Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Kidd
MSA SC 3520-16738

Biography:

John Kidd served as a junior officer in the First Maryland Regiment when the regiment fought at the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776.

On January 3, 1776 Kidd received his commission as a second lieutenant in the First Company, First Maryland Regiment.[1] Kidd briefly served as the second lieutenant in Captain Samuel Smith’s Eighth Company until his promotion to first lieutenant in the First Company on July 9, 1776.[2] Captain Smith thought highly of Lieutenant Kidd and sought to have him promoted to the vacant first lieutenant in his own company. In May 1776 Captain Smith sent a letter to the Council of Safety recommending Kidd for promotion, writing:

I shall be exceeding happy to have my Second Lieut. appointed to the vacancy, he is very capable & more acquainted with the men & their dispositions & of consequence can be of more use in the Company than a stranger. Should you have determined to raise the officers according to their seniority. I doubt not you have heard of Mr. Kids character (who is eldest 2nd Lieut.) & I rest satisfied you will not promote any person who is not equal to it.[3]

While Kidd did receive the promotion to first lieutenant, it was in the First Company, and not Smith’s Eighth. Kidd was with the First Company when the regiment left Maryland to reinforce the Continental Army at New York in July 1776. Shortly after their arrival in New York the regiment engaged its first combat at the Battle of Brooklyn.

The Battle of Brooklyn was the first large-scale engagement of the war and remained the largest battle of the entire war in terms of troop strength. The battle was both a tactical and strategic defeat for the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington. British General William Howe secretly outflanked the Americans and drove them from the field and back to their defensive works atop Brooklyn Heights.[4]

Although a disastrous battle for the Continental Army, the Americans averted complete catastrophe largely due to the First Maryland Regiment and its valiant and desperate charge against a numerically superior British force at the close of the engagement. The Marylanders’ charge enabled the rest of the American Army to retreat to Brooklyn Heights and later withdraw to Manhattan, thus avoiding the capture of General Washington and his entire force and earning the regiment the name “Maryland 400.” Read more about the First Maryland Regiment at Finding the Maryland 400, a research blog maintained by the Maryland State Archives at https://msamaryland400.wordpress.com/.

As a junior officer Kidd likely fought alongside the enlisted men, leading and encouraging them throughout the engagement. Kidd managed to survive the battle and made it back to the American lines at Brooklyn Heights.

While Kidd survived his first taste of combat, he could not adhere to the strict military discipline expected of a Continental Army officer. In a bizarre case, Kidd faced a court-martial for taking enlisted men off of fatigue duty, contrary to orders.[5] During the trial Lieutenant Marcus Cole testified that he warned Kidd that taking the men off of fatigue duty was contrary to orders, but Kidd proceeded to do so anyways. Captain Thomas Woolford also testified that he confronted Kidd over the issue, and Kidd claimed that the men should not work in the rain, although Woolford described the rain as “trifling.” Kidd pled guilty to the charges and claimed that he was unfamiliar with the orders.[6] The court-martial did not show any leniency and recommended Kidd’s removal from the army. General Washington concurred and ordered Kidd’s dismissal on October 8, 1777.[7]

It is unknown what happened to John Kidd after his expulsion from the army, but he likely returned to Maryland. Records indicate that he may have settled in Baltimore or Harford counties upon his return; two John Kidds signed oaths of fidelity to the State of Maryland in those respective counties.[8] However, whether or not these men are Lieutenant John Kidd is inconclusive.

- Sean Baker, 2015

Notes:

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

[2] Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, July 7: December 31, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 12, p. 16.

[3] Maryland State Papers, Red Books, 15:6 [MSA S 989-21]. Kidd’s relationship with Smith is unknown, but Smith was a fiery radical and member of the Whig Club. Smith’s high praise of Kidd may indicate that Kidd held the same radical views as Smith.

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

[5] Fatigue duty is labor carried out by soldiers that does not require the use of weapons, such as digging trenches or building defensive fortifications.

[6] “Brigade Court-Martial ordered by Brigadier General McDougall,” American Archives series 5, vol. 2, p. 1140.   

[7] “General Orders, 8 October 1776,” Founders Online, National Archives.

[8] Governor and Council, Oaths of Fidelity, Box 3, Folder 55, p. 2 [MSA S 963-55]. Baltimore County, Courts, Minutes, 1772-1781, p. 316 [MSA C 386-4].


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