Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Nathaniel Ewing
MSA SC 3520-16730

Biography:

On January 3, 1776 Nathaniel Ewing received a commission as a first lieutenant in Captain Peter Adams’ Sixth Company, First Maryland Regiment and served in this capacity when the regiment experienced its first combat at the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776. Prior to leaving for New York, Ewing and the Sixth Company were stationed in Annapolis and responsible for helping guard the capital. Ewing carried out the various duties of a junior officer, and in June 1776 escorted a prisoner from Annapolis to Pennsylvania.[1] Ewing marched with the regiment when it left to reinforce the Continental Army in New York in July 1776.

Fought on August 26, 1776, the Battle of Brooklyn was a major tactical and strategic defeat for the Continental Army. The British Army under the command of General William Howe outflanked the Americans, forcing them to flee to retreat to Brooklyn Heights.[2] The men of the First Maryland Regiment fought extremely well throughout the engagement despite their inexperience.

The British flanking maneuver cut off the Marylanders’ path of retreat and left them with little choice but to attack the numerically superior British force. The assault resulted in numerous casualties among the regiment but delayed the British advance and allowed the rest of the army to successfully retreat. The First Maryland Regiment’s sacrifice prevented the capture of the entire army and earned the regiment the name “Maryland 400.” To read more about the First Maryland Regiment, visit the Maryland State Archives research project website, Finding the Maryland 400.

Ewing’s experiences during the battle are unknown, but he was likely in command of the company, as Captain Adams was unable to take the field due to illness. The Sixth Company suffered severe casualties as a result of the engagement; a muster roll from September 1776 records a total strength of sixteen men out of an original force of seventy-four.[3] Ewing managed to survive the battle and returned to the American lines with what little remained of his company.

Ewing did not remain with the company long after the battle as he too came down with an illness. Ewing and a sick private from his company, John McFadden, travelled to Newark where they remained until late 1776. McFadden, “In company with Lieutenant Ewing went to Newark in Jersey where he remained with the lieutenant, in consequence of ill health, some time, when the lieutenant and the applicant joined the regiment at Trenton, soon after which an engagement took place.”[4]

On December 10, 1776 Ewing received a promotion to captain and took command of his own company in the First Maryland Regiment.[5] As a company commander Ewing likely fought at the major battles of the New York and New Jersey Campaign, as well as the Philadelphia Campaign. In a letter on May 25, 1777 Ewing commented on hearing a cannonade from a skirmish near present day New Brunswick, New Jersey:

“This morning I heard a great many cannon above Brunswick, I since saw a militia captain who informed me that our people and the enemy had a brush, our people took thirty prisoners, what number the killed he could not inform me, but says our loss was very small.”[6]

Ewing remained in the Continental Army until his resignation in March 1779. Although resigning from the army was not unusual, Ewing was compelled to write a letter to General Washington explaining his decision. In fact, Ewing originally intended to resign in 1777 but reconsidered knowing that the army was desperate for officers. In both instances Ewing cited what he deemed to be Maryland’s “unjust promotion of junior over senior officers.”[7] Ewing and other Maryland officers resented the Maryland General Assembly’s power to commission and promote officers and wanted General Washington to have more authority in these matters. The dispute over Maryland’s promotion of officers and Washington’s authority continued during Ewing’s time in the army. By March 1779 Ewing had tired of the situation, writing “I can never think of remaining an hour in the service of a state in which all confidence is forfeited and the most glaring acts of partiality countenanced.”[8] The Maryland General Assembly actually addressed these problems within a couple of weeks by conferring powers to Washington, but Ewing did not seek to return to the army and received his discharge on March 16, 1779.[9]

Following his resignation, Ewing most likely returned to Maryland. Discerning Ewing’s life outside of the military is difficult. Individuals with the same name are listed in Cecil and St. Mary’s counties but it is not possible to determine if either is the same Ewing that fought in the American Revolution.

-Sean Baker, 2015

Notes:

[1] Journal of the Maryland Convention July 26 to August 14, 1775, Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, August 29, 1775 to July 6, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 11, p. 497.

[2] Henry P. Johnston, The Campaign of 1776 Around New York and Brooklyn (Brooklyn: 1878, reprint, New York: Da Capo Press, 1971), p. 191.

[3] Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, p. 92, from Fold3.com.

[4] Pension of John McFadden, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S. 5755, page 6, from Fold3.com.

[5] Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 18, p. 106.

[6] Letter from Captain Ewing, MARYLAND STATE PAPERS, Red Books, 18:151 [MSA S 989-27].

[7] "Captain Nathaniel Ewing to George Washington, 9 March 1779,” National Archive, Founders Online.

[8] "Captain Nathaniel Ewing to George Washington, 9 March 1779,” National Archive, Founders Online.

[9] Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 18, p. 106.

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