“The child…was almost entirely destitute of maintenance and support”: A trust fund for Captain Edgerly’s son

Edward Edgerly served in the Maryland Line for five years, enlisting as a sergeant in February 1776.  He fought at the Battle of Brooklyn that August, earning a place among the famed Maryland 400.  In 1777, he received a commission and served as a “respectable and brave” officer, becoming a captain by 1779.  He survived many harsh battles, including Trenton, Princeton, Staten Island, Brandywine, Germantown, and Camden.

In 1781, the Continental Army met the British at the Battle of Eutaw Springs in South Carolina. This time, Edgerly was not so fortunate, and was killed during the battle, just six weeks before the surrender at Yorktown.

the battle of eutaw springs

“The British centre breaking before the charge of the Virginia and Maryland regiments.” The Battle of Eutaw Springs, by F.C. Yohn. From the New York Public Library. 

Before the war, Edward Edgerly married a woman whose name is not known.  They had a son together in 1764, also named Edward, but Edgerly’s wife died before him.  Edward Jr. was just seventeen years old when he became an orphan, and Edward Sr. had “no legal representative[s] in this country.” Because there was no family around to take over as Edward Jr.’s guardian, it is likely the Edgerly family was not native to Maryland or perhaps to the United States.  

Two men, Major John Davidson and Captain Christopher Richmond, acted to help Edward Jr. Davidson, Richmond, and Edgerly served together as officers throughout the war, beginning as early as the Battle of Brooklyn, and they likely felt compelled to help a friend who died for the cause for which they fought.  They petitioned the House of Delegates, describing how “through acts of attention and parental care, [Edward Sr.] sufficiently manifested his affection for the child…[who was nevertheless] almost entirely destitute of maintenance and support.”  They argued that “affection for officers who have died for their country, political gratitude to a virtuous citizen, [and] humanity for an helpless [minor]” should be sufficient reasons to help Edward Jr.  The House of Delegates agreed, and took the unusual step of creating a trust fund for the son.

Like many, Edward Sr. had not been fully paid for his military service.  The House of Delegates resolved that Edward Jr. would be paid the interest that accrued on his father’s back pay, which would help with his “maintenance and education.”  When Edward Jr. turned twenty-one, or got married, he would receive the remainder of his father’s money.

Following the war, no formal program was established to offer relief to the soldiers or their families.  The state government had set up pensions for wounded soldiers, but widows and orphans were left to fend for themselves.  Starting around 1800, individuals began to petition the legislature for help, and they were usually awarded half the pay that they or their husband received while serving.  A system of federal veteran’s pensions was finally set up in 1818, and  soldiers or their widows could apply to receive money from the government.

When Edward Sr. died, no one was left to care for his son.  Unfortunately, many children were orphaned during the war, but they usually had some other family member who could be their guardian. Although we can’t be certain why Edward Jr. was given his father’s pay, it is clear that the two men who helped him were very convincing, and perhaps swayed the hearts of the decision-makers.  Whatever the reason, it was highly unusual.   

When Edward Jr. turned twenty-one in 1785, he was given the full sum of the money that was owed to his father, which totaled £68.8.6. Edward Jr. married Elizabeth Kirk and in 1794 they had a son, Gideon.  Gideon married, his wife also named Elizabeth, and they had a son, Edward.  That son followed in his great-grandfather’s footsteps and became a captain, serving on the Union side in the Civil War.

If you’d like to know more about Edward Edgerly’s service in the Revolutionary War, you can read his biography here.

-Natalie

Notes:

Biographical Annals of Lancaster County, Volume One, 1905 (Reprint, Spartanburg, South Carolina: The Reprint Company, 1985),  868, PDF e-book.

Votes and Proceedings of the House of Delegates, April 1782, 112. Archives of Maryland Online, SCM 3196.

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