The Nagle Journal Edited by John C. Dann Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson Copyright 1988

The Nagle Journal Edited by John C. Dann Published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson New York Copyright 1988

An intriguing email from Australia arrived in June of 2016 requesting information about a colorful and extraordinary man who’d traveled the world but spent his last days in Canton, Ohio, dying at the age of 80 in 1841.

Jacob Nagle was born in 1761 in Reading, PA, during one of the most historic periods in American history.  At the age of 15, he joined the American Revolutionary War effort and served at the Battle of Brandywine, and he met George Washington at Valley Forge. He joined the Navy two years later, was captured by the British in 1781, served in the British Royal Navy under Lord Howe and Commodore Nelson during the Anglo-French war, sailed with the First Fleet during Australia’s settlement, and eventually went on to have a 45 year career as a sailor on privateers and merchant ships. During his lifetime, he traveled to 5 continents.


H.M.S. Sirius

As a “First Fleeter”, Nagle sailed to Australia on the HMS Sirius in 1787, which was charged with founding the first British Colony in Australia in the territory of New South Wales, which later became the city of Sydney.  He sailed to both India and China in the service of the East India Company and spent the better part of a decade in South America. During his time in London he married and fathered seven children, although all reportedly succumbed to yellow fever.Nagle eventually returned to the United States in 1822, retired from the seagoing life, and spent the last 16 years of his life wandering from place to place, trying to secure a pension for his military service. His astonishing life might have languished in obscurity were it not for the purchase of a 161-page manuscript at a New York gallery auction in 1982.  Titled “A Sketch or Journal of Jacob Nagle from the Year 1775”, the journal was purchased by John Dann, director of the Clements Library of the University of Michigan. The diary was subsequently published as a book, “The Nagle Journal”, in 1988. This remarkable journal documents his life as a soldier and seaman traveling the world, written in an earthy and plainspoken vernacular.

After his retirement from British seagoing vessels, Nagle found his way to Canton, Ohio to visit his sister, Sarah Webb, on May 19, 1827. He spent his remaining years variously living with his sister and family in Canton, a sister in Maryland, a cousin in Harrisburg, PA, and a nephew in Perrysburg, Ohio. While living in Canton, Nagle supported himself first by sawing wood and then working in the Stark County Clerk of Courts and Recorder’s offices, copying deeds and keeping ledgers. In 1833 Nagle created at least two land plats for newly incorporated towns in Stark County (Minerva and Louisville). He also sought to obtain a written document from a prominent and trustworthy Canton resident who would vouch for his good character in his attempts to apply for a Revolutionary War pension. In his journal, Nagle refers to a “Mr. Shorb” who apparently helped procure the pension in 1833. Consequently, Nagle was able to obtain an annual payment of $32.46 for his service.  Nagle spent his remaining days traveling and regaling listeners with captivating tales of his adventures. His journal details stops in Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, PA, as well as Canton, Perrysburg, Sugarcreek, Dover, Cleveland, Akron, Massillon, Bolivar and Zanesville.


Nagle attended the funeral of his sister Sarah Webb on a cold Saturday morning in Canton, OH on February 13, 1841. Overcome by the emotion of the moment, he expressed his desire to soon join her. Four days later, at the age of 80, Jacob Nagle died after having been taken ill. The town of Canton turned out in full force for his funeral on the 18th, with full honors provided by Captain Weber’s company of German guards and the music of the German Brass band. His earthly remains were consigned to the grave near the Webb family plot at Plum Street Cemetery, Canton’s second oldest cemetery. In 1808, the land had been given to the city by Bezaleel Wells, founder of Canton.

Oddly enough, the Plum Street Cemetery was converted to a municipal park in the late 1890’s. Some of the existing graves were removed and placed into Westlawn Cemetery. Other tombstones and remains were buried beneath 336 loads of earth. There was a record of names of the dead removed from the cemetery, but Nagle’s is not among them. Only two grave markers remain and no one knows how many are still buried there, but it is likely that Jacob Nagle is one of them.

Our gentleman’s inquiry from Australia sought information on his resting place, and a desire to honor this former First Fleeter who was part of the expedition to found the first British Colony in New South Wales. Who would have thought that this would have brought to light such a kaleidoscope, a life so rich and far-flung? Jacob Nagle…soldier, sailor, seaman, storyteller, traveler. A man who ventured to all corners of the earth, yet found his final resting place in Canton, Ohio.