Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Samuel McMillan (1753-1831)
MSA SC 3520-16764

Biography:

Born in 1753, likely in Scotland, Samuel McMillan immigrated to the American colonies with his brother, William, prior to the Revolutionary War. The pair lived in Harford County, Maryland and enlisted in the Harford County Militia in December of 1775. Not satisfied with only serving in the militia, the brothers decided to enlist in the newly established First Maryland Regiment in 1776. Both of the McMillans enlisted as corporals in the Fourth Company on May 26, 1776. [1]

Samuel McMillan was promoted to the rank of sergeant in the summer of 1776. McMillan took part in training other soldiers while his company was stationed in Baltimore, instilling discipline in the fresh recruits. In July of 1776, the entire First Maryland Regiment received orders to travel to New York. George Washington feared an imminent British attack and desperately needed reinforcements. The Marylanders arrived in New York later that month. [2]

On August 27, 1776, the Fourth Company participated in the Battle of Brooklyn. British soldiers outflanked the Marylanders in a surprise attack. The Marylanders retreated, fighting their way toward the Gowanus Creek. Although some companies successfully escaped the battle by crossing the swampy creek, several other companies, including the Fourth Company, remained trapped. The remaining Marylanders charged British lines several times, suffering heavily in the process. William McMillan described how:

We were surrounded by Healanders [Scottish Highlanders] [on] one side, Hessians on the other...My captain was killed, first lieutenant was killed, second lieutenant shot through the hand, two sergeants was killed; one in front of me… two corporals killed. All belonged to our Company.

The Fourth Company lost eighty percent of its soldiers that day. [3]

Hessians captured the McMillan brothers during the battle, treating them poorly. William recalled how the Hessians “robbed [them] of everything [and] lit their pipes with [their] money.” The brothers received no food for five days and were then only provided with “biscuits from [aboard] ships, blue, moldy, full [of] bugs, [and] rotten.” Like many of the soldiers captured at the Battle of Brooklyn, the British placed the brothers on an over-crowded prison ship plagued by sickness. The ship carrying the pair traveled to Halifax, Nova Scotia in November of 1776, where they languished for several months. William described how difficult it was for him “to describe [their] sufferings during this period” to those who had not experienced “the most exquisite lament there endured.” [4]

On April 27, 1777, the brothers and several other prisoners escaped from Halifax, risking severe whipping or worse if caught. The group traveled along the Shubenacadie River in Nova Scotia, eventually reaching the Bay of Fundy, where they “purchased a French Canoe and came in it to St. John,” New Brunswick. The group faced further trouble in New Brunswick:

Several times we had likely to been killed by the Indians if we had not had a man that could speak [French]. Once they were baynt their guns at us and this Canadian spoke their language… we were ten weeks in the wilderness, sometimes nothing to eat but pulled out grass on the rocks in the Bay, sometimes shellfish [and] snails. We got so poor we could hardly [make] a trill… we suffered everything but death. [5]

After their harrowing adventure in the wilderness, the group arrived in Machias, Maine. Colonel John Allan of the Massachusetts Militia rescued the escaped prisoners and provided them with a sloop to Casco Bay, where the group landed near modern-day Portland, Maine. Samuel fell ill and William left his brother behind to recuperate, traveling to Boston. Samuel McMillan finally reached Boston himself “about the first of August [of] 1777.” [6]

The McMillan brothers decided to enlist in the Massachusetts Line. The McMillans enlisted in a company commanded by Captain Lemuel Trescott, part of David Henley’s Additional Continental Regiment. The pair remained in the regiment until spring of 1778, when the regiment was consolidated with a few others, becoming the Sixteenth Massachusetts Regiment. [7]

Both brothers participated in the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778. Washington pursued the British army under Sir Henry Clinton as they left Philadelphia. Major General Charles Lee attempted to attack Clinton’s rearguard and failed, forced to retreat back to the main Continental Army. William McMillan recalled how Washington’s main army “came onto the field [and] flogged” the British. Although the British successfully continued their march, Washington claimed the battle as a “Victory obtained over the Arms of his Britanick Majesty.” [8]

Not long after the Battle of Monmouth, William McMillan left the Massachusetts Line and decided to rejoin the Marylanders under William Smallwood. Samuel McMillan, however, decided to remain with the Sixteenth Massachusetts for the remainder of his enlistment. Samuel fought in the Battle of Rhode Island on August 29, 1778. Retreating to a secure, defensive position, American forces under General John Sullivan repulsed several British charges, preserving a major part of the Continental Army. [9]

Samuel McMillan remained in the army until the winter of 1780 when he received a “discretionary furlough” to stay near Morristown, New Jersey. After his enlistment ended during his furlough, McMillan returned to civilian life. He visited his brother in Pennsylvania around this period, seeing William for the first time since they had separated in 1778. At some point after the war, Samuel married an unknown woman and fathered a son named Samuel. [10]

The McMillans resettled in multiple parts of Pennsylvania, including Allegheny County, where he married his second wife, Esther Parsell, in 1818. Samuel successfully “engaged in the mercantile business” with William for a few years. Unfortunately, the business “failed to a large amount,” and Samuel never repaid a $1500 loan he received from his brother. Despite this, the brothers maintained a good relationship, vouching for each other in depositions for their pensions throughout the 1820s. Samuel died on September 24, 1831 in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, survived by his wife, son, and William. [11]

-Jeff Truitt, 2013; James Schmitt, Maryland Society Sons of the American Revolution Research Fellow, 2019

Notes:

[1] Jeffery W. Truitt, “‘Animated by the Spirit of ’76?’ The Motivation and Aspirations of the Revolutionary War’s Common Soldiers” (Undegraduate thesis, Washington College, 2014), pp. 13-14; S. Eugene Clements and F. Edward Wright, The Maryland Militia in the Revolutionary War (Silver Spring, MD: Family Line Publications, 1987), p. 173; Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 11.

[2] Pension of William McMillan, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S 2806, from Fold3.com; Mark Andrew Tacyn, “‘To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), pp. 44-45.

[3] Tacyn, pp. 48-73; William McMillan Pension.

[4] William McMillan Pension; Pension of Samuel McMillan, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, W 1908, from Fold3.com. For full transcriptions of pension details regarding the capture and escape of the McMillan brothers, follow the links here and here.

[5] Davis, ed., The History of Northampton County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia and Reading, PA: Peter Fritts, 1877), p. 240; William McMillan Pension.

[6] William McMillan Pension; Samuel McMillan Pension.

[7] William McMillan Pension; Samuel McMillan Pension.

[8] William McMillan Pension; George Washington, General Orders, 29 June 1778, Founders Online, National Archives; George Washington to Charles Lee, 30 June 1778, Founders Online, National Archives.

[9] William McMillan Pension; Samuel McMillan Pension; Charles Warren Lippitt, “The Battle of Rhode Island,” Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society, no. 18 (October 1915), pp. 4-9.  

[10] William McMillan Pension; Samuel McMillan Pension.

[11] William McMillan Pension; Samuel McMillan Pension.

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