Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Augustus Dashiell (1754-1780)
MSA SC 3520-16718

Biography:

William Augustus Dashiell was born on September 26, 1754 to Louther and Anna Dashiell in Somerset County to an influential Eastern Shore family. His father was a prominent Somerset landowner and farmer and son of George Dashiell, who served in the Lower House of the Maryland General Assembly from Somerset County from 1719 to 1722 and a justice of the Somerset County Court from 1734 to 1748. William had five siblings: Louther, Arthur, Matthias, Jane, and Milcah. [1]

In 1764, when Dashiell was ten years old, his father died. At the time of Louther's death, the Dashiell estate was worth approximately £ 1260, and had 560 acres of land. William received a portion of Dashiell Lot, his family’s 470-acre plot of land, and two slaves named Paris and Casey. [2] His father also desired that his sons “Louther and Arthur and William and Matthias go to trades such as they think proper to go for to learn by their mother Ann Dashiell.” [3] Sometime around his mother's death in 1773, William chose the medical profession, per his father’s wishes.

By 1774, Dashiell was working in Baltimore under the mentorship of Dr. Charles Frederick Wiesenthal, a leading surgeon of the Revolutionary period. Dashiell defended his "preceptor" against accusations of negligent care of a patient in a case by Dr. Ephraim Howard: "You are so pleased to charge Dr. Whiesenthall with a contrary opinion, I found a torrent of quotations merely to prove the necessity of bleeding in inflammations." [4]

Two years later, in March 1776, Dashiell Colonel William Smallwood’s battalion of Maryland troops as a surgeon’s mate, and worked with Wiesenthal, who was surgeon until his resignation in July that year. [5] Dashiell's job as surgeon’s mate was to assist the surgeon as necessary in their dual positions as surgeons and doctors. In July of 1776, after months of training in Annapolis, the First Maryland Regiment was sent to reinforce the Continental Army in New York in anticipation of a British invasion. 

On August 27, 1776, American forces faced British troops at the Battle of Brooklyn (also known as the Battle of Long Island), the first full-scale engagement of the war. The battle was a disaster for the Continental Army. Soldiers were forced to retreat by attempting to swim through Gowanus Creek under heavy fire, taking severe losses in the process. To hold the British at bay, the remaining Maryland troops who had not crossed the creek yet mounted a series of charges. This act by the Marylanders delayed the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape. Despite the loss of 256 men who were killed or captured, the bravery and sacrifice of the Maryland troops earned them the title of the "Maryland 400." [6]

The role of medical officers  became more important through the Continental Army’s retreat from New York in the fall of 1776. Despite the growing number of sick and wounded men, conflict between regimental surgeons and the Hospital Department inhibited their care. 

The tensions between the two departments arose primarily due to a staggering lack of supplies. While regimental surgeons such as Dashiell believed they were able to demand everything from the general hospital’s supply, the Hospital Department disagreed, limiting the quantity of medical supplies they distributed to the regiments. [7] The growing number of sick soldiers and declining medical supplies and proper medical officials resulted in hundreds of men unfit for duty. Captain John Allen Thomas of the Fifth Independent Company wrote to the Maryland Council of Safety about the "unhappy situation of the Maryland Troops" and to report that there were "near two hundred Men unfit for duty and most of them without any assistance from the Doctor." [8] No remedy was provided for the Marylanders.

When both regimental and general hospital surgeons arrived at White Plains, there again was a lack in the supplies and staff provided, including many regimental surgeons who failed to show up at White Plains. [9] The conflict between general and regimental medical units worsened to the point where Smallwood himself became involved. After facing negligent doctors at the hospital in October 1776, Smallwood removed his men from the general hospital and insisted that they would receive better care "in a comfortable house in the country, and supplied with only common rations." [10] It is unknown whether or not Dashiell was present at White Plains to tend to his regiment, as he was no longer with the regiment by December 1776. [11]

The strain between the regimental and general surgeons continued throughout the war. On January 9, 1778, multiple surgeons from the Maryland Line resigned, citing "injustice & Insult that has been offered to [their] profession," the "general contempt that Regimental Surgeons & Assistants are held in," and "the little Benefit we can be of to [soldiers] from our being furnished with nothing necessary to relieve their Wants & distresses" as reasons for their departure. [12] In June 1778, Dashiell joined the Continental Army's Hospital Department as a surgeon. He would work at the hospital until August 1780. [13]

Dashiell died in Baltimore on December 5, 1780 at the age of 26, unmarried and with no children. He left his estate to his brother Matthias and nephews Arthur and John Stevens. [14]

Cassy Sottile, Explore America Research Intern, 2019

Notes:

[1] Will of Louther Dashiell, 1765, Somerset County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber E.B. 4, p. 115 [MSA C-1815-4, 01/50/04/004]; Will of Anna Dashiell, 1773, Somerset County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber E.B. 4, p. 180 [MSA C-1815-4, 01/50/04/004]; Ruth T. Dryden, Stepney Parish Records of Somerset County Maryland (San Diego, California, 1988), 31; Edward C. Papenfuse, et. al eds., A Biographical Dictionary of Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789, Vol. I. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 426, p. 252.

[2] Land Office, Debt Books, Somerset County, Vol. 45, 1764, p. 13 [S12-203, 01/24/03/005]; Inventory of Louther Dashiell, 1765, Somerset County Prerogative Court, Inventories, Liber 88, p. 336 [MSA  S534-89, 01/12/01/033].

[3] Louther Dashiell Will.

[4] "To Doctor Ephraim Howard, 7 February 1774," Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 24 February 1774 ; "Letter to Dr. Charles Frederick Whiesenthall, January 1774," Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 27 January 1774; Eugene Fauntleroy Cordell, Medical Annals of Maryland 1799-1899 (Baltimore, Medical and Chirurgical Faculty of Maryland, 1903), 656-657.

[5] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol 18, p. 20; Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line, (Baltimore, The Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland, 1971), 71.

[6] Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246. From Fold3.com.

[7] Mary C. Gillett, The Army Medical Department, 1775-1818, (Washington, D.C., Center of Military History, 1981), 31.

[8] Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, 7 July: December 31, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol 12, p. 256-257; for more information on Captain Thomas and his letter, see "The Unhappy Situation" and "Unfit for Duty: Medicine and Illness in the Revolutionary War" on the Finding the Maryland 400 research blog.

[9] Gillett, 72.

[10] Gillett, 31; Archives of Maryland Online, vol 12, p. 357-363.

[11] Maryland State Papers, Series A, Pay Abstract, First Maryland Regiment, October-December 1776, box 1, no. 108, MdHR 6636-1-108 [MSA S1004-1-87, 1/7/3/25].

[12] Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881. From Fold3.com.

[13] Steuart, 71; Compiled Service Records.

[14] Will of William Augustus Dashiell, 1780, Baltimore County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber 3, p. 345 [MSA C-437-19, 02/33/08/015].

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