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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The Court-Martial of Lieutenant Kidd

Lieutenant John Kidd served in the First Maryland Regiment when it fought at the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776. Although Kidd managed to survive the battle and make it back to the American lines at Brooklyn Heights, his days in the army were numbered. Shortly after the Battle of Brooklyn, a court-martial convicted Lieutenant Kidd of violating orders by taking men off of fatigue duty.[1] Although Kidd pleaded guilty to the charges and cited unfamiliarity with the orders, other officers disputed this claim and the court-martial did not show any leniency. General George Washington ordered Kidd dismissed from the army on October 8, 1776.[2]

Kidd’s expulsion from the army is interesting for a couple of reasons. Prior to this incident Kidd appears to have been in an exemplary officer. In a letter to the Council of Safety on May 1, 1776, Captain Samuel Smith lobbied for the promotion of Kidd to first lieutenant and specifically referred to his character:

I shall be exceeding happy to have my Second Lieut. appointed to the vacancy, he is very capable & more acquainted with the men & their dispositions & of consequence can be of more use in the Company than a stranger. Should you have determined to raise the officers according to their seniority. I doubt not you have heard of Mr. Kid’s character (who is eldest 2nd Lieut.) & I rest satisfied you will not promote any person who is not equal to it.[3]

Kiddletter-page-001

Letter of Captain Samuel Smith to the Council of Safety, May 1, 1776. MARYLAND STATE PAPERS (Red Books) Volume 15. Page 6. MdHR 4577 [MSA S 989-21, 01/06/04/09].

Smith’s high praise of Kidd is in stark contrast to the lieutenant described as ignoring orders and disobeying superior officers in the court-martial. It is also possible that Kidd held the same radical revolutionary views as Samuel Smith, influencing his letter to the Council. (Kidd received the promotion to first lieutenant, but was simultaneously transferred to Captain John Hoskins Stone’s First Company.)

The timing of Kidd’s court-martial and dismissal is also of importance because it exemplifies General Washington’s emphasis on military discipline and professionalism. September 1776 was a critical period for the Continental Army as the Americans desperately tried to check the British advance into Manhattan. Furthermore, the Battle of Brooklyn depleted the ranks of the Continental Army and especially the First Maryland Regiment. Dismissing Lieutenant Kidd at a time when the First Maryland Regiment was in desperate need of men and capable officers is indicative of the priority placed on discipline. The seemingly minor nature of the offense and the fact the Kidd pleaded guilty is further evidence of this.

In the end, Kidd’s dismissal is most likely a reflection of General Washington’s efforts to enforce strict military discipline and mold a professional army. While General Washington needed soldiers, he placed a higher premium on soldiers and officers that followed orders and obeyed the chain of command (See the case of Lieutenant John Stewart, another Maryland officer that faced court-martial during this period). Washington’s insistence on order and discipline even at this early and critical juncture of the war later paid dividends as the Continental Army withstood defeats and eventually developed into an army capable of defeating the British.

Notes:

[1] Fatigue duty is work carried out by soldiers that does not require the use of weapons, such as digging trenches or building defensive fortifications. “Brigade Court-Martial ordered by Brigadier General McDougall,” American Archives series 5, vol. 2, p. 1140.

[2] “General Orders, 8 October 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives. http://founders.archives.gov/?q=john%20kidd&s=1111311111&sa=&r=6&sr.

[3] MARYLAND STATE PAPERS (Red Books) Volume 15. Page 6. MdHR 4577 [MSA S 989-21, 01/06/04/09].

Men who “could stand cutting”: The Old Maryland Line

The famed Maryland 400 were not the only soldiers Revolutionary War soldiers hailed as heroes. Indeed, the throughout the war, the Maryland Line (as the state’s contribution to the Continental Army was called) developed a reputation for skill and bravery. They were celebrated for years after the war, including in poems like this one, which first appeared in Washington, DC’s Daily National Intelligencer on October 2, 1828.

Newspapers often contained poems and songs, which were prominent parts of popular entertainment. Its language is perhaps overly flowery to modern eyes, and may seem too enamored with the romance of combat, but it is an excellent example of the place that the Marylanders held in the nation’s imagination. The original text included a number of annotations, and we have added others, along with links to biographies, in order to clarify the poem’s more obscure references; just click on the footnotes!


The Old Maryland Line
by George W. Custis, Esq. of Arlington1

Founded on the celebrated Toast of General Lafayette, given to the Cincinnati of Maryland, viz: “The memory of Gen. Greene, who used to say that the Maryland Line could stand cutting.” Inscribed with profound esteem and veneration to the surviving Officers and Soldiers of the Old Maryland Line.

Tune: “Remember, whenever your goblet is crowned”

1.
General Greene used to say, with his soldierly air,
(And few soldiers like him did such merits combine)
That for troops who’d stand cutting2, and would cut their full share,
Give him forever, the Old Maryland Line.

2.
At Guilford, Cowpens and Eutaw3, all field that were gory,
Fame wove many a chaplet4, brave brows to entwine,
And full many were earned, by those true sons of glory,
Those gallant gay veterans, the Old Maryland Line.

3.
Howard5 and Williams6 at Eutaw7 cried advance, let them feel, boys,
Our bayonets’ points, and they’ll know by that sign
That we mean to stand cutting, and we’ll give them our steel, boys,
Till they’ll find we can cut in the Old Maryland Line.

4.
The Baron de Kalb8, while his wounds were a dressing,
And his enemy cheered his faint spirit with wine,
Employed his last moments imploring a blessing
On his gallant dear comrades, the Old Maryland Line.

5.
How few now survive of that famed band of brothers,
Who so often our arms caused a glory to shine,
Smith9, Read10, Anderson11, Beall12 and ah! how few others,
Form the “time-honor’d remains” of the Old Maryland Line.

6.
When beleagueredly for men on those days in September,
Maryland called on her heroes the battle to join,
Her Donaldson’s13 fall made her freshly remember
The hard stuff which composed her Old Maryland Line.

7.
When McCulloch14 lay wounded his enemies heard
The grey soldier of Washington say, with courage divine,
“I’ve fought in two wars for my country, and I’d fight in a third.”
Was not this a worthy a veteran of the Old Maryland Line?

8.
Young Soldiers of Maryland, Children of Freedom,
From the fame of your Fathers, oh! do never decline;
Write these words on your colors that your enemies may read them:
“The true Sons of their Sires of the Old Maryland Line.

Notes:


1. George Washington Parke Custis (1781-1857) was the adopted stepson of George Washington, the father-in-law of Robert E. Lee, and the builder of Arlington House, now the site of Arlington National Cemetery. He was an avid writer of poems and songs, like this one. Read more about him here and here.


2. An allusion, expanded upon in the third stanza and note 7, to the Marylanders’ apparent prowess in using their bayonets in combat.


3. Three of the key American victories during the Southern Campaign in the Carolinas in 1780-1781. After the disastrous defeat at Camden in August 1780, where one third of the Marylanders were killed or captured, the Americans rallied to beat the British back at Cowpens (December 1780), Guilford Courthouse (March 1781), the siege of Ninety-Six (May-June 1781), and Eutaw Springs (September 1781). While the Maryland troops already had a reputation for bravery, their place in history was cemented during the Southern Campaign, where their steadfastness and courage were critical to the American success.


4. A chaplet, or corolla, was a wreath or crown of honor used in ancient Greece and Rome.


5. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Of the lamented Colonel John Eager Howard, a volume of eulogram is contained in a few lines from the letter of Greene, and the memoirs by the eloquent author of the Southern Campaigns, Greene says: ‘This letter will be handed to you by Colonel Howard, as good an officer as the world affords. He deserves a statue of gold no less than the Roman or Grecian Heroes.’ And Lee [General Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, father of Robert E. Lee]: ‘He was always to be found where the battle most raged, pressing into close action, to wrestle with a fixed bayonet.’”


6. The text of the original poem includes this note: “General Otho Holland Williams. Maryland, in the recollections of her Revolutionary chivalry, must be justly proud of the fame and memory of her Williams. Young Williams marched with the first detachment of hunting-shirts from Maryland, and joined the Army of Liberty before Cambridge, in the dawn of the Revolution [Maryland sent two companies of riflemen to Boston in the summer of 1775 whose frontier dress, including hunting shirts, was much remarked upon]; was promoted to Major in Rawling’s Rifle Regiment in ‘76, and taken prisoner at the surrender of Fort Washington, where his sharp-shooting corps literally heaped the ground with the Hessian dead. Major Williams suffered all the horrors and privations of captivity during a long confinement, and, through the intercession of his friend, the late General Wilkinson, was at length exchanged for Major Ackland, of the British Army. Williams rejoined the American Army with the rank of Colonel of the Sixth Maryland Regiment, marched to the South, was appointed Adjutant General to both Gates and Greene, and consummated his military glory in the severe actions of the Carolinas, from Camden to Eutaw. Admired by Washington, beloved by Greene, to whom he was a most valued and confidential advisor, he was, at the close of the war, recommended by those illustrious patriots, to Congress, for promotion, to the rank of Brigadier [General]. Congress declined the promotion on the score of rank, but granted it on the better consideration of eminent talents and services. On the adoption of the present Constitution, General Williams received from the Father of his Country the appointment of Collector of Baltimore [i.e. head of the Customs House, a lucrative government patronage job], one of the very best appointments in the gift of the new Government. ‘Too soon for his country,’ but in the full meridian of his fame, General Williams sunk under the effects of disease, contracted during the sufferings of his captivity, and expired in 1794.”


7.The text of the original poem includes this note: “At the battle of Eutaw Springs, the Old Maryland Line, led by Howard and Williams, rushed upon the enemy with the bayonet; and so fierce and deadly was the encounter, that, after the action, many of the Marylanders, and the third British Regiment, or Old Bluffs, were found transfixed [i.e. impaled or stabbed] by each others weapons.”


8. The text of the original poem includes this note: “The Baron De Kalb fell under eleven wounds at Camden. He received the kindest attentions from Cornwallis, and other Chiefs of the British. Lee says, ‘Never were the last moments of a soldier better employed.’ He dictated a letter to General Smallwood, who succeeded to the command of his division, expressing his admiration of their late noble though unsuccessful stand, and reciting the eulogy which their bravery had extorted from the enemy. Feeling the pressure of death, he stretched out his quivering hand to his friend Du Buysson, proud of his 27 generous wounds, and breathed his last in benediction on his faithful, brave division, the Old Maryland Line, and the regiment of Delaware, which latter, nearly annihilated in the battle of Camden, was reduced to two companies, and which formed the ‘renowned Delawares,’ commanded by the ‘brave, meritorious, and unrewarded Kirkwood.’” The letter from Charles-François, vicomte Du Buysson, a French officer fighting with the Americans, to Washington, can be read here.


9. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Gen. Samuel Smith, distinguished in the defense of the Delaware in ‘77; probably the oldest survivor in years and rank, of the Old Maryland Line.”


10. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Gen. [Philip] Reed of the Eastern Shore. Was severely wounded at Camden. In the last war [of 1812], this veteran, a cripple from his Revolutionary wound, turned out again in arms, and successfully opposed the enterprises of the enemy in the Chesapeake, thus showing that neither age nor wounds had changed or impaired ‘the rare stuff which composed the Old Maryland Line.’” Reed commanded the Maryland militia who defeated the British at the Battle of Caulk’s Field in August, 1814, one of the militia’s only victories during the war.


11. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Col. Anderson [probably Maj. Archibald Anderson, killed at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, March, 1781]. A gallant officer in the regiment of Howard, and distinguished himself at the battle of the Cowpens.”


12. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Col. William Dent Beall. Served from nearly the first to quite the last of the Revolutionary War, having been engaged in the action on the Combahee, in 1782, where the chivalric and lamented [Col. John] Laurens fell.” Beall’s military service began in July, 1776, as a lieutenant in the Flying Camp.


13. The text of the original poem includes this note: “Adjutant Lowry Donaldson, who fell at North Point, 1814, saying ‘I die, but let not the battle die with me.’” The Battle of North Point was part of the American defense of Baltimore during the British attack 12-14 September 1814, the “days of September” the poem refers to.


14. The text of the original poem includes this note: “James McCulloch, Collector of Baltimore, a soldier of the Revolution. When the British landed at North Point, the veteran McCulloch shouldered a musket as a volunteer, and marching to meet the enemy, some young men were discovered on an elevation, looking through a spy-glass. ‘What are ye looking at?’ asked McCulloch. ‘At the British’ was the reply. ‘Pshaw,’ said the heroic old man, ‘come along with me and I’ll ensure ye a better view of them.’ Shot through the thigh, and lying on the field, the British were astonished to see a frosty-haired grandfather among young soldiers, and asked ‘What are ye doing here, Grandada’? ‘Fighting the enemies of my country,’ was the reply. ‘Why, you are too old.’ ‘Not a bit,” replied the heroic veteran; “I have fought you twice, and if, with the blessing of God I recover from my wounds, I shall be ready for you a third time.’”

Corporal Zachariah Gray’s Last Will and Testament

Corporal Zachariah Gray may have been the oldest enlisted man in the First Maryland Regiment when the regiment fought at the Battle of Brooklyn. At the time of his enlistment on February 3, 1776 Gray was forty-five years old, significantly older than most other enlisted men. While age and demographic information for the entire regiment is largely incomplete, the average age of a soldier Captain Edward Veazey’s Seventh Independent Company was twenty-four (Read more about the demographics of Veazey’s Company here). Gray’s reasons for enlisting at such an advanced age are unknown, but patriotism, financial need, or a combination of both, may have been motivating factors.

Gray was fortunate to survive the charge of the Maryland 400, but he did not make it back to the safety of the American lines and became a prisoner of the British. British treatment of enlisted prisoners was notoriously harsh, but Gray did not have to endure a long captivity and returned to Maryland by the end of 1776.

Upon his return to Maryland, Gray composed a short and poorly written will. Like other soldiers, it is likely that army life and the terrible realities of combat compelled Gray to compose his will (See will of Edward Sinclair, and will of Captain Daniel Bowie). Gray’s will was very simple and bequeathed everything to his wife Comfort, and upon her death, to his son Zachariah.

Although Gray was somewhat literate, his incorrect spelling and penmanship is indicative of the education available to the son of a modest planter. While Gray’s literacy was limited, the fact that he had any literacy probably played a large part in earning him the non-commissioned rank of corporal.

Undeterred by the events of 1776, Gray returned to the army sometime after January 1777. Unfortunately for Gray, the writing of his will proved prescient. Sometime before September 1777, Gray’s unit engaged in a skirmish with the British near Brunswick, New Jersey and Gray died in the ensuing combat. Gray’s bequeathed property was not enough to meet the needs of Comfort and her five small children; in 1777 the Council of Safety paid her money for subsistence, and in 1778 and 1779 she also received money from Baltimore County.

zachariahgraywill-page-001a

“This is to certify that I, Zachariah Gray of Baltimore County left all my right and property to my dear wife Comfort Gray after her death then to my son Zachariah Gray.”

Notes:

1. Will of Zachariah Gray, Baltimore County, Register of Wills, Wills, Original, Box 16, Folder 10 [MSA C 437-19].

2. Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, January 1-March 20, 1777, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 16, p. 379.

3. Baltimore County, Register of Wills, Orphans Court Proceedings, 1777-1787, vol. 1, p. 13p. 30 [MSA C 396-1].

Sergeant Levin Wilcoxon: Settler of “Westsylvania”

Levin Wilcoxon served as a sergeant in the Third Company when the First Maryland Regiment fought at the Battle of Brooklyn. Following his discharge from the army in 1777, Wilcoxon returned to Prince George’s County and eventually moved to neighboring Montgomery County were he worked as a planter.

In 1781 Wilcoxon sold his lands in Prince George’s County and sometime thereafter moved to the frontier territory west of the Alleghany Mountains near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While frontier life was difficult, settlers also dealt with challenges resulting from border disputes between Pennsylvania and Virginia.

After moving to the territory, Wilcoxon signed a petition sent to the Continental Congress that advocated the creation of the State of Westsylvania and highlighted the difficulties of living in the disputed territory. While the frontiersman believed they served as a barrier between the “savages” (Native Americans) and the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia, the states treated them “more like slaves than free men,” as the unsettled border caused them to be “bartered, sold, or transferred from one State to another like Feudal Tenants of old, or as though they could be under the arbitrary and despotic laws of Russia or Tartary.”

Page 251

Petition of Westsylvania settlers to the Continental Congress, written sometime between 1781 and 1783. Note the large size of the document. Petition to the Continental Congress, Papers of the Continental Congress, NARA M247, Roll 62, Item 48, Page 251, From Fold3.com.

To make matters worse, the legislature of Pennsylvania enacted a law declaring any mention of the formation of a new state an act of treason punishable by death, which was particularly concerning to the settlers.  Clearly influenced by the spirit of the American Revolution, the petitioners cited their right to “liberty and the security of property.” As a veteran of the Revolutionary War, Wilcoxon firmly believed in these principles and felt compelled to lend his name to the petition.

Despite their impassioned plea, the Continental Congress never acknowledged the concerns of the settlers and the movement to create Westsylvania eventually died out. Levin Wilcoxon’s exact fate after signing the petition is unknown, but it is likely that he died in the territory.

Notes:

1. Alden, George Henry. “New Governments West of the Alleghanies Before 1780.” Doctoral Thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1897. From Archive.org.

2. Petition to the Continental Congress, Papers of the Continental Congress, NARA M247, Roll 62, Item 48, Page 251, From Fold3.com.

3. Slaughter, Thomas P. The Whiskey Rebellion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

“Cain Tuck lands”: Uncovering the Life of Peter Brown

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Account of services rendered by Peter Brown, 1777. Maryland State Papers. Revolutionary War Papers. MdHR 19970-02-04/17 [MSA S997-2-270, 01/07/03/008].

Ensign Peter Brown was the only officer from the Third Company not killed or captured during the Battle of Brooklyn (Captain Barton Lucas was sick and missed the engagement). He remained in the army for almost a year after the battle, resigning in July 1777. Most of the information about his military career comes from the Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18. Documents from the Maryland State Archives Revolutionary War Papers Collection help provide further specifics about his military service.

While Brown’s military career is relatively clear, his biographical information is much more difficult to discern, especially given his common name. Despite this difficulty, we do know that the recruitment area for the Third Company targeted Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, which gives us an idea of where he may have come from. Brown’s mention in a petition from a Prince George’s County militia company to the Council of Safety in April 1776 makes his connection to the area more plausible. A record of a marriage between Peter Brown and Elizabeth Beall in May 1781 in Prince George’s County further strengthens the case for his ties to the area.

Brown’s connection to Prince George’s County enabled us to focus on records from that county to gain a more complete picture of his life. Land records were particularly useful in this case; they refer to him as a “planter,” and reveal that he also owned land in Montgomery County. Yearly tax assessments from both counties indicate the years he resided in each county, and provide the value of his land and personal property. This information helps us determine his occupation, wealth and social class relative to the rest of the local community, and gives us a better sense of his quality of life.

Interestingly, Brown does not appear in probate records for either county, an indication that left the area before his death. The last documentation linking him to the area is an August 1798 court case regarding money owed to him from a deceased person’s estate. While this gives us an approximate idea of the latest date he lived in the region, it does not provide any insight into where he went or why.

To determine where Brown may have gone, it was necessary to expand our search outside of the two counties. The 1800 Federal Census lists a Peter Brown in Frederick County, Maryland, but we were unable to confirm if this was our research subject. It was very possible that Brown was steadily moving north through the state and ended up in Frederick County. However, the 1790 Census listed two Peter Browns; one in Prince George’s County and one in Frederick. This information led us to believe that the Peter Brown in Frederick County was the same one showing up in later censuses and was not the Peter Brown from the Maryland 400.

andrewbeallwill142

Andrew Beall’s will referring to “Cain Tuck.” Prince George’s County. Register of Wills. Wills. T 1, p. 142. MdHR 9725-1 [MSA C1326-3, 01/25/07/004]

At an apparent dead end with our resources, it was necessary to do an internet search for clues. Results indicated a possible connection to Kentucky, and one source specifically referred to the will of Andrew Beall, Elizabeth Beall’s father. Examining his will in our records confirm his mention of Brown, and the bequeathing of his “Cain Tuck” lands to Elizabeth. Aware of the fact that many Marylanders settled in Kentucky after the Revolution, it is very likely that “Cain Tuck” refers to Kentucky. The listing of a Peter Brown in Kentucky in the 1810, 1820, and 1830 Federal Censuses also corroborates this.

Unfortunately, without access to archival records from Kentucky we cannot look at Brown’s will or other documents that might confirm his connection to Maryland. However, the totality of the information we uncovered enables us to make the case that he most likely came from Prince George’s County and eventually settled in Kentucky. Though we cannot absolutely confirm this, we are confident that the evidence we have uncovered supports this theory.

The complications confronting us in finding and confirming the details of Peter Brown’s life outside of the army are not unique when researching the men of the Maryland 400. Often times we are only able to uncover general information and in many cases we are unable to locate any information at all. In the case of Peter Brown we uncovered specific facts about his occupation and wealth; however, we can make only generalizations about his origins and eventual relocation to Kentucky.

John H. Beanes: The Lone Escaping Lieutenant of Ninth Company

John Hancock Beanes was the first lieutenant of the Ninth Company, First Maryland Regiment when the regiment fought at the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776. He was the only lieutenant of the Ninth Company to avoid capture; Second Lieutenant Hatch Dent, Jr. and Third Lieutenant Walker Muse were both taken prisoner and endured unusually long captivities for officers. After surviving the battle, Beanes was promoted to captain and served with the army until the end of 1777. He returned to Prince George’s County following his resignation but continued to act in a military capacity, serving as an officer in the Maryland Militia until 1796. After the war Beanes owned and operated a tavern and a distillery, was appointed a Tobacco Inspector, and was also one of the wealthiest men in Prince George’s County.

To read more about the life of John H. Beanes, check out his recently posted biography here.

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.