For an update of the following article, please see “Jordan Family Roots Revisited,” posted August 31, 2021)
The Jordan family of Halifax County, Virginia, is related to the Thomas Jordan who arrived in Virginia from southwest England in 1620 or 1623. The genetic evidence certainly proves this, but a clear line of descent has not been traced. This is because of the paucity of family records and the destruction of much perhaps pertinent genealogical data during the American Civil War.
As for the family’s English forebearers, considerable information is available on an extended Jordan family in Devon, Dorset, and Wiltshire, contiguous counties in the southwest of England, in the late 1500s and early 1600s. The roots of this family are not known with certainty, but there have been a number of unverified accounts of this family’s beginnings. The historical accuracy of these stories is, to put it charitably, extremely doubtful, but several of the accounts do agree on the family’s Norman origins, involvement of an ancestor in a crusade, and the reason for the family motto Percussa Resurgo. There are other Jordan families in Britain and throughout western Europe. The surname became popular when families began assuming surnames in the late Middle Ages. Our connection is to the Jordan family residing in southwest England during the late 1500s. (Please check out the post entitled “DNA and the Jordan Family” published in January 2021.)
According to one account, this Jordan family ancestor was a French Norman knight named de Courcy who arrived in England with the army of William the Conqueror. One of this man’s descendants was William de Courcy, and it was Lord William’s second son who was standard bearer to Richard the Lion Hearted during the Third Crusade. De Courcy distinguished himself in a major battle against the Saracens. Two or three times he was struck down or unhorsed, but each time he recovered, always protecting the king’s standard. As a mark of the king’s favor he was knighted as Sir William de Jordan with the motto Percussa Resurgo (When struck down, I rise again).
Another version of this Jordan family’s early history is related in the book These Jordans Were Here by Octavia Jordan Perry. Per this author, an ancestor of the Jordans named Deandon (pos. variant of Deardon or d’Andon or d’Ardon) came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066 and settled in Devon. More than a century later a William Deandon went to Palestine with the Richard the Lion Hearted and the Crusaders, performed the previously described heroics, and upon his return to England he was knighted as Sir William de Jordan. Perry goes on to write that during the reign of James I part of the large family of Ignatius Jordan, a descendent of Sir William, migrated to the New World. Other Jordans went to Ireland, and some remained in England.
Another writer noted that the Jordans of Wiltshire, England, used a coat-of-arms with the motto Percussa Resurgo and suggested that the Jordans in Virginia may have been descended from the Wiltshire Jordans.
To the best of my knowledge, none of these family stories has been verified from original sources.
Silvester Jourdain (Jourdan) was a son of William Jourdain (Jourdan) of Lyme Regis, Dorsetshire. Silvester accompanied Sir George Summers and Sir Thomas Gates, deputy governors of Virginia, on their trip to that colony in 1609-1610, and he experienced a shipwreck on Bermuda, (Samuel Jordan was on the same ship and the two are sometimes confused by researchers. It is probable that Silvester and Samuel were cousins). On his return to England, Silvester wrote “A Discovery of the Barmudas, otherwise called the Ile of Divils”. It is believed that Shakespeare used this and other shipwreck survivor accounts as background for “The Tempest”.
Ignatius Jourdain (Jourdan), Silvester’s brother, became a prosperous merchant in Exeter, Devon County, and served as mayor of that city as well as a Member of Parliament. One English source states that part of the large family of Ignatius Jourdain migrated to America.
John Jourdain (Jourdan) (1564-1620), Silvester’s and Ignatius’ cousin, was a captain in the service of the East India Company.
The Samuel Jordan who arrived in Jamestown in 1610 is also believed to be a cousin of Silvester and Ignatius. Samuel Jordan was the first Jordan to settle in English America. Some reports (no source given) say that Samuel was born in Lyme Regis, Dorset County, England, and his birth year is given as 1575 or 1578. Other reports suggest that he was born in Wiltshire, an adjoining county. His surname was occasionally rendered as Jourdan, and he was also referred to in some early accounts as Captain Jordan or Jourdan. Interestingly, most Virginia Jordans pronounce their name as Jerdan (possibly derived from the English pronunciation of the surname Jourdan).
Some accounts say that Samuel Jordan married around 1595, and his wife’s first name is believed to have been Frances. The couple had a daughter, Anne Marie, and four sons, Robert, Daniel, Thomas I, and Samuel ii. Samuel’s wife died around 1608, and the widower arranged to leave his young children with relatives before setting sail for the New World (This information about Samuel, his first wife, and his children has been reported by several researchers, but we have not located a primary source which would verify its accuracy). We do believe that Samuel was on the ship Sea Venture that shipwrecked off Bermuda in July 1609.
Wreck of the Sea Venture
The survivors constructed two ships, and eventually they continued to Jamestown, arriving in May 1610. Within a few years, Samuel established a plantation at a place that he called “Jordan’s Journey”, located on the south side of the James River more than thirty miles upstream from Jamestown (near the present town of Hopewell and at a point where the Benjamin Harrison Memorial Bridge now crosses the river). The early settlers were dependent on water transport, and they settled up and down the banks of the James River much as an ancient Greek writer described his fellow countrymen settling around the Aegean, “like frogs around a pond.”
Samuel represented Charles City at the first representative legislative assembly that convened at Jamestown, July 30, 1619. The assembly consisted of two elected representatives from each of the eleven boroughs in the colony. Samuel was also a member of a committee appointed to review the “Greate Charter” of Virginia.
In 1620, Samuel married a widow named Cicely Baley, and they subsequently had two daughters, Mary and Margaret.
In 1622, the local Indian tribes organized a surprise attack on the English colonists, and many men, women, and children were killed. After the attack, Samuel gathered together a few of the survivors at Beggar’s Bush, the name of the plantation house at Jordan’s Journey. He fortified the place and lived there, despite the enemy, with the approval of Governor Francis Wyatt. At the time of a survey in 1623, Beggar’s Bush housed 42 people, including some neighboring families who had gone there for protection. In early 1623 Samuel was still established in his plantation. Samuel died at Jordan’s Journey sometime before April 1623, and an inventory of his estate included Cicely and her two young daughters, two plantations, five houses, two boats, ten servants, and several coats of chain mail (all this information can be verified from records of the Virginia Company).
Various researchers have reported that three adult sons from Samuel’s first marriage, Thomas i, Robert, and Samuel ii, came to Virginia around 1620. (This information on Samuel and his sons has not been confirmed from primary sources, but it does appear that these men were probably related and came to America from the same area of southwest England.) Thomas i (c1600-1644) arrived at Jamestown in 1620 or 1623 and settled in Isle of Wight County. Robert reportedly died on March 22, 1622, during the Indian massacre. He was killed at Berkley’s Hundred, some five miles up the James river from Jordan’s Journey, when he went there to warn the inhabitants of the planned Indian attack. (Although records of the Virginia Company verify that a Robert Jordan died during the attack, the details concerning his death, though reported by several Jordan researchers, cannot be proved from primary sources). Per some accounts, Samuel ii, said to be the youngest son, was also killed in the Jamestown massacre, but another source disputes this and says that he moved west to Lunenburg County where his trail was lost.
Historical Marker Erected on Jordan’s Point
There are many original sources of information on Samuel Jordan i. His name also appears on a plaque in Jamestown as a member of the first House of Burgesses (1618).
Family traditions and local histories have long identified Samuel Jordan and Thomas 1 as ancestors of the Jordan family that eventually settled in Halifax County, Virginia.. Despite their best efforts, however, researchers have been unable to establish a provable line of descent from Samuel or Thomas to Robert Jordan, born 1755, the earliest Jordan that we can with certitude identify as a forebearer. This was the situation that prevailed at the time of our family reunion in Manteo, North Carolina, in 2007. Since then, however, my son Stuart Jordan (b. 1956) subjected himself to DNA tests that prove a familial relationship between him and Thomas Jordan ii of Chuckatuck (1634-1699), son of Thomas 1 and a presumed grandson of Samuel Jordan of Jamestown (d. 1623). We still cannot prove direct descent from Samuel or Thomas, but DNA shows that we are members of the same extended family. Based on further research, Stuart now believes that one of our direct ancestors is a cousin of Thomas who emigrated to America some years following the Jamestown settlement, and whose family eventually established itself in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula. Robert Jordan, a descendant of this branch of the Jordan family, moved west to Halifax County in 1778.
Robert Jordan, Sr.
Robert Jordan, Sr. (b. 1755) is the earliest Jordan from whom we can establish a direct and provable line of descent.
Soon after the start of the American Revolution, Robert Jordan left his home in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula and eventually made his way west to the southside Virginia county of Halifax. Almost 20 years later, Robert’s presumed younger brother Henry also moved to Halifax County and settled nearby. The closest village to them of any size was then known as Black Walnut. Henry had enlisted in the Continental Army from Gloucester County and later resided in King and Queen County before joining Robert in Halifax County. It appears probable, therefore, that Robert Jordan Sr. was born in the Middle Peninsula of Virginia, and Robert and Henry may have been sons of the William Jordan who resided in King and Queen County in 1780-82.
Henry moved to Halifax County in 1797 and bought 120 acres of land on Stokes Creek. He later sold this property to his brother and a nephew, and in 1807 Henry and his family moved to Tennessee.
Robert Jordan, Sr. married Elizabeth Church, daughter of Richard Church of Amelia County, Virginia, in 1778. Robert and Elizabeth had eleven children, eight boys and three girls, Mary, William, Robert, Elizabeth, Martha, Richard, Samuel, Henry, Elam, John, and Elijah. Elijah, my great-grandfather, was their last child.
According to probate and tax records, Robert and Elizabeth arrived in Halifax County, Virginia, before January 1779 and apparently settled in the easternmost section of the county just north of the Bannister River. By 1791, however, Robert and his family had relocated to the region near present day South Boston, having purchased 300 acres of land on Halfway Creek. Remaining in the south-central region of Halifax County the rest of his life, Robert became a well-to-do planter. For the years 1796-98 he was also the Commonwealth appointed inspector for Dunkirk Warehouse on the Dan River.
Robert Jordan Sr. died in 1816.
Elijah was the youngest of the eight known sons of Robert Jordan, Sr. and Elizabeth Church of Halifax County, Virginia. Elijah married Martha Jane Faulkner in 1825, and they continued to make their home in Halifax County. Elijah appears to have been a fairly prosperous farmer. There were at least eight children: Robert, John, Joseph, William, Clement, Lucy, Samuel, and Martha. All six of Elijah and Martha’s sons saw service in the Confederate Army.
Robert E. Jordan, eldest son of Elijah and Martha, along with three of his brothers, served in the Black Walnut Dragoons (Company C) of the Third Virginia Cavalry Regiment. John M., Joseph E., and William I. Jordan were Robert’s brothers in the Black Walnut Dragoons. John M. Jordan was an officer and in command of the company for most of the final year of the war. He was wounded at Yellow Tavern. Joseph E. Jordan was wounded at Athens Station and was for a time a prisoner in Elmira (NY). William I. Jordan was wounded in the attack on Wilson’s Wharf (Fort Kennon).
Elijah’s youngest sons, Clement and Samuel, both served in Company B (the Danville Grays), 18th Virginia Infantry Regiment. Clement was wounded at least twice during the war and Samuel was captured at Sayler’s Creek a few days before Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Somehow, all six brothers survived the war. This fact is amazing considering their length of active service and the terrible death rates in the Confederate Army. For example, five sons of Henry Jordan, Jr. of Tennessee, cousins of the Halifax County Jordans, were old enough to for military service, and three died during the war. Two of the four adult sons of Dr. Clement Hopson Jordan, cousins from North Carolina, also died during the conflict. The Jordan boys of Halifax County, four of whom suffered war wounds, certainly lived up to the family motto Percussa Resurgo (When Struck Down I Rise Again).
In June 1864, Elijah, along with 641 other citizens from nearby communities, helped the 53rd Virginia Infantry successfully defend the Staunton River Bridge against attacks by superior Federal forces. Elijah was 60 years old at the time of this battle, and his name, along with the names of his five sons who were also buried at this place, is inscribed with those of other Confederate veterans on a memorial erected in the Oak Ridge Cemetery, South Boston, Virginia. Another son, Joseph, moved to North Carolina and was buried there following his death in 1909.
After the war, Elijah’s son Robert, became a prominent banker. Along with his brother, William, he established the first bank to be located in South Boston, Virginia.
Elijah died in 1885, in the sixtieth year of his marriage to Martha. Martha died the following year.
Clement Hopkins Jordan
Clement Hopkins Jordan was the fifth son of Elijah Jordan and Martha Faulkner of Halifax County, Virginia. Clement enlisted in the 18th Virginia Infantry Regiment on April 23, 1861. He fought at First Manassas and in the Peninsular Campaign. He contracted typhoid fever in July 1862 and was hospitalized at Chimborazo Hospital in Richmond, but he rejoined his regiment later that year. His regiment was in Garnett’s Brigade, Pickett’s Division, at Gettysburg, and he was wounded in the famous charge on July 3, 1863. Clement was back with his regiment by December 1863. He was promoted to Corporal on April 8, 1864. The last record of Clement with the 18th Regiment was on March 31, 1865. Clement suffered his second major wound in the fighting at Hatcher’s Run (more commonly known as the Battle of White Oak Road) on that date. The day after Clement was wounded the Confederate line was breached at Five Forks, and the retreat to Appomattox began. Clement was evidently evacuated with other Confederate wounded on April 1st or 2nd, possibly on the same train that took Jefferson Davis west to Danville. Clement’s younger brother Samuel (17 or 18 years old at the time) had recently joined the 18th Virginia and was captured at Sayler’s Creek a few days later. Clement’s daughter, my Aunt Elsie, told me that after the war Clement was unable to fully extend one of his arms because of his war wounds.
Clement married Loula Slate, daughter of Saunders (Sandy) Slate, of Danville, VA, in 1869. According to his granddaughter Elsie, Saunders Slate was one time High Sheriff of Danville, Virginia. Clement and Loula’s children were Helena, Saunders (Robert Saunders), Lula, Martha Lee, and Elsie.
Clement died in 1909 from pancreatitis. Loula lived until 1932.
Robert Saunders Jordan, Sr.
Saunders Jordan circa 1895
Saunders was baptized as Robert Saunders Jordan in Halifax County, Virginia, in 1873. He was called Sandy as a young boy (after his maternal grandfather Saunders Slate), and as a young man he began signing his name Saunders (or Sandy) Robert Jordan instead of Robert Saunders. The change in name, though never legalized, stuck.
When he was in his late teens or early twenties, Saunders worked as a telegraph operator for the Southern Railroad. Eventually he put enough money aside to attend medical school in Richmond, Virginia, and while there he made grades that some say have never been surpassed at that school – at least for many years thereafter.
After graduation from medical school in 1899, Saunders practiced medicine for a while in Orange County, Virginia. It was during that time he met a young lady, Sallie Morgan (Sarah) Poindexter of Mississippi, who was attending school in Arlington, Virginia. Saunders and Sarah were married in 1902. Following his marriage, Saunders practiced medicine in Mississippi, lived for a time in Texas, and eventually came back to Virginia.
Medical practice was very different in the early 1900s as compared to today. Saunders was a country doctor (a general practitioner), and he did almost anything that was required – appendectomies, amputations, deliveries, etc. etc. In those early days he usually traveled in a one-horse carriage – occasionally by horseback. Hospitals were scarce and hard to get to. Typhoid fever, diphtheria, and pneumonia were big killers, and antibiotics were forty years into the future. I once asked my father what he thought of as his most difficult operation. He told of removing a man’s gangrenous leg (gunshot wound) in a remote cabin. Another physician was assisting. The anesthetic was chloroform. The antiseptic was iodine. The patient recovered.
Saunders and Sarah had three children: Clement Hopkins, Robert Saunders, Jr., and Sallie Morgan. They were living in Virgilina, Virginia, in 1917, and Saunders volunteered for service that year with the United States Medical Corps. He was 46 at the time. Saunders did not see service overseas. Instead, his greatest challenge was fighting the great influenza epidemic of 1918-9. Some months after the end of World War I he returned to Virgilina and his family.
Saunders Jordan, MD circa 1925
Saunders was a Virgilina councilman for several terms and was mayor from 1919-21. After the death of Sarah in 1926, he moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. There he met and married Annie Belle Rives Fields, widow of Branch Tucker Fields, MD. I, Edwin Saunders (Sandy) Jordan, was the only child of this marriage.
In 1928-9, Dr. & Mrs. Saunders Jordan built a home in Pleasant Garden, a small village a few miles south of Greensboro, and he served the medical needs of that community for the next ten years. Around 1934, Saunders suffered an attack of appendicitis. Unfortunately, the surgeon delayed the operation, and the appendix ruptured. The resulting peritonitis threatened his life, and this incident adversely affected his health for the remainder of his years.
In 1938, the Jordan family moved to Carolina Beach, North Carolina. Saunders lived and practiced medicine there until a few years before his death in 1958.
Saunders was a devoted husband and loving father. He was a lover of children, books, and gardening.
Reflections: My father was 56 years old when I was born, thus he was of an age to have been my grandfather. I had great love and respect for him. Indeed, as a young boy I held him in absolute awe. Even so, I had nothing but love and kindness from him all his days.
Dad was an impressive man in many ways. He was not tall – probably only 5’9” or 5’10”, but he was big chested and had great upper body strength. I remember going out with him on house calls sometimes when we lived in Pleasant Garden. Physician house calls weren’t uncommon in those days. I would usually sit in the living room of the patient’s home while my father attended the person who was ill. In some of those old farmhouses they had rifles or muskets and powder horns hanging over the fireplace that looked as though Daniel Boone might have used them. Maybe he did. Daniel spent some of his early years in that part of the country.
Dad loved good food. My childhood was during the Depression years, and often patients could not afford to pay in cash (even though the fee for an office visit was only $3). Quite frequently, a house or office call would result in a ham hanging on our back porch or a couple of fresh chickens in the pot. We always ate well even in the hardest times.
Our home in Pleasant Garden was a busy one. There were four Fields children. My sister Florence was thirteen when I was born; Roberta was ten, and my brother Harold eight. Branch was almost fifteen, and he spent much of his time with his cousins in Greensboro where he continued to attend high school. Branch was very much into high school football, and the Pleasant Garden School was too small to field a team. My sister Sallie Jordan was sixteen, and she split her time between Pleasant Garden and Mississippi where her late mother’s people lived. Robert Jordan was twenty-three and worked in High Point. He was a frequent visitor. Clement Jordan was twenty-six. He lived and worked in Norfolk, Virginia, and I did not see him and his family until I was six years old. His oldest daughter, my niece Sara Katherine, is three months older than me.
I think we had a very happy household. Of course, there was some friction, as might be expected when you blend two families, but there was loads of love and good will. As the baby of the family I was petted and pampered to excess, but somehow, I survived it.
In 1938, we moved to Carolina Beach. It took me a long time to adjust to the change, and for years I hoped that we would someday return to Pleasant Garden. I look back at that old country village through a nostalgic mist that smooths all the rough edges. But, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again.”
My father voted for Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, but in 1933 there were the government mandated bank closings (so-called bank holidays) that cost Dad most of his savings. I don’t believe that he ever forgave FDR for that. He was also disturbed by the President’s later attempt to pack the Supreme Court. I don’t know which candidate Dad voted for in 1936, but by 1940 he was a vocal supporter of the Republican ticket. Mom remained a committed Democrat, but Dad’s candidate was my candidate. I believe I was the only kid in my school in 1940 who was pulling for Wendell Wilkie.
Dad saw me finish college, marry, and start my government career. Of course, he was crazy about Sandy Jr. and Stuart. He loved all little children. Dad always seemed to be happy and comfortable with Ann and me and our family, and he and Mom spent Thanksgiving with us in 1957. We had a great three or four weeks together, and shortly before Christmas I took them back to Carolina Beach. A few weeks later, we received a phone call from Mom saying that Dad was very ill. Ann and I packed and put the two boys in the back seat. We drove all night, arriving on the morning of February 6, 1958. When I walked into Dad’s bedroom he was in his bed. He reached out his arms to me and died just as I approached his side. What a shock! I had never lost anyone so close before, and I suppose I believed that somehow Dad would go on forever. I loved him dearly.