Mordecai Gist: Leading the Maryland 400

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as Freedom should not be highly rated.”

-Thomas Paine, The American Crisis

In the United States the year 1776 is remembered as a triumphant year; the year in which the republic shook off its chains of bondage and declared its independence from Great Britain. Perhaps it can be said that strident patriotism defined the first half of the year leading up to Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. However, by December, national fervor was supplanted by cold dismay and uncertainty. By November, the Americans had suffered serious defeats at the Battles of Long Island, White Plains, and Fort Washington. It appeared as though the New York and New Jersey campaigns would end as an utter disaster for the Continental Army. In December, Thomas Paine, sensing the growing pessimism, began what would become a series of pamphlets, known collectively as The American Crisis. In his first issue he enjoined Americans to not lose heart and famously wrote the passage above quoted. Three days after the pamphlet circulated, General George Washington crossed the Delaware River and delivered a shocking defeat to the British at the Battle of Trenton.

Mordecai Gist.

Mordecai Gist. (Maryland State Archives)

Enduring the biting disappointments, that the Fall of 1776 brought, was a young officer from Maryland, Major Mordecai Gist. Gist witnessed firsthand the devastating defeats of 1776 and endured them with an inspiring stoicism and devotion to the ideals of the Revolution that would have made Paine proud. On August 27, 1776, Gist found himself in command of the First Maryland Regiment at the Battle of Long Island, when despite it being his first combat, displayed heroic bravery in the face of certain defeat. Tasked with guarding the American retreat, Gist and his Marylanders were greatly outnumbered by British forces. Despite this numerical superiority, Gist led his men to attack the enemy several times and successfully protected the bulk of the Continental Army from being captured or destroyed. The stand of the Major Gist and his “Maryland 400” became an enduring symbol of American resolve.

Read Mordecai Gist’s full biography by clicking here.

-Daniel

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