John Jacob Speck had been named after his grandfather, Hans Jacob Speck, who lived in Ruepurr, Karlsruhe Baden Germany. Soon after his birth around 1754, the family came to America aboard the Friendship vessel and lived in Philadelphia. When he was 21-years-old, Jacob married Christine Keefer or Keiffer. The Speck's and the Keefer's had been friends back in Germany, as both families had lived near Breitenburg and had worshipped at the same Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. Abraham Keefer had brought his family to America just prior to 1753, while Jacob's family followed a year or so later. Soon after the birth of their second son, Jacob and Christina moved to North Carolina, where they settled at Stokes County, near present-day Danbury.
During the American Revolutionary War, almost every able-bodied man, who was not a part of the Continental Army, joined their local Milita to help protect the settlement in which they lived. At times, these militia troops were also called upon to fight in battles of the revolution. Thus, was the case for Jacob Speck. On July 21, 1780, General Horatio Gates was at Camden, South Carolina commanding a force of 3,200 troops. He was joined by the North Carolina Militia, which included Jacob Speck. The British general, Lord Charles Cornwalis, was also at Camden with an army of 2,100. Even though Gates had Cornwalis outnumbered, most of the americans lacked experience and training. The North Carlina Militia had never been tried. Plus, Gates' army was running out of supplies and many of the troops were not well-rested or fed. Gates was advised NOT to go into battle under the circumstances. But, he ignored the warning.
Just before dawn on August 16th, Gates and Cornwalis found themselves facing each other across a field. The British troops opened the battle as the right flank fired volley's into the militia regiments, causing a significant number of casualties. When the remaining militia looked up, they saw British troops advancing toward them with their bayonets drawn. This tactic had never been used before. The shock of seeing that, added with the fact that the militia realized they did not have bayonets, panic spread quickly and the militia fled before the British regiments reached them. Seeing his left flank collapse, Gates was among the first to run from the field, leaving his remaining troops on the field alone. Within a matter of minutes, the whole rebel left wing had evaporated.
Catherine Keefer was only 16-years-old when she and Jacob were married. That had only been five years ago. Jacob Jr. was now four. Michael had just turned two, and a third son, George, my 6th great-grandfather, was less than two months old. It is hard to imagine exactly what Catherine must have thought or felt as she watched her husband leave home to defend their new settlement. It is even harder to imagine what she must have felt afterwards. For you see...Jacob did not have a chance to run as did most of his fellow soldiers. In that pre-dawn hour on that warm August 16, 1780 morning, when the smoke and dust from the cannon volley's had finally cleared, Jacob lay dead on the battlefield.
The Battle of Camden, South Carolina was likened to 'the darkest hour before the dawn.' For Jacob Speck, it was his darkest and final hour. Most estimates list approximately nine hundred men american soldiers killed and wounded, and nearly one thousand captured. The rest, over 1,000 troops, ran. Christina's brother, Frederick, was one of those captured, but he later managed to escape. The British only sustained about 350 casualties. By evening, Horatio Gates was 60 miles away in hiding. He fled a distance of 180 miles in three days. Because of his cowardice act, Gates was relieved of his duties by General Washington.
The Battle of Camden, South Carolina was depicted in the 2000 movie, The Patriot. The site of the battle is 1.4 miles from Exit 98/I-20 on U.S. Highway 521 North heading towards Camden.
The Battle of Camden, South Carolina
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