Welcome to Finding the Maryland 400

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Battleoflongisland

The American stand led by Lord Stirling at the Battle of Brooklyn, which included the men of the Maryland 400. Detail, Battle of Long Island, by Alonzo Chappell (1858)

Welcome to Finding the Maryland 400, an effort to discover and explore the lives and stories of Maryland’s first war heroes, led by the Maryland State Archives in partnership with the Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.

Raised in early 1776, the First Maryland Regiment joined the rest of the American troops that made up the Continental Army in New York City in August, on the eve of the Battle of Brooklyn. That battle, also called the Battle of Long Island, was the first major engagement of the war, and was an overwhelming British victory. Only the heroic stand by a small group of Marylanders–now known as the Maryland 400–held the British at bay long enough to allow the Continental Army to escape total destruction, at the cost of many Maryland lives.

Learn more about the Marylanders at the Battle of Brooklyn, beginning with the British landing on Long Island a few days before the battle, and moving forward.

There are many ways you can learn more about the First Maryland Regiment:

You may support this project through a donation to the Friends of the Maryland State Archives; indicate “Maryland 400″ under Additional Comments. If you have questions or suggestions, please get in touch with us at msamaryland400@gmail.com.

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Maryland’s African American Troops

Earlier, we introduced the topic of black Revolutionary War soldiers, but left unanswered the question of whether any fought as part of the Maryland 400. While a number of African Americans fought as part of the Maryland Line later in the war, there were apparently none among the men who fought under Col. William Smallwood at the Battle of Brooklyn. The simplest explanation is that the Smallwood’s regiment was Maryland’s first contingent of regular, full-time soldiers, and they had no trouble raising enough whites. Only in New England were black soldiers really welcomed; for the most part, states acquiesced to enlisting African Americans only when facing severe shortages of men. In early 1776, Maryland wasn’t having trouble filling its quota of soldiers.

Later, in 1781, the General Assembly did consider raising an entire black regiment, similar to the state’s German Regiment, but never did so, and blacks served in mixed units. Still, one Maryland officer wrote to a colleague:

I wish the [black] regiment would be raised. I am of the opinion that the Blacks will make excellent soldiers—indeed experience proves it…As to the danger of training them to Arms—tis the Child of a distempered Imagination. There are some people who are forever frightening themselves with Bugbears of their own Creation. [1]

The exact number of African Americans who fought in Maryland units during the Revolution is unknown. According to the Continental Army’s “Return of the Negroes in the Army,” there were 95 in 1778. However, the Flying Camp, which served July-December 1776, had at least four black soldiers, and others enlisted during the 1780s. All told, the names of only about 50 African American soldiers from Maryland are easily discovered; many are listed in the Daughters of the American Revolution’s book Forgotten Patriots, available online for free. [2]

However, while there were no known African Americans among the Maryland 400, there still may have been blacks among the men who traveled to New York in the summer of 1776, although little is known about who they might have been. Just as an eighteenth-century army traveled with an entourage of soldiers’ wives and children, some men brought slaves with them as personal servants, and there are hints that members of the First Maryland Regiment did so in 1776.

One instance of that is known to have occurred later in the war, when Mordecai Gist, on-the-ground commander of the Maryland 400, had at least one slave with him in camp. In October, 1778, he placed the following ad in the Pennsylvania Packet:

pa_packet_24oct1778

Pennsylvania Packet, 24 October 1778.

The identity of Rachel’s (or Sarah’s) “pretend” husband, is unknown (“pretend” because slaves were not allowed to get married). The First Maryland Brigade, of which he was a part, had 60 black soldiers, and he could have been one of them, or he could have been white; interracial relationships were not unknown in the late eighteenth century. More likely is that Rachel could pass as white—Gist said she had “a remarkable fair complexion, with flaxen hair,” and that she “passed herself as a free woman.” Nothing of Rachel’s fate, nor her husband’s, is known. By running away from Gist, she may have simply been seeking to accompany her husband, as any other army wife. Still, Gist’s advertisement reveals a number of truths about the Continental Army, and life during the Revolutionary era: the lines between black and white were not hard and fast, women traveled with their husbands to war, and the army fighting for liberty was supported by slaves.

Notes:
1. Major Edward Giles to Otho Holland Williams, 1 Jun 1781. Williams Papers, Maryland Historical Society. Quoted in Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1961), 56-57.

2. Soldiers who are identified as African American can be found in military service records Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 18, as well as on fold3.com.

Hatch Dent, Jr.: From Prisoner of War to Minister and Teacher

Before he was a well-known minister and teacher, Hatch Dent Jr. was an officer in the First Maryland Regiment when the Maryland 400 made their heroic stand at the Battle of Brooklyn. A native of Charles County, Dent was the Second Lieutenant of the Ninth Company (Light Infantry) when he was captured at Brooklyn. After enduring an unusually long captivity for an officer, Dent was exchanged in April 1778 and became the captain of a company in the Second Maryland Regiment. Dent did not remain in the Army long after his return, and resigned sometime in late 1778 or early 1779.

Dent returned to Charles County following his resignation and began operating a school from the vestry house of Trinity Church. One of his pupils during this time, William Wirt, would go on to become Attorney General in the administration of James Monroe. Dent continued to teach throughout his post-war life and later became the first principal of the Charlotte Hall School in 1797.

In addition to serving as a school teacher, Dent was also ordained a minister in the Episcopal Church in October 1785. After previously serving as the reader for Trinity Church, Dent became its second rector in May 1786.

Hatch Dent, Jr. died in Charles County on December 30, 1799. The appraisal of Dent’s personal property following his death is illustrative of his life as a schoolteacher and minister. The inventory lists approximately forty books and includes such titles as Geography Made Easy, Greek Lexicon, Practical Preachers, Neal’s History of the Puritans, and Father’s Legacy to His Daughters.

Before serving his local community as a minister and teacher, Dent served the entire nation by leading men in battle and enduring a long captivity. It is impossible to know for certain what impact the war had on his post-war life and chosen professions, but it is clear that he remained a trusted leader and lived a life devoted to the service and betterment of others.

To read more about Hatch Dent Jr.’s life and military career, check out his recently posted biography here.

African Americans in the Revolutionary War

In October, Congress gave preliminary approval to a monument on the National Mall to African American Revolutionary War soldiers. While much work remains to be done before a monument is actually constructed, this was an important step for the project, whose backers have been advocating for such a marker since the mid-1980s.

While the military service of African Americans during the Civil War is well-known, thanks to movies like Glory and projects like this one, the blacks who fought in the American Revolution are seldom remembered. In part, this is a result of numbers: 186,000 fought in the Civil War as part of the U.S. Colored Troops (including some 8,000 from Maryland), and only about 5,000 fought in the Revolution.

In fact, the total number of African American soldiers in the Revolution may never be known, since their race was not always recorded. Only one document formally tallying black soldiers is known to exist, a “Return of the Negroes in the Army,” from August, 1778. Of the rank-and-file (i.e. non-officers) listed as present and fit for duty, almost 4 percent was black, 586 out of 14,719; including men who were sick or away from camp, the total drops to just over 3 percent (755 out of 24,323). [1]

Several individual units had much higher proportions of African American troops, however. Muhlenberg’s Virginian troops were nearly 6 percent black, and the North Carolina brigade about 4.5 percent. By far, the Massachusetts and Connecticut units had the most African American troops, with brigades that were almost all above the average. See table below:

Brigade State % Black
North Carolina NC 4.41
Woodford VA 2.74
Muhlenberg VA 5.90
Scott VA, Del 1.42
Smallwood MD 3.56
2nd Maryland MD 1.84
Wayne PA 0.14
2nd Pennsylvania PA [unknown]
Clinton NY 2.50
Parsons CT 7.64
Huntington CT 4.10
Nixon Mass 1.38
Patterson Mass 4.99
Learned Mass 3.41
Poor NH 1.54
Average 3.26

At least one all-black regiment was part of the Continental Army during the American Revolution, Col. Christopher Greene’s 1st Rhode Island Regiment, although it had only white officers. Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut all showed the largest groups of black soldiers, and were the only places where black soldiers received anything like a warm welcome for state and military leaders. It is estimated that about 500 African Americans from Massachusetts fought during the American Revolution, out of a free black population of only 4,400. [2]

Although Southern states had larger black populations, they were reluctant to accept them as soldiers. The idea of arming slaves posed obvious problems to a population perpetually frightened of a slave uprising, and many felt that enlisting free blacks would also encourage slaves to rebel. Eventually, however, states found it impossible to raise enough troops without allowing African Americans into the army, and ultimately enlisted freedmen and slaves.

Maryland was the only southern state that enlisted slaves—as substitutes for whites—but free blacks served everywhere. In many regiments, black soldiers were relegated to non-combat roles—duties like building defenses or driving wagons, a pattern which would hold well into the twentieth century. All the same, African Americans, though only a small part of the Continental Army, served much longer than their white counterparts: four and a half years, three years longer than the overall average. [3]

African Americans likely enlisted in the army with the same range of motivations as white troops. For slaves, there was also the additional motivation of gaining freedom, while free blacks stood to gain greater social standing, or at least lose less, than whites. Indeed, historians have noted that African American veterans were able to stake a new claim to citizenship after the war, and their service helped free black communities to coalesce and gain structure. Military service was, as it would be during the Civil War, an important route to freedom for slaves, even in the South where leaders were reluctant to arm blacks. African American troops—free and enslaved—understood they were fighting to free the U.S. from England, and to free themselves as well. [4]

The subject of African American participation in the American Revolution–as soldiers, laborers, spies, or simply as community members–is far too big for one blog post. Look for more on the topic soon, including the question of whether any African Americans were part of the Maryland 400.

–Owen

Notes:

1. Return of the Negroes in the Army, 24 August 1778. Alexander Scammel, Adjutant General, Continental Army. George Washington Papers, Library of Congress, Series 4, General Correspondence, image 562;  Charles H. Lesser, ed. The Sinews of Independence: Monthly Strength Reports of the Continental Army (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 80-81.

2. Charles Patrick Neimeyer, America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army (New York: New York University Press, 1996, 73-82.

3. Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1961), 51-58, 60-66, 77; Neimeyer, 82.

4. Neimeyer, 85-88.

A Virginian in the First Maryland Regiment

Walker Muse fought alongside the soldiers of the State of Maryland throughout the course of the American Revolution, despite being a native of Virginia. As the Third Lieutenant in the Ninth Company of the First Maryland Regiment, he was present during the famed stand of the Maryland 400 at the Battle of Brooklyn and was among those captured during the engagement. Subject to an unusually long captivity for an officer, Muse was finally returned to the Army on April 20, 1778, almost two years after he was taken prisoner. Upon his return he assumed the rank of captain and continued to serve with the Marylanders until November 1783, taking part in the end of the Northern Campaign, the entire Southern Campaign, and the final winter encampment at Newburgh, New York.

For a complete description of Walker Muse’s life and military career, check out his recently posted biography here.

Sean Baker’s Introduction

Hello all,

My name is Sean Baker and I honored to announce the beginning of my involvement on this great project, Finding the Maryland 400. I graduated from the University of West Florida with a master’s degree in Public History, and from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in History. I am excited to work with Project Director Owen Lourie, and continue the excellent work conducted by previous interns Jeff Truitt, Daniel Blattau, Emily Huebner, and Taira Sullivan. While considerable work has been completed on this project, there is still much left to do and I look forward to uncovering the lives of the men that played such a critical role in the American Revolution.

This project marks my first time conducting in depth research on the Revolutionary War, but is not my first exposure to the story of the Maryland 400. I previously resided in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, living on the very ground where the men of the First Maryland Regiment fought and died. Working on this project also continues my specialization and interest in American Military History. Previously I volunteered for the Mississippi State Archives researching the Siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War, and creating content and activities for Mississippi teachers to use in lesson plans about the siege. In the summer of 2012 I worked for the Marine Corps History Division researching Marine Corps topics and developing historical narratives and other supplementary material for publication on their website.

I would like to thank the Maryland Society, Sons of the American Revolution for providing funds to this project and making this position possible. I am excited by the opportunity to work on this project. I am looking forward to conducting original research and finding out more about the men of the Maryland 400. In addition to writing biographies about the men of the Maryland 400, I will also be updating the blog, informing you of my progress, and highlighting important events and information about the First Maryland Regiment during the Revolutionary War.

-Sean Baker

In Their Own Words, Postscript: The Marylanders Retreat From Brooklyn

Most of the first-hand accounts that we have from the Battle of Brooklyn end on the afternoon of August 27, when the Americans were able to retreat to their encampment in Brooklyn. The fighting had paused, but the danger had not receded, and the British still loomed close by. The only chance the Americans had was to retreat across the East River back to Manhattan.

The only Marylander who left a description of the retreat was Samuel Smith, captain of the 8th Company. When Smith and his men arrived at the American lines, they were stationed outside a small American outpost. As Smith recounted,

About midnight, one of the Corporals informed me that he had been up and down the [encampment], and not a man was to be seen. In consequence of which I sent my two Lieutenants…[who] reported that all the troops had gone, where they knew not…I presumed that we had been left as a forlorn hope [to cover the retreat].

I was…greatly relieved by the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Ware, who told me that the [rest of the Maryland] Regiment was, by that time, in [Manhattan], and ordered us to march to the ferry.

I passed General Washington, who asked me how it happened I was so late; and I answered we had received no order [to leave] until a few minutes past. We arrived in time to embark in the last boat; and had scarcely got off from the wharf, when the British…appeared on the hill and fired their carbines, without doing any injury.

To read more about the American retreat on August 28, 1776, see The Rain and the Retreat.


Source:
“The Papers of General Samuel Smith. The General’s Autobiography. From the Original Manuscripts.” The Historical Magazine, 2nd ser., vol. 8, no. 2 (1870): 82-92. Note: Smith wrote his autobiography in the third person. It has been converted to first person here for clarity.

Becoming the Maryland 400

By the afternoon of August 27, 1776, the Battle of Brooklyn had rapidly become a life or death struggle for the American army. After distracting the American forces with an auxiliary diversion that morning, the British sprung their trap. The night before the battle, Generals Howe and Clinton had led 10,000 troops to the rear of the Americans in a flanking maneuver. After the Americans had fought off the British diversion to their front, the 10,000 British descended upon the Continental troops from the north. According to one American soldier, the Americans were entirely unaware of the presence of the large force to their rear, until “the main body of their army, by a route we never dreamed of, had entirely surrounded us, and drove within the lines, or scattered in the woods, all our men, except the Delaware and Maryland battalions, who were standing at bay with double their number.

Read more…

The British Diversion

The Marylanders were called to battle before sunrise on August 27, 1776. Lord Stirling, the temporary commander of the Maryland troops, was awoken at around three o’clock in the morning and given the news that the British had begun their advance. During the night, the British had surprised the American guard posted near the Red Lion Inn, and in the confusion, a number of Americans had been taken captive. General Israel Putnam ordered Stirling to take the two regiments “nearest at hand” and engage the British on the road near the Red Lion Inn.

Early in the morning on August 27, the alarm guns of the American lines sounded and the troops set to preparing the defense. Under General Putnam’s orders, Lord Stirling marched the First Maryland Regiment and Haslet’s Delaware battalion to meet the British. They were joined by Colonel Atlee’s Pennsylvania troops, Huntington’s Connecticut Continentals, and Kachlein’s Pennsylvania riflemen.

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The Marylanders Arrive

On August 26, 1776, the Marylanders arrived at Long Island on the eve of battle. Once it became clear that a major engagement was imminent, Washington sent the regiment to reinforce the American defensive line. The men who would become known as the Maryland 400 were posted on the Heights of Guana, a wooded, ten-mile ridge near the British encampment at the town of Flatbush. They joined with the force already there, which had fought a number of skirmishes with the British, and the small engagements served to boost the confidence of the inexperienced Continental soldiers. An intelligence report from New York mentioned the recent encounters with the British, “We have had only four men wounded since the enemy landed; but we are certain many of them [the British] fell.”

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“They Must Be Well Watched”

After the British landed on Long Island they advanced to within three miles of the American lines, and then they stopped. On August 23, 1776, the tension grew in New York as the American leadership tried to determine the enemy’s next move. The standoff that began on August 22 reinforced the Americans’ belief that the British were using Long Island as a diversion, and the main attack would come to Manhattan.  General William Heath of Massachusetts captured the Americans’ uneasiness on the 23rd when he wrote to Washington, “I hope soon to hear good news from Long Island. I have never been afraid of the force of the enemy: I am more [afraid] of their arts. They must be well watched.”

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