Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

James Farnandis
MSA SC 3520-16770

Biography: Son of Peter Fernandis (d. 1775) and his wife, Bendictor. Brother of Peter, Eleanor, Mary, Sarah and Benedictor. Married first wife Elizabeth, and second wife Chloe McPherson (d. 1796). Father of Samuel (1779-1854), Walter (1782-1856), Ann (1787-1859), and Amilla. Died 1790 in Charles County.

James Farnandis was born in Charles County, the son of Peter Farnandis and his wife Benedictor.[1] James’ grandfather, Peter Farnandis Sr., immigrated to Maryland in 1668, most likely from Spain.[2] Like his grandson James, Peter Sr. was also a soldier, and was wounded and “much disabled” while serving at the Susquehanna Fort in 1683.[3] James’ father made a living as a modest planter in Charles County. Upon his father’s death in 1775, James inherited a feather bed and other furniture while his mother and four sisters inherited his father’s property and dwelling house.[4]

Perhaps motivated by his lack of inheritance, Farnandis sought an officer’s commission in early 1776. Prior to joining the First Maryland Regiment, Farnandis briefly served as a first lieutenant in the Charles County Militia.[5] On January 30, 1776 he entered the regular ranks as a sergeant in the First Company, First Maryland Regiment.[6] On July 9, 1776, shortly before the regiment’s departure for New York, Farnandis received a commission as an ensign.[7]

Fought on August 27, 1776, the Battle of Brooklyn was the first combat experience for the men of the First Maryland Regiment. During the engagement the British Army under the command of General William Howe stealthily outflanked the Continental Army, forcing the Americans to flee to their defensive fortifications at Brooklyn Heights.[8] The Marylanders fought extremely well for inexperienced troops, but could not prevent the major tactical and strategic defeat of the Continental Army.

As the battle neared its conclusion, and cut off from retreat back by the British flanking maneuver, the Marylanders’ mounted several attacks against the larger British force. The assault inflicted severe casualties upon the regiment but delayed the British advance long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to retreat. The First Maryland Regiment’s sacrifice prevented the Continental Army’s complete capture and earned the regiment the honorific title “Maryland 400.”

The First Company fared well throughout the engagement and did not suffer many casualties; on September 27, 1776 the company’s reported strength totaled sixty-three men out of an original force of approximately seventy-four.[9] Unfortunately for Farnandis, he was among the eleven men missing on the September report, having been captured at some point during the engagement.

The British likely imprisoned Farnandis and other Marylanders aboard ships anchored in New York Harbor for a brief time before transferring them to houses in present day Lower Manhattan. Another captive of the British, Pennsylvania Captain John Nice, recorded his experiences while a prisoner of the British. On October 9, 1776 Nice wrote:

“Tonight I was insulted by a number of Highland officers, who rushed into the house, abused us with bad language, and struck Lieut. Carnaghan of the Right Battalion and Ensign Farnandaz, of the Maryland Battalion, and forced them away to the guard house that night. Here they were treated civil by a sergeant, and the next morning released by order of Gen. Robertson.”[10]

Farnandis would reflect upon his experiences as a prisoner of war when he petitioned the Maryland House of Delegates for depreciation pay due to him for his service, stating that while he was a prisoner he “sustained and despised every cruelty and temptation.”[11]

While in captivity Farnandis received a promotion to second lieutenant on December 10, 1776.[12] Farnandis remained a prisoner until March 24, 1777, when he received a formal exchange.[13] On April 6, 1777 Colonel Robert Magaw, a prisoner on Long Island, wrote to General Washington about the conditions faced by American prisoners: “The distance from their Friends, the loss of their Baggage at the time they were taken, & the length of their Captivity has rendered a number of them destitute of Common necessaries.”[14] In the margins of the letter Colonel Otho Holland Williams specifically directed Washington to refer to the case of Farnandis. In his reply Washington revealed that he had met with Farnandis and declared that “every thing in my power will be done to make our Officers and privates who are in captivity, as comfortable, as their situation will admit.”[15]

In addition to delivering the letter and discussing the conditions of American prisoners, Farnandis also reported important military intelligence to Washington. In a letter to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr. on April 12, 1777 Washington wrote that Farnandis, “an officer just released from captivity,” informed him that “large and weekly supplies of fresh provision are brought into York...from Connecticut.”[16] Farnandis also informed Washington that a British Army Colonel named Rogers had travelled to Connecticut to recruit soldiers, a fact that Washington passed along to Trumbull.[17] Farnandis’ information provided Washington with critical military intelligence, apprised him of the situation in New York, and illuminated possible threats materializing in Connecticut.

After meeting with Washington, Farnandis returned to the First Maryland Regiment and received a promotion to first lieutenant on April 17, 1777.[18] Shortly after returning to the regiment Farnandis began serving as a captain-lieutenant, essentially commanding a company and handling the responsibilities of a captain without holding the formal rank. Farnandis led his company during the major battles of the Philadelphia Campaign and served in this capacity until his resignation. Farnandis resigned from the army on July 15, 1779.[19]

Farnandis returned to Maryland following his resignation from the army, but continued to serve the cause; in early 1780 Farnandis served as a recruiting officer for Charles County.[20] Farnandis’ military career was revived on July 27, 1780 when he received a commission as a captain in the Maryland Extra Regiment, but by September 1, 1780 he had resigned for a second time.[21] In 1782, Farnandis continued his patriotic service as the Commissary for Charles County and was responsible for helping supply the army with wheat.

Following the war, Farnandis remained in Charles County and likely made his living as a modest planter. By July 1778 Farnandis had married a woman named Elizabeth and had four children with her: Samuel (1779-1854), Walter (1782-1856), Ann (1787-1859), and Amilla.[22] Sometime after 1787, Farnandis’ first wife died and he married Chloe McPherson. James Farnandis died sometime in the spring of 1790, leaving behind his wife and four young children.[23] At the time of his death, Farnandis was the owner of twelve slaves and his personal property was valued at approximately 512 pounds. Among the items listed were “2 guns and 1 old looking glass,” perhaps relics of Farnandis’ service as an officer in the Continental Army.[24]

- Sean Baker, 2015


[1] Charles County, Register of Wills, Wills, 1767-1777, AE 6, p. 253 [MSA C 681-7]. Farnandis’ surname is frequently misspelled as Fernandes, Fernandis, Fernandez, Fornandez, and other variations in different sources. Farnandis is the consistent spelling used in Charles County records. 

[2] Land Office, Patent Record, 1667-1668, p. 570 [MSA S 11-14].

[3] Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, October 1678-November 1683, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 7, p. 567.

[4] Charles County, Register of Wills, Wills, 1767-1777, AE 6, p. 253 [MSA C681-7].

[5] Maryland State Papers, Red Books, Volume 15, p. 198, MdHR 4578 [MSA S989-22].

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

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

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

[9] Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, p. 92, from

[10] Edward Burd, “Extracts from the Diary of Captain John Nice,” The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography 16, no. 11 (Jan. 1893) p. 404.

[11] Votes and Proceedings of the Maryland House of Delegates, April Session, 1782 [MSA SC M3196], p. 95

[12] Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA, Record Group 93, Roll 0397, from

[13] Archives of Maryland, vol. 18, p. 616.

[14] Colonel Robert Magaw to George Washington, 6 April 1777, Founders Online, National Archives.

[15] George Washington to Colonel Robert Magaw, 20 April 1777, Founders Online, National Archives.

[16] George Washington to Jonathan Trumbull, Sr., 12 April 1777, Founders Online, National Archives

[17] This is possibly Colonel Robert Rogers of the Queen’s Rangers.

[18] Archives of Maryland, vol. 18, p. 216.

[19] Archives of Maryland, vol. 18, p. 108.

[20] Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1779-1780, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 43, p. 54.

[21] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 43, p. 234; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 43, p. 272.

[22] Charles County, Court, Land Records, V3 p. 303 [MSA C 670-35]; Charles County, Register of Wills, Wills, 1788-1791, AI 10, p. 386 [MSA C 681-11]; Charles County, Register of Wills, Wills, 1791-1801, AK 11, p. 333 [MSA C 681-12].

[23] Charles County, Register of Wills, Wills, AI 10, p. 386 [MSA C 681-11].

[24] Charles County, Register of Wills, Inventories, 1788-1791, AI 10, p. 512 [MSA C 665-10].

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