The Mystery of the Maryland 400, Part II

Read Part I of this post here

On October 12, 1776, William Smallwood wrote a dispatch about the Battle of Brooklyn back to Maryland. The commander of the First Maryland Regiment noted that he had “enclosed a List of the Kill’d & Missing amounting to 256 officers inclusive.” [1] Since the goal of this project is to document who those men were, this list is tremendously important to our work. Or it would be, if we had it. But it’s missing, and it hasn’t been seen for perhaps 150 years.

Smallwood’s report of the 256 “Kill’d & Missing” Marylanders at the Battle of Brooklyn. Click to view the entire document. Maryland State Papers, Red Books, vol. 4, no. 19 [MSA S989-4].

While there is no one today who knows what this document looked like, we recently discovered a description of it, written by a man who was very familiar with it. George G. Brewer was the Register of the Land Office 1827-1851, and took great interest in the historical records in his custody. [2] As he put it, “The records of the Maryland troops that served in the War of the Revolution are very imperfect. I know the fact, because, I was the Register of the Land office of Maryland for 26 years, and had charge of the records of the Revolution, and profess to know something about the records.” [3]

In 1855, Brewer wrote to the U.S. Commissioner of Pensions regarding the military service of Bryan Philpot, who had been an ensign in the Eighth Company in 1776, and nearly drowned while retreating through the Gowanus Swamp at the Battle of Brooklyn. Philpot’s widow Elizabeth was eligible for a pension as the wife of a Revolutionary veteran, but there was some dispute about the documentation of Philpot’s service. To help bolster her claim, Brewer described how “Among the papers filed in the case is a return made by Col. Smallwood himself…and in this return Col. Smallwood gives the names of the Killed and Wounded [at the battle]. This [was] a return made to reorganize the corps.” [4] Such a reorganization was necessary after the battle since the Marylanders lost so many men that some companies had to be consolidated in order to have enough men to be effective.

George G. Brewer’s letter in Bryan Philpot’s pension application. Click to view the whole document. From Fold3.com.

If Brewer had seen the list sometime before 1855, what happened to it? No one can say for sure. By the end of the nineteenth century, the storage conditions of the historical records in the Land Office had deteriorated. Motivated in part by concerns for the survival of these records, John Thomas Scharf, who was Register of the Land Office 1884-1892, took many of them for his own collection. Scharf’s papers were donated to the Maryland Historical Society in 1948, and the records from the Land Office were returned to the State Archives in the 1970s. Smallwood’s list was not among them. It could have been lost or destroyed through neglect when it was in the Land office, or while in Scharf’s custody, or at some other time. Perhaps it still exists, misidentified somewhere.

The prospect of Smallwood’s record of the Marylanders “Kill’d & Missing” at the Battle of Brooklyn is tantalizing. If we had it, our research on the Maryland 400 would be greatly enriched. We often encounter soldiers who disappear from the historical record after the battle, but frequently we have no way to determine if they were killed or captured–or simply didn’t appear in other records, a common enough event. However, unless Smallwood’s list is one day rediscovered, all we can do is try to uncover anything we can learn about the soldiers of the First Maryland Regiment. It is an honor to do so.

–Owen

Notes:

1. William Smallwood to Matthew Tilghman (Chair of the Convention of Maryland), in Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 12, p. 341.

2. Even today, the Land Office is affiliated with archival preservation, and the State Archivist also serves as the Commissioner of Land Patents, and the the Land Office is a subunit of the State Archives.

3. George G. Brewer to J. Minot, Commissioner of Pensions, 29 October 1855, in Pension Application of Bryan Philpot (Elizabeth Philpot). National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, W 5543, from Fold3.com.

4. Ibid.

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1 Response to The Mystery of the Maryland 400, Part II

  1. Pingback: The Mystery of the Maryland 400, Part I | Finding the Maryland 400

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