The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the Eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

So wrote Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in 1860. Paul Revere really did ride across the Massachusetts countryside on the night of April 18, 1775, part of a large intelligence network, warning of advancing British troops. The Battles of Concord and Lexington, fought the next day, were a response to a British mission to seize the militia’s weapons–particularly their artillery. [1]

News of the fighting began to appear in Maryland newspapers about a week later. On April 27, the Maryland Gazette in Annapolis published a report from the day of the battles:

this morning before break of day, a [British] brigade consisting of 1,200 men landed…and marched to Lexington, where they found a company of our colony militia in arms, upon whom they fired without provocation, and killed six men, and wounded four others.

A second dispatch followed:

 the contest between the first brigade [of British troops] that marched to Concord, was still continuing this morning at the town of Lexington, to which said brigade had retreated, [and] another brigade had…landed with a quantity of artillery…The provincials were determined to prevent the two brigades from joining their strength if possible, and remain in great need of succour. [2]

Reaction to the news was swift. Maryland’s Revolutionary government had issued a call for militia volunteers at the end of 1774, which had been enthusiastically answered. With the memories of Lexington and Concord fresh in the minds of many Marylanders, the spring and summer of 1775 saw large-scale military build-up, not only new enlistments but an entire new command structure. In June, two companies of riflemen from Western Maryland were formed and traveled to Boston to aid the Revolutionary cause. [3]

The militia build-up was not a symbolic move, either. There was genuine fear that British troops would be sent to Maryland. In Boston, revolutionaries had dumped a cargo of tea that violated the boycott of British goods; by the summer of 1775, the Marylanders had burned two ships. If the Boston Tea Party justified military occupation and the closing of the port, what would be Maryland’s fate? [4]

In the end, no British troops came to Maryland, and no battles took place there during the Revolution. However, the steps the state took to arm itself in 1775 left it ready to answer Congress’ call for troops in 1776, when the First Maryland Regiment was created. But first came Lexington and Concord, and what Ralph Waldo Emerson described:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world. [5]


1. “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 1860.  http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15640. See Minute Man National Historical Park’s website for more about the battles.

2. Maryland Gazette, 27 April 1775, p. 2-3. Additional coverage appeared in the May 4, 1775.

3. David Curtis Skaggs, Roots of Maryland Democracy 1753-1776 (Westport CT: Greenwood Press, 1973), 156-158. To learn more about the Maryland riflemen, see the Diary of Daniel McCurtin, one of the soldiers.

4. Skaggs, 156-158. The Peggy Stewart was burned in October 1774–Anthony Stewart, the ship’s owner–nearly had his house burned down as well, and the Totness was burned in July 1775. See Skaggs 143-149. Mordacai Gist lead one of the more militant groups at the burning of the Peggy Stewart.

5. “Concord Hymn,” Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1837. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175140.

Family in Uniform

Finding the Maryland 400 seeks to not only identify the individuals who made up the First Maryland Regiment, but it also explores the links between these individuals that were forged and tested by the Revolutionary War.

The danger and uncertainty of war made these connections indispensable for family members waiting for news from New York to reach Maryland. The documents at the Maryland State Archives offer hints at the significance of intangible relationships. In the case of William Sterrett, Mordecai Gist was able to relieve his anxious family with the news that Sterrett had survived the Battle of Brooklyn. In the sad case of Daniel Bowie, his companions helped him fulfill his final wishes by returning Bowie’s battlefield will to Maryland. Today we highlight a letter that attests to the role of family both at the front and back in Maryland.

MdHR 6636-1-100

Lt. Col. Francis Ware’s letter to Col. John Dorsey. MdHR 6636-1-100

Larkin Dorsey was around sixteen years old when he left his home in Anne Arundel County to fight in the Ninth Company of the First Maryland Regiment. Larkin was the second son of Colonel John Dorsey, who remained in Maryland. However, his father asked Lieutenant Colonel Francis Ware to keep an eye on the young cadet. Francis Ware was second in command of the Regiment. Ware, who did not have children of his own, agreed to take on the responsibility of Larkin Dorsey’s “morels and in case of necessaty to lecture him as an own child”.

Following the Battle of Brooklyn, Lt. Col. Ware wrote a glowing letter to Col. John Dorsey regarding his son. Larkin Dorsey, he reported, had “prudance to be such as would do credit to one of much riper years… [and] in the action which hapened on Long Island on tuesday last he give singular proofs of bravery.” In fact, Ware was not at that battle; he had been at the court martial of Lt. Col. Zedwitz with Colonel Smallwood and saw the end of the fighting from a distance.

The paternal role Ware adopted was not an unheard of dynamic in the American forces, where military hierarchy and bonds were sometimes put into familial terms. George Washington referred to his staff of aides de camp and military secretaries as his “military family”.[1] More than half of the men that made up Washington’s “military family” were from Maryland and Virginia families. Additionally, many members of Smallwood’s Regiment actually were related. The muster rolls of the Regiment include many repeated surnames, and the officers were often connected by blood, marriage, or business. Larkin had enlisted in the Ninth Company along with Richard Dorsey, although Richard had been transferred by the time of the Battle of Brooklyn. Brothers-in-law James Peale and Nathanial Ramsey served together in different companies. The McMillan brothers were both captured at the Battle of Brooklyn and traveled together through the wilderness from Halifax to Boston.

The First Maryland Regiment was made up of men connected by geography, ideology, and kinship. Digging into these links uncovers the magnitude of the sacrifice made by Smallwood’s Regiment at the Battle of Brooklyn, and can offer insight into the connections that sustained the Marylanders throughout the hardships they encountered in the 1776 campaign.


[1] David Hackett Fisher, Washington’s Crossing, (Oxford University Press, 2004), 19.

-Emily

The Forage War and the Battle for New Jersey

In many ways, Joseph Nourse’s experiences in winter camp at Morristown were nothing like most of the army’s. On February 15, 1777 he wrote that he “read Homers Odyssy, which I borrowed from Lord Sterling,” a moment of culture which probably seemed as foreign to the bulk of the army’s rank and file  as it does to modern readers. Indeed, enlistment records like these make it clear that many soldiers could not read or write at all.

However, Nourse also participated in the two activities that characterized most of the winter of 1776-1777 for the Continental Army: waiting for winter to end, and occasionally skirmishing with the British. Nearly every day, he recounted that it was very cold, and that army drilled in the morning: “a rather lazy life,” he thought.

While armies traditionally did not fight during the winter, the Americans and British spent 1776-1777 engaged in a state of low-level hostility. The “Forage War,” an insurgency campaign largely conducted by local New Jersey militia companies, harassed the British whenever they ventured out into the countryside to gather food for their army (a practice known as foraging). It hamstrung the British, and their indiscriminate reprisals against New Jersey civilians turned a mostly Loyalist state into a staunchly pro-Independence one.

In addition, the Continental Army periodically carried out small attacks against the British. “It is reported …that [we] will attempt to storm Brunswick,” Nourse reported. He was often in the presence of the army’s senor leadership, so his information likely came from a reliable source. In fact, just a week later, it was proven to be quite true.

On Friday morning, February 28, 1777, Nourse and several companies of Virginia troops from Berkeley County (now in West Virginia) marched about twenty miles to the outskirts of Quibbletown (modern-day Piscataway). The next day,

“the whole of us, about 400, marched into the Enemies lines and attacked…but we were so disadvantageously posted that we could not stand our ground. We fought for ½ an Hour and then retreated.”

According to Nourse, two men were killed, and several wounded. In that way, it was typical of the Continental Army’s strategy during that winter: an attack on the British that was quickly called off when it was clear the British had the upper hand. Similar skirmishes took place across New Jersey at dozens of small towns. For the Americans, the priority was avoiding causalities, and living to fight another day. It was how the Continental Army fought for much of the war, and was what allowed them to continue the war despite being vastly outnumbered by the British.

William Chaplin: Defector to the British

The American colonies’ direct relationship with Britain meant that there were many colonists who did not support the Revolutionary War, and even the act of enlisting into the Continental Army did not mean that a person was devoted to the American cause. Throughout the war, men deserted for a number of reasons (as seen in an earlier post), and some of these deserters even defected to the British army. Even the First Maryland Regiment experienced this, and one example comes from a member of the Maryland 400.

William Chaplin was born in Colchester, England, but migrated to Maryland and ran a plantation near Baltimore before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. He enlisted into the Maryland Line as a private in the Fourth Company in January of 1776.1 Later that year, he marched with William Smallwood‘s First Maryland Regiment to New York and fought at the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776, as one of the Maryland 400. His company was in the middle of the action, and many of his fellow soldiers were taken prisoner at the battle.2 Just fourteen men from his company, including Chaplin, escaped capture or death.

When the army was reformed in December, 1776, Chaplin remained in the First Maryland Regiment as a private and continued to serve for another year before being stationed in Wilmington, Delaware in early 1778. It was from there that he would make his escape.

Maryland records list Chaplin as a deserter, and he was formally discharged on March 6, 1778.3 A London newspaper tells a much more detailed version of what happened: Chaplin “and sixteen others deserted from Wilmington, and came in to Gen. Howe, at Philadelphia, where they took the oath of allegiance, were treated with great humanity by the British officers, and, at their own request, suffered to leave America.”4 The identities of the sixteen men he deserted with are not known, but it is possible that some of them were also members of the Maryland 400. According to the paper, he arrived in Whitehaven, England in May of 1778, but that is where his trail ends.

Interestingly, Chaplin reported that more than 200 other deserters of British and Irish origin sailed to England in the same fleet. These would have all been men that not only deserted, but also swore the oath of allegiance to Britain. As we have already seen (and will discuss again), desertion was not uncommon in the Continental Army, but Chaplin and the other men he mentioned were not the typical deserters who got sick of the war and returned home. They made a conscious decision to not only leave the army, but to change loyalties and leave the country they had been fighting to create.

Though incomplete, William Chaplin’s story shows that even men who fought with valor and earned prestige were susceptible to becoming fatigued of the war. He turned from one of a small number fighting to the death to save the American cause at Long Island to a lowly deserter who would rather swear allegiance to England than continue fighting. His case is by no means typical for the Maryland 400, but it is something to keep in mind when trying to discover who these men were.

You can read Chaplin’s biography page here.


1. The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, London: June 2, 1778, 2; Muster Rolls and Other Service Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, 1775–1783, Archives of Maryland Vol. 18, p. 12.

2. “Extract of a Letter from an Officer of the Maryland Battalion: Giving a Short Account of the Late Engagement on Long-Island.” American Archives. S5 V1 1233.

3. Muster Rolls, Archives of Maryland Vol. 18, 91.

4. Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 2.

Project Updates

Hello all,

A short note about some recent changes to Finding the Maryland 400.

We have exhausted all of our project funding, which means that we have unfortunately had say good bye to Emily, although she has been able to move to another project at the Maryland State Archives.

This is by no means the end of the project, however. For the time being, there will be no new research on the men of the First Maryland Regiment, but there will still be periodic blog updates, and we will work to respond to inquiries for our readers as we have time.

We are actively pursuing new sources of funding for additional research, and would be happy to hear from any of our readers who might have any suggestions.

If you would like to donate for the future support of the project, you may do so by clicking on the Support the Project button at the top of the page, or by going here: https://shop1.mdsa.net/pages/donate.aspx, and list the Maryland 400 under “Additional Comments.” We are very grateful for any donations!

Thank you again to Gen. James Adkins and the Maryland Military Department, the Moss Family Foundation, and Washington College for their generous support, and many thanks to all of our readers.

Owen Lourie
Finding the Maryland 400 project director

Maryland 400 in the News

Some of you may have already seen it, but the Maryland 400 was featured in The Baltimore Sun on Friday: “Researchers bringing Md. Revolutionary War heroes to life.”

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Maryland 400 research staff.
Photo from The Baltimore Sun. Click to read!

The story has great photos and video about our work, and others involved in the search for Maryland’s first Revolutionary War heroes, including the Old Stone House in Brooklyn, and Gen. James Adkins, Adjutant General of Maryland, who has done so much to support our efforts.