Smallwood, William (1732-1792), military officer and government official, was born in 1732, probably at "Smallwood's Retreat" in Charles County, Maryland, the son of Bayne Smallwood (c.1711-1768), planter, merchant, and politician, and his wife Priscilla Heabard (?-1784). Smallwood had one brother and five sisters.

Smallwood was educated in England, first at Kendall and then at Eton. He was a communicant of the Church of England and served at least one term as a vestryman of Durham Parish in Charles County. Other local service included terms as a justice of the peace in 1762 and from 1770 to 1773. Smallwood represented his county as a delegate to the Lower House from 1761 through 1774. He then served in several of the extra-legal conventions that governed the colony between 1774 and 1776.

Having already fought in the French and Indian War, Smallwood returned to military service on 14 Jan 1776 when commissioned as a colonel in the First Maryland Regiment. In July he led a contingent of 1,400 men from Annapolis to join the Continental Army, where they participated in the Battle of Long Island, protecting the retreat of Washington's forces. Smallwood was wounded in October of that year at the Battle of White Plains, but continued to serve, now as a brigadier general, in subsequent engagements in New York and New Jersey. Between 1779 and 1780 Smallwood was headquartered in Wilmington, Deleware, charged with surveillance of the Chesapeake Bay and protection of the Continental Army's stores. In 1780 Smallwood's troops moved south as part of General Gates' army fighting in South Carolina, where in September Smallwood was appointed a major general and division commander. When he refused to serve under a foreigner, Baron von Steuben, Smallwood was sent back to Maryland to raise supplies and enlist troops. Smallwood left the army on 15 Nov 1783. He was elected to the Continental Congress in 1784 but declined to serve.

Chosen as governor by the legislature in Nov 1785, Smallwood served three one-year terms (the statutory limit). As governor, Smallwood called the Maryland Convention which, despite strong anti-Federalist sentiment in the state, ratified the Constitution in April 1788. White credits Smallwood with encouraging the movement to improve Potomac River navigation, but the negotiations between Maryland and Virginia delegates largely took place before Smallwood became governor, although he was chief executive when the legislature ratified the accord in Dec 1785.

When his third gubernatorial term ended, Smallwood retired for a time to the life of a gentleman planter. He was active in the local Masonic chapter and helped to organize the Maryland chapter of the Society of the Cincinnati, for which he served as the first president. Smallwood returned to public office in 1791, when elected to the state Senate, where he served as president of the first session.

William Smallwood never married and left no known children. He died on 14 Feb 1792, at "his woodyard" in Prince George's County, according to Annapolis diarist William Faris. Smallwood was buried at his plantation, "Smallwood's Retreat," in Charles County. During his lifetime, Smallwood amassed landholdings of about 9,500 acres in Maryland and 2,000 acres in Virginia. His estate was heavily indebted, however, and his administrators were forced to sell his land to help settle the claims.

Smallwood is most noted as "an outstanding military leader" (White, 21) but Mereness held a more critical view of his performance, noting Smallwood's complaints that he should have been promoted more rapidly and that Maryland deserved more recognition for her contributions to the war effort, as well as "his offensive attitude toward foreigners. His greatest service in the war was as a drill master, in raising men and supplies, and in administering the other military affairs of his state" (Mereness, 226). In a more recent evaluation, Brugger records that "[b]y all reports Maryland troops received superior training from Smallwood, a rigorous disciplinarian" (Brugger, 228) and that the Maryland Line fought bravely and well in a number of critical engagements.

642 words Biography Project, Maryland State Archives

New DNB Sources sheet

Subject's name: Smallwood, William


1* E. C. Papenfuse, A. F. Day, D. W. Jordan, and G. A. Stiverson, eds., A biographical dictionary of the Maryland legislature, 1635-1789, Baltimore, Maryland (1985).

2* F. F. White, Jr., The governors of Maryland, 1777-1970, Annapolis, Maryland (1970).

3* R. J. Brugger, Maryland: A Middle Temperament, 1634-1980, Baltimore, Maryland (1988), 128-29

4 N. D. Mereness, "William Smallwood," Dictionary of American Biography, XVII (1964).

5 M. B. Klapthor and P. D. Brown, The History of Charles County, Maryland, La Plata, Maryland (1958).



K. William Smallwood Collection, MS.1875, Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland








* C. W. Peale, portrait (oils), 1823, Maryland Commission on Artistic Property of the Maryland State Archives, Annapolis, Maryland.

R. E. Pine (oils), Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.

J. Trumbull, miniature (oils), 1792?, Yale University Art Galley, New Haven, Connecticut

R. Peale, portrait (oils), c.1812, Baltimore Museum of Art, Baltimore, Maryland

C. W. Peale, portrait (oils), 1781-82?, Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Value of estate or

possessions at death Personal property valued at £4,761.6.7 current money (including 26 slaves and 53 oz. of plate) and approximately 9,500 acres in Maryland and 2,000 acres in Virginia. Smallwood's estate was heavily indebted, requiring the sale of his real estate to cover the debts, estimated in 1798 to total £17,500.

Source of data Biographical Dictionary, 2:742.

New DNB Information sheet


Main Name Smallwood William

Variants of main names none

Alternative names none

Name as known none



Source of data: Biographical Dictionary, 2:741


Birth 1732 probably Smallwood's Retreat, Charles County, Maryland

Source of data: Biographical Dictionary, 2:741

Baptism unknown


Main name Smallwood Bayne

Alternative names none

Titles none

Birth date c.1711 Death date 1768

Occupation planter, merchant (firm of Bayne Smallwood & Company)


Maiden name Heabard Priscilla

Alternative names none

Titles none

Birth date unknown Death date 1784

Occupation none

Source of Parents' data: Biographical Dictionary, 2:740-41


?-? Kendall, England; Eton

Source of data: Biographical Dictionary, 2:741


1732-1792 Christian: Church of England; Episcopal Church

Source of data: Biographical Dictionary, 2:741


Date Address

1732-1792 Smallwood's Retreat, Charles County, Maryland

Source of data: Biographical Dictionary, 2:741


By descent England

By association Maryland


Death 14 February 1792 'His woodyard' in Prince George's County

Cause of death unknown

Burial Smallwood's Retreat, Charles County, Maryland

Source of data: Biographical Dictionary, 2:741; place of death recorded in William Faris's diary, entry for 2/16/1792, MS.2160, Maryland Historical Society

Missing data

None not noted above.


Birth, death, burial x

Parents x

Spouse/partners x


Double spacing x

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