The Battle of Brooklyn in Five Objects: Number 1, William Sands’s Letter

The anniversary of the Battle of Brooklyn will take place next Sunday. To commemorate it, we are beginning a new series: The Battle of Brooklyn in Five Objects. Every day this week we will feature an object from the collections of the Maryland State Archives that helps to tell the story of the service and sacrifice of the First Maryland Regiment.

We begin today with a description of the scene in New York in the days before the Battle of Brooklyn. William Sands was a nineteen-year-old sergeant from Annapolis when he wrote this letter to his parents, Ann and John Sands.

William Sands’s letter to his parents, August 14, 1776 [MSA SC 2095-1-184]

He had written them a few weeks before, describing the Marylanders’ trip through Philadelphia, and assuring them that, despite some “false reports,” “the girl is not in company with me.” The girl’s identity has unfortunately been lost to time.

By the time Sands wrote this letter on August 14, 1776, such anecdotes had given way to clear-eyed reports of military preparations. He spoke of the measures taken to resist the British, including chevaux-de-frise, underwater barricades designed to block ship traffic; see images here. Sands also reported on the arrival of “that damned rascal” Lord Dunmore, colonial governor of Virginia. Dunmore had earned the undying enmity of many Americans by offering freedom to slaves who would run away and fight for him. The prospect of armed slaves was enraging and terrifying, which explains the contempt that Sands had for him. Dunmore’s ill-fated Ethiopian Regiment was decimated by smallpox, and never became an effective fighting force.

It is uncertain when Sands’s letters reached his parents. Perhaps they were carried to Maryland as he wrote them, or brought there later that year. However, it is certain that by the time they read them, William was dead. He was, as a family member added to his last letter, “Killed on Long Island August 27th 1776.” The letters remained in the family for many years, until being donated to the Archives, along with many other family papers.

A transcription of Sands’ letter is below. Spelling and grammar have been updated for readability. You can also view images of both his letters.

New York August 14th 1776

Honoured Father and Mother

I send to inform you that I am well and quite hearty, as I hope this will find you and all the family.

Our Maryland Battalion is encamped on a hill about one mile out of New York, where we lay in a very secure place.

There is about 200 sail of the King’s ships lay[ing] close by us. Two of [illegible; possibly says: them (one 40-gun ship, one 36-gun) is gone to try our fleet at the] North River but got a good deal damaged. We have sunk chevaux-de-frise in the channel to keep them from coming down again, which by the help of our row gallies and floating batteries we expect to have them for our own use in a little time.

Yesterday, the enemy had a reinforcement of that damned rascal Dunmore’s fleet, as we expect. There was about 40 sail. We are ordered to hold ourselves in readiness. We expect an attack hourly. We have lost a great many of our troops. They have deserted from us at Philadelphia and Elizabethtown, and a great many sick in the hospital. There is rations given out at New York for 6,000 men daily. John Anderson is in a company of riflemen stationed close by us.

I should be glad if you will write to me the first opportunity and let me know the news, if there is any in that part of the country. We expect, please God, to winter in Annapolis, those that live of us.

William Sands

Stay tuned for object number two tomorrow!

-Owen

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  1. Pingback: Happy National Literacy Day! – Literacy Rates in Colonial America | Finding the Maryland 400

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