Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Joseph Marbury (1744-1801)
MSA SC 3520-16725


The fourth child, and eldest son, of William and Martha (Marlowe) Marbury, Joseph Marbury was born in St. John's, Broad Creek Parish, Prince George's County, Maryland on November 22, 1744. He and his family, which included ten siblings, left for Virginia in 1768 for several years, before settling in Charles County, Maryland, in 1773. One of his brothers, William, was an active member of the Federalist party, and was the plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison (1803).

In January, 1776, Marbury received a commission as the quartermaster of the First Maryland Regiment, which was being raised as the state's contribution to the Continental Army. The quartermaster was in charge of supplying the regiment with food, clothing, and other supplies, and Marbury may have had some experience as a merchant or clerk which qualified him for the position. It is likely, however, that his main motivation in taking the commission was obtaining any officer's rank in the regiment, which was the first group of full-time, professional troops raised in Maryland during the Revolutionary War. Indeed, he jumped from the administrative ranks of the regimental staff to leading an infantry company within the year. [1]

The First Maryland Regiment spent the first half of 1776 training in Annapolis and Baltimore. In July, they were ordered north, to join the Continental Army, under the command of General George Washington, to protect New York from a British attack. The Marylanders arrived there in mid-August, and about two weeks later, on August 27, met the British army in the first large-scale battle of the American Revolution. The Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island) was a rout: the British were able to sneak around the American lines, and the outflanked Americans fled in disarray. However, amid the fighting, a portion of the Marylanders made a daring and courageous stand, holding back a mach larger British force, which allowed the rest of the American troops to escape the battlefield. Later dubbed the "Maryland 400," the Marylanders took heavy causalities, with some companies losing up to 80 percent of their men. [2]

While Marbury presumably saw no combat at the Battle of Brooklyn, the campaign of 1776 greatly tested the ability of the Continental Army to supply its men. Regimental quartermasters like Marbury struggled to meet the needs of the army. Compounding the American supply problems, the Continental Army spent the fall and winter of 1776 on the run, as the British pushed them out of New York, and into the New Jersey countryside, before the Americans secured revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton late that winter.

In December, 1776, the Maryland troops were reorganized and expanded, and Marbury was able to obtain a commission as a captain, leading a company of the newly formed Third Maryland Regiment despite suffering from smallpox the following spring. He served with the army throughout the campaigns that followed, including the defense of Philadelphia in 1777, and the Valley Forge winter of 1777-1778. He also spent the early part of 1780 in Charles County recruiting more men. During this time, he also apparently retained some duties as quartermaster. [3]

The Marylanders were ordered to the Carolinas in Spring, 1780, where they would gain renown for their part in the war's Southern Campaign, but Marbury and his men did not accompany them. Instead, they were dispatched to Ft. Pitt, site of modern-day Pittsburgh, with orders to secure the western frontier against incursions by the British and allied Indians. Marbury's company served at Ft. Pitt from August to December, 1780, before probably joining the rest of the Marylanders in the Carolinas in 1781. The Third Maryland was present at the Siege of Yorktown in October, 1781, although they did not participate in the fighting which led to the British surrender. [4]

While the surrender at Yorktown effectively ended the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army remained on duty until the official end of hostilities in late 1783. Even after that, Marbury and some 70 men were once again detailed to Ft. Pitt in November, 1783, remaining there until the following July. While commanding the fort and its garrison, Marbury was promoted to major. [5]

In the years after the war, Marbury returned to Charles County and remained active. He was a founding member of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization of Continental Army officers, in 1783. During the 1780s, he sought to remain part of Maryland's governmental activities, seeking an appointment as the state's official surveyor of land claims in the western territories in 1786, and requesting a commission as an officer in the state militia's cavalry the following year; neither effort was successful. [6]

Marbury apparently never married or had children, and when he died in early 1801 he left the bulk of his estate--the land he received in compensation for his military service--to his brother Henry's sons. [7]

Owen Lourie, 2015. Research generously provided by Betty deKeyser.

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pps. 5, 140; Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 110.

[2] Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from; Mark Andrew Tacyn “’To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 48-73. For more on the experience of the Marylanders at the Battle of Brooklyn, see "In Their Own Words," on the Maryland State Archives research blog, Finding the Maryland 400.

[3] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 351; Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, April 1, 1778 through October 26, 1779. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 21, pps. 539-541; Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, November 19, 1781 - November 11, 1784, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 43, pps. 53-55, 445, 478; William Smallwood To George Washington, 28 October 1778, Founders Online, National Archives; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, 1777, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 16, pps. 170-171.

[4] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pps. 351-352; Charles H. Lesser, ed., The Sinews of Independence: Monthly Strength Reports of the Continental Army (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 208, 210.

[5] Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from; Muster Rolls, Marbury's Detachment, 1783-1784, NARA M246, Muster rolls, and other records, 1775-83, roll 34, from

[6] Marbury to Governor, 14 April 1786, Maryland State Papers, Series A, MdHR 6636-50-40 [MSA S1004-70, 1/7/3/58]. Maryland did not, in fact, make any claim to ownership of western lands; Marbury to Governor, 11 February 1787, Maryland State Papers, Series A, MdHR 6636-62-110 [MSA S1004-86, 1/7/3/65].

[7] Will of Joseph Marbury, 1801, Charles County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber AL 12, p. 11 [MSA C681-13, 1/8/10/13]; Inventory of Joseph Marbury, 1801, Charles County Register of Wills, 1797-1801, p. 392 [MSA C665-12, 1/8/10/23].

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