Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John H. Beanes (d. ~1811)
MSA SC 3520-16739

Biography: Son of William Beanes Jr (d. 1801), and mother Mary Bowie. Brother of Dr. William (1749-1823), Colmore, Millicent, William Bradley, and Eleanor. Married Henrietta Dyer (d. 1788) on February 19, 1786. Married Harriot Sothron in May 1795. Father of Mary Bowie Beanes (b. 1786), and Harriet Beanes (b. 1798). Died in late 1810 or 1811.


John Hancock Beanes was a junior officer in the First Maryland Regiment when the unit made the famous stand of the Maryland 400 during the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776.

The date and location of Beanes’ birth is unknown, but his parents, William Beanes Jr. and Mary Bowie, lived in Prince George’s County, Maryland.[1] Beanes had at least five siblings: Dr. William, Colmore, Millicent, William Bradley, and Eleanor.[2] Dr. William Beanes was a surgeon during the Revolutionary War and was imprisoned by the British during the War of 1812. Francis Scott Key was aboard a British flagship attempting to secure Beanes’ release when he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry, which inspired him to compose the “Star Spangled Banner.”[3]

Details about John Beanes’ life before joining the First Maryland Regiment are unknown. On January 3, 1776 he was commissioned a second lieutenant.[4] He was promoted to first lieutenant in the Ninth Company (Light Infantry) on July 9, 1776 and held this rank when the regiment arrived in New York to reinforce the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington.[5]

Fought on August 27, 1776, the Battle of Brooklyn was the first combat experience for the men of the First Maryland Regiment. Unfortunately for the Marylanders and the rest of the army, the battle resulted in a disastrous tactical and strategic defeat. The British Army under the command of General William Howe secretly outflanked the Americans and routed them from the field, forcing them to their defensive fortifications at Brooklyn Heights.[6]

Despite their inexperience, the men of the First Maryland Regiment performed extremely well under fire and demonstrated good fighting ability. As the battle drew to a close and cut off from possible retreat, the Marylanders’ were forced to make a futile charge against the numerically superior British force. The assault resulted in devastating casualties to the regiment but delayed the British advance, enabling the rest of the Americans to retreat to Brooklyn Heights and later withdraw to Manhattan. The First Maryland Regiment’s sacrifice prevented the capture of the Continental Army and earned the regiment the name “Maryland 400.”

As a junior officer, Beanes would have been among the enlisted men during the heat of battle, leading and encouraging them throughout the engagement. The Ninth Company sustained heavy losses during the battler, losing 65 percent of its men. Unlike the other lieutenants in the company, Beanes was able to avoid capture and successfully made it back to the safety of the fortifications at Brooklyn Heights.

Beanes was no doubt affected by the loss of his comrades and friends, especially that of Captain Daniel Bowie. Bowie, a friend and fellow officer from Prince George’s County, was wounded and captured during the battle, and subsequently died during his imprisonment. On the eve of the battle, Bowie wrote his will in which he bequeathed a mourning ring to Lt. Beanes “as a memento of my regard.”[7]

Beanes remained with the First Regiment following the battle and was promoted to captain on December 10, 1776.[8] Details about Beanes’ service as a company commander are unknown, but the First Maryland Regiment was involved in several major battles as part of the Northern Campaign at the end of 1776 and throughout 1777. Captain Beanes resigned from the army on December 2, 1777.[9]

Following his resignation from the army Beanes continued to serve in a military capacity as a captain in the Lower Battalion of Militia in Prince Georges County.[10] Beanes appears to have been a popular and effective officer, as evidenced by the unanimous decision of the captains of the battalion to recommend him for the rank of major in the Lower Battalion.[11] Furthermore, Lieutenant Colonel William Lyles Jr. of the Lower Battalion urged the promotion of Beanes, writing “I am much at a loss for an officer to assist me in doing the business of the Battalion.”[12] On January 18, 1781 Beanes was promoted to major of the Lower Battalion of Militia in Prince Georges County.[13] He continued to serve as a major in the Prince George’s County Militia until his resignation in 1796.[14]

The Maryland Militia did not participate in any major engagements during the war, but they remained vigilant of potential invasion threats from the Chesapeake Bay, although these threats never materialized. The Western Shore, which includes Prince George’s County, largely supported the Revolution so it is unlikely that Beanes or his men were involved in combating British loyalists.[15] To help maintain security within the state Beanes’ men often served as guards for tobacco warehouses in Prince George’s County.[16]

After the war Beanes owned and operated a tavern in Piscataway, Maryland.[17] By 1800 he had also purchased a distillery in Upper Marlboro.[18] An 1811 Estate Inventory lists two whiskey barrels, seven quart bottles, ten “large” bottles, and various other bottles, which indicates his continued involvement in the alcohol business until the end of his life.[19]

In addition to his occupation as a tavern-keeper, Beanes was also appointed a Tobacco Inspector for Prince George’s County. He was commissioned inspector for the Piscataway Warehouse in 1786 and from 1790 to 1794.[20] Beanes’ ownership of a tavern and distillery, his high rank in the militia, and role as a tobacco inspector demonstrates he was a man of local importance, and one that was well-connected and able to secure political appointments. Furthermore, Beanes was one of the richest men in Prince George’s County. His inventory from 1811 totaled $10,231.99, placing him among the top ten percent of wealthiest household heads in Prince George’s County.[21]

Beanes’ many responsibilities occasionally conflicted with one another. In May 1792 he successfully petitioned the Council of Maryland to remit a large fine of twenty pounds levied against him for missing a meeting of the Magistrates of Prince George’s County in Upper Marlboro. Beanes contended that he would have attended the meeting had he known that it was the law, but that it would have been at a great loss since he was hosting a large meeting at his tavern in Piscataway.[22] Two Associate Justices of Prince George’s County recommended the fine be remitted, another indication of Beanes’ local connections and influence.

On February 19, 1786 Beanes married Henrietta Dyer at Piscataway Parish.[23] They had one daughter, Mary Bowie, who was born on November 11, 1786.[24] Their marriage was short as Henrietta Beanes died on August 20, 1788 after a “deep decline.”[25] Like her husband, she was also held in high regard and “possessed many amiable qualities and social virtues, which commanded lasting esteem.”[26] He did not remarry until almost seven years after Henrietta’s death, this time to Harriot Sothron on May 20, 1795.[27] They had one daughter, Harriet Beanes, who was born on October 2, 1798.[28] John Hancock Beanes died sometime between December 2, 1810 and March 9, 1811.[29]

Sean Baker, 2015

Notes:

[1] Effie Gwynn Bowie, Across the Years in Prince George’s County (Richmond: Garrett and Massie, 1947) p. 663, 664.

[2] Prince George’s County, Register of Wills, Wills, TT 1, 1793-1808, p. 471 [MSA C 1326-4].

[3] Bowie, Across the Years, p. 664.

[4] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 7.

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

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

[7] Prince George’s County, Register of Wills, Wills, Original, 1775-1777, box 12, folder 44 [MSA C 1327-12].

[8] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 81.

[9] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 81.

[10] Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, April 1, 1778 through October 26, 1779, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 21, p. 414.

[11] Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1781, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 47, p. 16.

[12] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 47, p. 25.

[13] Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1780-81, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 45, p. 277.

[14] Adjutant General, Military Papers, Prince George’s, 1792-1807, box 46, folder 8 [MSA S926-29].

[15] S. Eugene Clements and F. Edward Wright, The Maryland Militia in the Revolutionary War (Silver Spring, MD: Family Line Publications, 1987), p. 33.

[16] “Account of Pay,” Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary War Papers, May 27, 1781 [MSA S997-3-217].

[17] “Advertisement,” Maryland Gazette (Annapolis, MD), August 19, 1790.

[18] Prince George’s County, Commissioners of the Tax, Assessment Record, 1800, Real Property, p. 1 [MSA CM 779-3].

[19] Inventory of John H. Beanes, Prince George’s County Register of Wills, Inventories, TT 1, 1798-1815, p. 441 [MSA C 1228-15].

[20] Governor and Council, Commission Record, 1777-1798, p. 191b [MSA S1080-6]; Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1789-93, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 72, p. 83.

[21] Steve Sarson, “‘Objects of Distress’: Inequality and Poverty in Early Nineteenth-Century Prince George’s County,” Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 96, no. 2 (Summer 2001):p. 144.

[22] Archives of Maryland Online vol. 72, p. 269.

[23] St. John’s Church Collection, 1689-1801, Piscataway Parish Register, 1689-1801, p. 261 [SC 2227-1-1].

[24] Bowie, Across the Years, p 664.

[25] Maryland Gazette, August 28, 1788.

[26] Maryland Gazette, August 28, 1788.

[27] Prince George’s County, Court, Marriage Licenses, 1777-1797, p. 74 [MSA C 1260-1].

[28] Bowie, Across the Years, p 664.

[29] Prince George’s County, Court, Land Records, 1810-11, JRM 14, p. 249 [MSA C1237-47]. Prince George’s County, Register of Wills, Inventories, 1798-1815, TT 1, p. 440 [MSA C1228-15].

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