Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Bryan Philpot (1756-1812)
MSA SC 3520-16755 


Bryan Philpot was not yet twenty years old when he was commissioned in January 1776 as an ensign in the Eighth Company of the First Maryland Regiment. The regiment, commanded by Colonel William Smallwood, was Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional soldiers raised to be part of the Continental Army. The Eighth Company, led by Captain Samuel Smith, formed in Baltimore in early 1776, and it trained there that spring and summer. Philpot had been an active supporter of American independence for several years, and had been willing to fight for it. In December 1774, he had joined a militia unit led by Mordecai Gist called the Baltimore Independent Cadets. The Cadets vowed to arm and train themselves, and "be ready to march to the assistance of our Sister Colonies." Philpot left the Cadets when Maryland formed its first unit of regular soldiers, and he was not the only one. Other former Cadets in the regiment included Gist, the Marylanders' major in 1776, Philpot's captain Smith, Lieutenant William Sterrett, and Lieutenant David Plunkett. [1]

Philpot's rank of ensign made him the company's lowest commissioned officer, responsible for carrying the regiment's flags in battle and overseeing its noncommissioned officers. It was a rank typically given to young men of the gentry, which Philpot most certainly was. Born on August 9, 1756, he was descended from a family of wealthy Baltimore merchants. His father Brian died in 1768, leaving his widow Mary in charge of the family's vast real estate holdings in the newly developing Baltimore Town. Brian's estate was valued in the top 10 percent of wealth in the county. [2]

After spending the first part of 1776 in Baltimore, Philpot and the rest of the Maryland troops were ordered in July to march north to New York, to protect the city from invasion by the British. The Eighth Company lost four men who deserted along the march, a problem which plagued the regiment that summer. The Marylanders arrived in New York in early August, and prepared for the inevitable British attack. [3]

That attack came on August 27, 1776, at the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island). The Americans faced the British Army in the first large-scale engagement of the war. It was a rout: the British were able to sneak around the American lines, and the outflanked Americans fled in disarray. As the Maryland troops fought their way towards the American fortifications, they were forced to stop at the swampy Gowanus Creek. Half the regiment, including the Eighth, was able to cross the creek and escape the battle. However, the rest were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, this group of soldiers, today called the "Maryland 400," mounted a series of daring charges. They held the British at bay for some time before being overrun, at the cost of many lives, losing 256 men killed or captured. [4]

Because the Eighth Company was able to escape the battle early, it lost only about six men. Still, as its captain Samuel Smith later described, the retreat was not easy. While withdrawing, "the Regiment mounted a hill, [and] a British officer appeared…and waved his hat, and it was supposed that he meant to surrender. He clapped his hands three times, on which signal his company rose and gave a heavy [fire]. I took my company through a marsh, until we were stopped by the dam of a…mill…that was too deep for the men to ford. I and a Sergeant swam over and got two slabs [of wood] into the water, on…which we ferried over all who could not swim." [5]

Philpot survived the battle, but it proved a harrowing experience. As he swam across the Gowanus, "he escaped drowning [only through] the struggles of a soldier who was also in [the] retreat." Philpot also saw "a wounded soldier who was sitting under a tree by his side...when a cannon ball shot away the top of his head." [6]

Sometime in September 1776, not long after the Battle of Brooklyn, Philpot resignied his commission and left the army--a privilege accorded him by his status as an officer; regular soldiers had to stay in the service until their enlistments ended. According to his obituary, Philpot "served with reputation in the unfortunate campaign of 1776, but from indisposition was obliged to return [before] the close of it." What sort of "indisposition" he suffered from is unknown; the term could cover a range of personal, physical, financial, or family difficulties that could have forced him out of the army. [7]

Whatever the reason for Philpot's departure, he did eventually return to military service. In the spring of 1781, he signed on as a member of the Baltimore Light Dragoons, a cavalry troop led by Nicholas Ruxton Moore, made up of wealthy young men. They helped defend Baltimore and Georgetown (now Washington, D.C.) in the spring and summer, before joining the Marquis de Lafayette's expedition into Virginia. They saw some combat in July at a skirmish along the James River near Richmond before returning to Baltimore at the end of the summer. It is uncertain if they returned to Virginia later that fall to participate at the Battle of Yorktown. [8]

After the war, Philpot resumed life as a member of the gentry. He assumed control over his family's sizable real estate holdings in the expanding Baltimore City. In 1783, for example, Philpot owned 32 lots in town. He also owned large tracts of agricultural land, totaling over 900 acres in Baltimore County. He and his family lived in a mansion known as "Stamford," which still stands in Baltimore County, and owned nearly two dozen slaves. [9]

Philpot married Elizabeth Johnson (1768-1853) on November 16, 1796, and they had six children together: John (1801-1880), Elizabeth (1804-1880), Clarissa (1806-1877), Edward (1809-1890), Brian, and Mary Ann. His children were still young when Bryan died on April 11, 1812. However, his son John remembered all his life the stories his father had told him about the Battle of Brooklyn: how he swam through the Gowanus Creek and nearly drowned, and witnessed a fellow soldier killed by a cannon ball as he sat next to him. John even could recall how "his...father describe[d] his feelings on first going into an engagement." Philpot's left his children substantial inheritances: his personal estate was valued at $5,800, a massive sum, along with the family's real estate empire. [10]

After his death, Philpot was remembered as a fervent defender of American Independence, and a good father: "In the early part of his life, he entered into the service of his country, as an officer in the Maryland line, and served with reputation in the unfortunate campaign of 1776...He always continued [as] a zealous advocate for the rights and independence of his country, and a warm supporter of the principles of [George] Washington. In private life, he was a kind and affectionate husband, a tender parent, and a most indulgent master." [11]

Owen Lourie, 2018


1. Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 119; Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 17; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from; Pension of Bryan Philpot. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, W 5543, from; "The Baltimore Independent Cadets," Maryland Historical Magazine 4:4 (Dec. 1909), 372-374.

2. Frederick Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Part I. (Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1792), 133; "Communication," Federal Gazette (Baltimore), 15 April 1812; Philpot pension; Inventory of Brian Philpot, 1768, Prerogative Court, Inventories, Liber 98, p. 267 [MSA S534-99, 1/12/1/43]; Final Account of Brian Philpot, 1770, Prerogative Court, Accounts, Liber 65, p. 255 [MSA S531-65, 1/11/4/25]; Laws of 1768, Chap. 23, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 61, p. 461; Charles G. Steffen, From Gentlemen to Townmen: The Gentry of Baltimore County Maryland, 1660-1776 (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1993), 169. Steffen's analysis puts the Philpots well into the top ten percent of the county's wealthiest residents. For an example of Mary's control over her late husband's real estate business see Deed, Mary Philpot to Nathaniel Cromwell, 1769, Baltimore County Court, Land Records, Liber AL A, p. 538 [MSA CE66-37].

3. "Eight Pounds Reward." Philadelphia Evening Post, 10 August 1776; William Sands to John and Ann Sands, 14 August 1776, Maryland State Archives, Special Collections, Dowsett Collection of Sands Family Papers [MSA SC 2095-1-18, 00/20/05/28].

4. 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.

5. Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from; “The Papers of General Samuel Smith. The General’s Autobiography. From the Original Manuscripts.” The Historical Magazine, 2nd ser., vol. 8, no. 2 (1870): 82-92. Smith wrote his autobiography in the third person; it has been converted to first person here for purposes of clarity.

6. Philpot pension.

7. George G. Brewer to J. Minot, Commissioner of Pensions, 29 October 1855, in Philpot pension. Brewer was writing to explain to the U.S. Pension Commissioner why there were no records to document Philpot's service. He had been the Register of the Maryland Land Office, the office which had custody of the state's Revolutionary War service records. "Communication," Federal Gazette (Baltimore), 15 April 1812.

8. There is some ambiguity about when Philpot actually joined the unit; it may have been in the summer of 1780. Brewer to Minot, 29 October 1855; Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, 1779-1780, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 43, p. 230, 233; Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, 1780-1781, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 45, p. 468, 485-487, 636; Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, 1781, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 47, p. 183, 307, 312-314; Maryland Journal (Baltimore), 12 June 1781; 19 June 1781; 26 June 1781; 17 July 1781; 24 July 1781; 7 August 1781; 11 September 1781.

9. General Assembly, House of Delegates, Assessment Record, 1783, Baltimore East Hundred, Baltimore County, p. 6 [MSA S1161-2-4, 1/4/5/45]; Middle River Upper and Back River Upper Hundred, p. 12 [MSA S1161-2-10, 1/4/5/45]; Federal Direct Tax, 1798, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 729, Baltimore County, General List of Houses, p. 394; General List of Land, p. 457; General List of Slaves, p. 499; Baltimore City, District 1, Particular List of Land, p. 5316; U.S. Federal Census, 1790, Baltimore Town, Baltimore County, Maryland; 1810, Back River Upper Hundred, Baltimore County, Maryland; Stamford (Philpot House), Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties. Note that there are many inaccuracies in the report on Stamford.

10. Philpot pension; "Communication," Federal Gazette (Baltimore), 15 April 1812; Inventory of Brian Philpot, 1812, Baltimore County Register of Wills, Inventories, Liber 27, p. 401 [MSA C340-28, 2/29/9/28]; FindAGrave for Brian Philpot. Note that Philpot's gravestone gives an incorrect date of birth.

11. "Communication," Federal Gazette (Baltimore), 15 April 1812. Whether any of the eighteen slaves Philpot owned at the end of his life viewed him as "a most indulgent master" is not recorded.

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