The Case of Thomas Connor, Who Didn’t Die in Battle

Of the 256 Marylanders who were killed or captured at the Battle of Brooklyn (more than 25 percent of the regiment), very few have so far been identified by name. We know the names of just four who died and seventy who were taken prisoner. Our efforts to learn more are complicated because the fates of enlisted soldiers—non-officers—were not always recorded. Sergeant William Sands is the only non-officer we know who was killed at the battle, and we only learned about his death from family sources.

You can see the names of all known Marylanders killed or captured in the Battle of Brooklyn Roll of Honor.

Until recently, we counted Thomas Connor among those killed in action. Connor was a private in the Second Company,  and his death was purportedly witnessed by Francis Osborn, another soldier in the company. Many years after the war, Osborn recalled that he saw his captain Patrick Sim “knocked down by the body of Thomas Connor whose head was shot off by a cannon.” [1] This was a valuable discovery for us, since so little is known about the men who died at Brooklyn, and duly recorded Connor’s death.

Francis Osborn’s statement, recalling the death of Thomas Connor “at the Memorable Battle of Long Island.”

As we continued to study the Second Company, however, we noticed that Connor (sometimes called O’Connor) seemed to not be dead. In fact, he seemed to reenlist in December 1776. Perhaps someone with the same name? That’s always a possibility, and there was at least one other Thomas Connor in the Maryland Line during the war.

Eventually, however, we determined that Connor survived the Battle of Brooklyn, despite what Osborn thought he remembered. In fact, Connor served in the army for four years, and later recalled that “he enlisted in the State of Maryland in March 1776 in the Company Commanded by Captain Patrick Simms of the first Maryland Regiment…[and] continued to serve…until the month of January 1780, when he was discharged.” [2]

After his four years in the army, Connor returned to Maryland, before eventually settling in Nelson County, Kentucky. Connor was awarded a Federal veteran’s pension in 1818, and received $80.00 per year for the rest of his life, helping him and his wife (her name is unknown) to survive. Connor died in Nelson County in early 1826, when he was about eighty years old.

Pension applications are an unmatched source of information about soldiers’ lives and military careers. Connor’s application let us differentiate him from other soldiers with the same name. They have their drawbacks, however, and can lead researchers in the wrong direction, as happened to us. In fairness to Francis Osborn, his recollection of Connor’s death came more than forty years after the battle, so some errors in memory are understandable. It is certain that Osborn witnessed the deaths of many comrades at Brooklyn and later battles, but he was mistaken in his remembrance of Thomas Connor.

–Owen

Notes:

1. Pension of Patrick Sim. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S 35072, from Fold3.com.

2. Pension of Thomas O’Connor. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S 35541, from Fold3.com.

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2 Responses to The Case of Thomas Connor, Who Didn’t Die in Battle

  1. Mary Ellen Moore says:

    I found your website last year while trying to document one of my ancestor’s service. Richard James Rapier supposedly fought with the MARYLAND 400 and then later moved to Nelson County, KY. I was reading the blog about Thomas Conner/O’Conner and surprised to see Nelson County mentioned.
    I am a Deputy Clerk for the Nelson County Clerk’s Office and work in the Old Records Room. In our files, I found his petition for a pension as a Revolutionary War Veteran. There is not a lot about him in our records, but was surprised to find he left a will, naming his “well beloved wife Mary” and son Thomas J. O’Coner. I would be happy to share copies if anyone is interested.
    Keep up the good work.

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