Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Frazier (1756-1807)
MSA SC 3520-16759

Biography:

The son of a wealthy Eastern Shore planter, William Frazier was a nineteen-year-old lieutenant when he took part in the Battle of Brooklyn in August 1776. It was the Revolutionary War's first major battle, and the Maryland troops distinguished themselves with their bravery.

Born on November 16, 1756, William was just eight years old when his father Alexander Frazier died in late 1764 or early 1765, leaving William, Charles, his (probably younger) brother, and sister Sarah in the care of their mother, Sarah. Alexander had high hopes for his children, directing in his will that money be set aside for all of them to be educated, "especially my aforesaid son Charles," who he hoped would "be a Lawyer or Doctor of Phisick, which he shall Choose." Alexander also sought to ensure that his children would be financially secure in the future, dividing his significant land holdings among them. William received about 1,100 acres of land in Dorchester (now Caroline) County, Charles received about 400 acres, and while Sarah was willed no land, she was promised a large amount of money. [1]

In January 1776, William Frazier was named third lieutenant in the Fourth Independent Company, which was commanded by James Hindman. Maryland's independent companies were formed early in the American Revolution, and differed from the nine companies that made up Colonel William Smallwood’s First Maryland Regiment. While the Council of Safety, Maryland's Revolutionary executive body, used the nine regular companies to fulfill the state's quota of troops for the Continental Army, it dispatched seven independent companies throughout Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore to guard the vast shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay. To help with this mission, the Fourth Independent Company was stationed in Oxford, Talbot County, in March 1776. Hindman outfitted his company in striking uniforms, which distinguished them from the rest of the Marylanders, who likely wore no uniform beyond hunting shirts, which were durable, cheaply-produced linen outer garments, originating in the backcountry in the mid-eighteenth century. The soldiers of the Fourth Independent wore purple hunting shirts with red capes and cuffs. [2]

Although the Council of Safety originally intended to use the independent companies for the defense of Maryland, the Council was sympathetic to the collective needs of the colonies and answered the Continental Congress’ request for more soldiers early in the summer of 1776. On July 7, 1776 the Council ordered the Fourth Independent Company (along with Smallwood’s Regiment and two other independent companies) to march to Philadelphia and then to New York to reinforce the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington. [3]

On August 27, 1776, the Americans faced the British Army at the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island), the first full-scale engagement of the war. The battle was a rout: the British were able to sneak around the American lines, and the outflanked Americans fled in disarray. During the retreat, the Maryland troops fought their way towards the American fortifications, but were blocked by the swampy Gowanus Creek. While half the regiment was able to cross the creek, the rest were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, the Marylanders mounted a series of daring charges, which held the British at bay for some time, at the cost of many lives, before being overrun. The Marylanders earned themselves the moniker "Maryland 400," and lost 256 men killed or captured, probably about a third of their total strength. [4]

Frazier's company was spared the worst of the fighting, losing only three men, a fact which drew scorn from other companies. James Hindman was forced to write to the Council of Safety to clear his name, denying the "report [being] spread among Capt. [John Hoskins] Stone's friends that my company the day we were engaged at Long Island, behaved very ill." To the contrary, wrote Captain Hindman, "I have had the vanity to think the company I have had the honor to command have behaved themselves as well as [any] in the service, notwithstanding the dark insinuations that have been thrown out to their prejudice, and will refer to Col. Smallwood for their behaviour and conduct since they have been under his command." [5]

Frazier stayed with the army through the rest of the difficult fall of 1776, a series of defeats that saw the Americans pushed out of New York, followed by revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton late that winter. When the Maryland troops were reorganized and expanded, he secured a promotion to first lieutenant in the newly formed Fifth Maryland Regiment in late 1776. Frazier spent the first part of 1777 at home on the Eastern Shore recruiting men for his new company, then returning that summer to fight in the campaign to protect the American capital at Philadelphia from the British. He likely saw combat at the major battles at Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777), and participated in the defense of Fort Mifflin on Mud Island that fall. Frazier likely resigned his commission in February 1778, and returned home, where he married Henrietta Maria Johnson, on February 11, 1779. [6]

In the years that followed, he settled into the life of a wealthy planter. He rented out much of his large land holdings, and he and Henrietta Maria lived at "Frazier's Flats," in one of the county's most prominent houses. Frazier held a number of local public offices: he was a justice of the peace 1782-1785 and 1788-1807, a justice of the Caroline County Orphans Court 1783-1784, and justice of the county court in 1789. He also was a member of the county levy court, which collected and appropriated the county's tax money, 1799-1801. In 1794, Frazier was commissioned as a captain in the 19th Regiment of the Maryland Militia, but resigned a few months later, and likely never acted in his official capacity (although he was called "captain" thereafter nevertheless). Nevertheless, his militia appointment suggests an alignment with the state's ruling Federalist party, since militia positions were political favors. Frazier's political allegiances were further demonstrated in 1804, when he was an unsuccessful Federalist candidate for presidential elector, supporting Charles C. Pinkney against Thomas Jefferson. [7]

William Frazier and his wife were best known, however, for their long-standing support of the Methodist Church on the Eastern Shore. Their house is said to have hosted early Methodist service, and they helped to establish what is today called Bethesda United Methodist Church, in Preston, Maryland. [8]

William and Henrietta Maria never had any children. William died on September 25, 1807. In his will, he made provisions for his wife, as well as his bother Charles, who did indeed become a doctor, half-brother Perry Eccleston Noel, and nephew Francis Asbury Boyer, who carried the name of the great Methodist leader. Frazier's estate was valued at $4,600, a large amount, and included a significant quantity of silver plate, as well as ten slaves. Henrietta Maria was awarded a widow's pension in 1839 on the basis of her husband's Revolutionary War service, receiving $194 per year until her death on February 6, 1846. [9]

Owen Lourie, 2016

Notes:

[1] Pension of Henrietta Frazier (William Frazier), National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, W 3797, from Fold3.com; Will of Alexander Frazier, 1764, Prerogative Court, Wills, Liber 32, p. 138, MdHR 1312-2 [MSA S538-4824, 1/11/1/42]; Alexander's will does not give the total quantity of land that Charles received, but later tax records suggest he got about 400 acres. See General Assembly, House of Delegates, Assessment Record, 1783, Caroline County, Lower Choptank District Hundred [MSA S1161-3, 1/4/5/46].

[2] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 23 [hereafter Archives of Maryland vol. 18]; Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 81; Proceedings of the Conventions of the Province of Maryland, 1774-1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 78, p. 68; Mark Andrew Tacyn “‘To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 33; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, August 29, 1775 to July 6, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 11, p. 223. For Fourth Independent Company uniforms, see Pennsylvania Journal, 14 August 1776.

[3] Tacyn, 43; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, July 7 to December 31, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 12, p. 4.

[4] Archives of Maryland Online vol. 12, p. 9; Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from Fold3.com; Tacyn, 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] James Hindman to Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, 12 October 1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 12, p. 345-346.

[6] Frazier pension; "Chart Shewing the Rank of Officers in the 5th Battalion..." c. 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books 16:88, MdHR 4579 [MSA S989-23, 1/6/4/11]; Deposition re: enlistment of servants by Frazier, May 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books 16:150, MdHR 4580A [MSA S989-24, 1/6/4/12]. Frazier may actually have resigned his commission in February 1779, as his wife asserted in her pension application. She said that he left the army just before their wedding which was on February 11, 1779. See Caroline County Court, Marriage Licenses, 1774-1792, MdHR 10063-3 [MSA C534-1, 1/2/1/9].

[7] See, for example, Lease, Frazier to John Dwiggens, 1791, Caroline County Court, Land Records, Liber WR no. C, p. 302 [MSA CE94-3]; Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties, "Frazier's Flats," CAR-51 [MSA SE5-6090]; Laura C. Cochrane, et al., eds, History of Caroline County, Maryland From Its Beginning (1920; reprinted by Genealogical Publishing Co., 1994), 102-104, 265-266; Federal Direct Tax, 1798, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 729, Caroline County, General List of Houses, p. 1133; General List of Land, p. 1164; General List of Slaves, p. 1205; Governor and Council, Commission Record, 1726-1786, MdHR 4011-2 [MSA S1080-3, 2/26/3/12]; 1777-1798, MdHR4013-1 [MSA S1080-6, 2/26/3/16]; 1777-1827, MdHR 1347 [MSA S1080-7, 2/26/3/17]; Adjutant General, Militia Appointments, Liber 2, p. 26 [MSA S348-2, 2/6/5/10]; Maryland Electoral College, 1804, District 8, A New Nation Votes.

[8] Cochrane, 259-260, 265-266; Dee E. Andrews, The Methodists and Revolutionary American, 1760-1800: The Shaping of An Evangelical Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), 159-160. See also the historical narrative on the church's website: http://prestonbethesdaumc.org/history/histories-of-bethesda/church-history/.

[9] Frazier pension; Will of Alexander Frazier, 1807, Caroline County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber JR no. C, p. 126 [MSA C577-1, 1/3/1/6]; Inventory of Alexander Frazier, 1807, Caroline County Register of Wills, Inventories, Liber JR no. C, p. 274 [MSA C516-4, 1/3/1/19]; "Mortuary Notice," Republican Star (Easton, MD), 29 September 1807.

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