Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Benjamin Ford (?-1781)
MSA SC 3520-16727

Biography:

Benjamin Ford, was born to Allanson and Herekiah (Johnson) Ford. Allanson and Herekiah had one other son, Charles Allenson Ford, before Herekiah died. Allanson remarried another woman, Hephzibah Beall, and had six more children: John, George, Allanson, Elizabeth, Josias, and Edward. In 1774 or 1775, Ford's father, a wealthy planter who owned thirteen enslaved blacks, died. [1]

On January 14, 1776, Benjamin Ford was commissioned as a First Lieutenant in Captain Patrick Sim's Second Company of the First Maryland Regiment. In May 1776, Ford replaced Captain George Stricker, who received a promotion, as commander of the Ninth Company. The Ninth Company was designated as light infantry and had special duties since it was often deployed in small groups as scouts or skirmishers ahead of the main body of troops. They carried rifles, rather than muskets, and were intended to be a more mobile than other companies or groups. [2]

At the Battle of Brooklyn, in August 1776, the First Maryland Regiment, later called the Maryland 400, held off the British while the rest of the Continental Army escaped Long Island to safety. In his acount of the Battle of Brooklyn, one Maryland officer noted how Ford and his company escaped:

...it became necessary for us to endeavour to effect our escape in the best manner we possibly could. A party immediately retreated to the right through the woods, and Captain Ford and myself, with twenty others, to the left, through a marsh; nine only of whom got safe in. The principal loss sustained in our battalion fell on Captains Veazey, Adams, Lucas, Ford, and Bowie's companies. The killed, wounded, and missing amount to two hundred and fifty-nine; our whole loss that day supposed to be near one thousand, chief part of whom are prisoners, among whom are Generals Sullivan and Stirling. [3]

During the Battle of Brooklyn, Ford's company suffered heavy casualties and only a few escaped into the nearby marsh. All told 65 percent of his company were killed or captured. [4]

In the fall, Ford received a promotion, becoming a major in the Second Maryland Regiment, a rank he held until April 1777. That month he became lieutenant colonel in the Sixth Maryland Regiment, serving until 1780. During his time as lieutenant colonel he fought in the battles of Brandywine (1777) and Germantown (1777) and wintered at Morristown (1779-1780). The winter of Morristown was harsh and he described the troops as "in high spirits tho' I think sickly owing in a great measure to the want of Clothing which renders it impossible to keep them...clean." [5]

In 1779, Ford and his regiment were sent to New Jersey to survey and watch enemy movements. On April 26, for example, Ford observed British forces land one mile from Shrewsbury and his patrol fired on them and fought an ensuing skirmish with British forces, which wanted to cut off his retreat. After the skirmish, the British burned and ransacked two dwellings of militia officers, plundered the nearby town of Tinton Falls, but were harassed by New Jersey revolutionary militia, who forced the British to retreat. The purpose of this British attack was to capture Ford's regiment but it did not succeeed. However, the British looted the town and burned Continental munitions and supplies. [6]

In June 1779, Ford participated in the court martial of Lieutenant Colonel Charles Pope of the Delaware Regiment. Chairing a court-martial was one of the daily duties of a lieutenant colonel. A person in Ford's position, as a field officer, could instruct new recruits, tell others to take a commanding position, and keep soldiers of his unit in order. [7]

In the years between 1779 and 1781, Ford was an active participant in miltiary engagements, as a lieutenant colonel. He participated in the battles of Camden in 1780 and Guilford Courthouse in 1781, part of the war's southern campaign. At the Battle of Camden he was quoted as saying that the Continental Army soldiers had "done all that can be expected of them--we are outnumbered and outflanked--see the enemy charge with bayonets." Ford stayed as a lieutenant colonel and was transferred to the Fifth Maryland Regiment in January 1781 as part of a reorganization after the Battle of Camden where Maryland forces suffered heavy losses. [8]

On April 25, 1781, the day of the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill (also known as the Second Battle of Camden), Ford commanded the Fifth Maryland Regiment. Since April 19, American Major General Nathanael Greene's forces had sat on a sandy ridge about a mile and half from Camden, South Carolina in the first effort to take control of the town, so that they could become "masters of the entire state outside of Charleston." However, Rawdon learned of Greene's approach before the battle and was ready to repel the attack of Greene's army. In a surprise advance, Lord Rawdon's forces approached the encamped Americans on Hobkirk's Hill, where they were waiting for reinforcements to take the town of Camden from the British. Rawdon's men quickly gained control of Hobkirk's Hill after surprising Greene's army. Later on, Colonel William Wasington brought 50 prisoners with him and the Continental Army was pursued by Rawdon's army for about three miles in the dense woods. [9]

The British Parliament publication, the Annual Register, described the end of the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill as an ugly sight:

...the enemy's killed and wounded were scattered over such an extent of ground, that their lost could not be ascertained...this defeat was attributed by Gen. Greene to the misconduct of a part of the Maryland regiment. This may be true. But it is plain that his army was surprised. The American discipline...is far from perfect. [10]

While he attempted to restore order to his regiment in order to fight the British, Ford was mortally wounded in the left elbow by a musket ball and carried to the back of Continental lines. The Marylanders retreated during the chaotic confusion of the attack, unable to stop the advancing British. [11]

Ford's injury at the Battle of Hobkirk's Hill did not heal. As months passed, he never recovered from his wound. On June 23, Colonel Otho Holland Williams, wrote that his "worthy little friend died a few Days since of the wound received at Camden," which referred to Ford's death on June 15 in a military hospital in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. [12]

Ford died unmarried with no children or will. After his death, there were battles over his estate. In 1799, Josias Ford, joined by four Benjamin Ford's other half siblings (John, George, Allanson, Elizabeth), sued Charles Allanson Ford, represented by John Davidson (veteran of the Battle of Brooklyn), alleging mismanagement of the estate. The result of this case, which dragged on for over 15 years, was a settlement dispersed to the heirs. In the 1820s, the bounty land office found that Ford had a land grant of 450 acres which was given to Robert Ford, who was, by bloodline, an heir of Benjamin Ford. [13]

- Burkely Hermann, Maryland Society of the Sons of American Revolution Research Fellow, 2016.

Notes:

[1] Letter from Christopher Richmond to Josiah Beall on the Estate of Benjamin Ford, May 7, 1786, Maryland State Papers, Series A, MdHR 6636-59-103/2 [MSA S1004-82-20362, 1/7/3/64]; Saint Mary's County Court, Pension Papers, MdHR 20314-19 [MSA C1653-4, 1/57/9/36]; Pension of Benjamin Ford, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. National Archives. NARA M804. Record Group 15. Roll 0999. Pension number B.L.Wt.1133-450, from Fold3.com; Josiah Bealle Ford, et al v. John Davidson, et al, 1799, Estate of Charles A. Ford - Hampton Court, Chancery Court, Chancery Papers, MdHR 17898-1847-1/4 [MSA S512-1914, 1/36/2/2]; Will of Allanson Ford, 1775, Prerogative Court, Wills, MdHR 1322, Liber W1, p. 263-266 [MSA S538-58, 1/11/2/7]; Inventory of Allason Ford, February 1775, Prince George's County Register of Wills, Inventories, MdHR 9798, p. 14-16 [MSA C1228-8, 1/25/8/45].

[2] Rieman Steuart, A History of the Maryland Line in the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783 (Towson, MD: Metropolitan Press, 1969), p. 81; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, August 29, 1775 to July 6, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 11, 102.

[3] Extract of a letter from an officer [Mordecai Gist] of the Maryland Battalion, American Archives, series 5, vol. 1, pp. 1232-1233.

[4] Return of Prisoners from Captivity in New York, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, MdHR 19970-06-25/01 [MSA S997-6-59, 1/7/3/11].

[5] Steuart, p. 81; Mark Andrew Tacyn, "'To The End:' The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution" (PhD Diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), pp. 137-146, 210-213; Benjamin Ford's account of the Battle of Rhode Island, September 1, 1778, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, vol. 26, no. 148, MdHR 4595-52 [MSA S989-39, 1/6/4/27].

[6] Benjamin Ford to George Washington , 26 April 1779, Founders Online, National Archives; Michael Adelberg, The Razing of Tinton Falls: Voices from the American Revolution (Charleston: History Press, 2012), 10; Bud Hannings, Chronology of the American Revolution: Military and Political Actions Day by Day (Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2008), 335.

[7] "General Orders, 18 June 1779," Founders Online, National Archives; Friedrich von Steuben, Regulations for Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Part I (Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1779), 6, 54, 78, 84-85, 112, 116-119.

[8] Burke Davis, The Cowpens-Guilford Courthouse Campaign (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press, 2003, reprint from 1962), 150, 160; W. Gilmore Simms, ed., The life of Nathanael Greene, Major-General in the army of the Revolution (New York: Derby & Jackson, 1858), 374, 389; Jim Piecuch, "American Commanders' Accounts," The Battle of Camden: A Documentary History (Charleston: History Press, 2006), 31-32; Steuart, p. 81.

[9] Andrew Augustus Gunby, Colonel John Gunby of the Maryland Line: Being Some Account of His Contribution to American Liberty (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke Company, 1902), 67-69, 75, 80, 111; Richard John Batt, “The Maryland Continentals, 1780-1781” (PhD diss., Tulane University, 1974), pp. 149-164.

[10] The Annual Register or a View of the History, Politics, and Literature for the Year 1781 (London, J. Dodsley, 1782), 82-83.

[11] Batt, p. 149-164; Pension of Benjamin Ford.

[12] Pension of Benjamin Ford;Williams, Otho Holland to Elie Williams, 23 June 1781, Williams Papers, 1744-1839, Maryland Historical Society, MS 908.

[13] Josiah Bealle Ford, et al v. John Davidson, et al.; Pension of Benjamin Ford.

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