Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Mitchell (1760-1812)
MSA SC 3520-16772

Biography:

John Mitchell was born in 1760 in Charles County, Maryland, to Hugh Mitchell and his wife, Anne Hanson. Hugh Mitchell was a well-off planter, merchant, and landowner. John had two sisters named Katherine and Jenet. Hugh Mitchell died in early 1761, and John was not willed anything specifically by his father. However, as the eldest son he would have gained control over 373 acres of land divided up into three tracts: Shaw’s Folly, Cain’s Purchase, and Moberly. [1]

On January 24, 1776, he enlisted as a sergeant in Captain John Hoskins Stone's First Company of the First Maryland Regiment, commanded by William Smallwood. Mitchell, like many of those in the First Company, was recruited from Charles County. The company trained in Annapolis until they departed for New York. As Mitchell got his first taste of battle, he would begin his "career of glory" and fight under "the command of the gallant Smallwood." [2]

A sergeant, like Mitchell, had an important role in the Maryland Line. As non-commissioned officers, their duties included maintaining discipline within their company, and inspecting the new recruits. Their other duties included carrying sick soldiers to the hospital as needed, reporting on the sickness of men within the ranks, and leading groups of men to guard prisoners or supplies if circumstances required it. For these services they were paid more than corporals in Maryland, who they oversaw, and worked with, to keep order in place in the company, including breaking up disputes between soldiers. In order to get in this position, however, their field officers or captains had to recommend them for promotion. [3]

The First Maryland Regiment were the first troops Maryland raised at the beginning of the Revolutionary War. Maryland was more than willing to do its part to recruit the men needed to fill the Continental Army's depleted ranks. A few days after independence was declared, the First Maryland Regiment were ordered to New York so it could join the forces of General George Washington. The regiment arrived there in early August, with the Battle of Brooklyn set between the Continental Army and the British Army, joined by their Hessian allies. [4]

Mitchell served with 26-year-old Stone and his company at the Battle of Brooklyn in late August 1776. Unlike other companies which suffered heavier losses, only 15 percent of the First Company were either killed or captured. Few were killed, while the company's ensign, James Farnandis, was captured by British forces. Even so, the loss of life by the other companies confirmed the assessment of the British Parliament's Annual Register which described how "almost a whole regiment from Maryland…of young men from the best families in the country was cut to pieces" even as the battle brought the men of the Maryland 400 together. [5]

The Battle of Brooklyn, the first large-scale battle of the war, fits into the larger context of the Revolutionary War. If the Maryland Line had not stood and fought the British, enabling the rest of the Continental Army to escape, then the Continental Army would been decimated, resulting in the end of the Revolutionary War. This heroic stand gave the regiment the nickname of the Old Line and those who made the stand in the battle are remembered as the Maryland 400.

Mitchell survived the Battle of Brooklyn like most of the company. In December 1776, Mitchell re-enlisted in the First Maryland Regiment and was promoted to second lieutenant. He only occupied this position for six months, as his rank increased to first lieutenant in June 1777. Mitchell stayed in this position for almost two years, serving in Henry Chew Gaither's company. He was put on furlough in the summer of 1778, likely returning to his home in Charles County's Port Tobacco West Hundred. [6]

In May 1779, Mitchell became regimental adjutant of the First Maryland Regiment, and chief administrator of the unit. He did not have this rank for long. In July 1779, he was promoted once again to the position of captain. In the summer of 1779, he signed a statement, along with 95 other Maryland officers asking for support from the state legislature. The officers suffered because of the depreciated Continental currency, and their plea was successful. [7]

Mitchell journeyed south to join the army of general Horatio Gates. On January 1, 1781 he was transferred to the Fourth Maryland Regiment, retaining his rank as captain. During his time in the Southern Campaign, Mitchell fought at Camden (1780), Cowpens (1781), Hobkirk's Hill (1781), Eutaw Springs (1781), and Yorktown (1781). According to one of his descendants, a musket ball hit Mitchell in the chest during the battle of Camden.  Mitchell’s gold watch key luckily deflected the ball, saving his life. He continued serving in the Fourth Regiment until his retirement in April 1783. Not long afterwards, Mitchell became one of the founding members of the Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland. [8]

Many years later, he served as a vestryman of Charles County's Durham Parish from 1791 to 1795, in 1797, and 1799 to 1801. Mitchell had been a member of the parish since the 1770s and remained a member until the end of his life. He petitioned the legislature for money to repair of the parish's church, called Old Durham Church or Christ Church, and the construction of a chapel. [9]

After the war, Mitchell lived in Charles County from 1790 to 1810 with his wife, children, and over twenty enslaved people. By 1810, he owned the 732-acre “Holly Springs” plantation in Nanjemoy, Charles County. He also owned “twenty-five to thirty likely Country-born slaves,” although he may have sold several people by the end of the year. He also had about 200 acres in Western Maryland and thousands of acres in Federal land beyond the Appalachian Mountains. [10]

While living in Charles County, he married Lucinda "Lucy" Heaberd Truman Stoddert. They had one child named John Truman Stoddert Heaberd Mitchell. Nine years later, in 1800, Mitchell, with his nine-year-old son, sued John and Priscilla Courts for control of William Smallwood's estate. Mitchell filed to be one of Smallwood’s heirs because Smallwood had been Lucy’s uncle. [11]

After the death of Lucy Stoddert, Mitchell married a woman named Catherine Barnes. Mitchell and Catherine had four children: Walter Hanson Jennifer Mitchell (1801-1870), Richard Henry Barnes, Mary Ann Mitchell and Elizabeth Mitchell. [12]

Mitchell held numerous public offices after the war. He served in the Maryland militia from 1794 to 1797. Mitchell first served as lieutenant colonel of the Forty-Third Regiment of Maryland militia in Charles County. He later served as Brigadier General of the Fifth Brigade of Maryland militia. When this term of service ended in 1797, Mitchell was appointed as commissioner of the tax for Charles County by the state legislature. A few years later, Governor John F. Mercer—another Continental Army officer—appointed Mitchell to be a magistrate in Charles County from 1801 to 1802. [13]

Mitchell supported the Republican Party. He ran as a presidential elector in 1796 and 1804 but lost to Federalist candidates both times. He later ran for the U.S. House of Representatives, but earned fewer than ten votes, losing to Federalist and other Republican candidates. [14]

In 1810, Mitchell wrote to Thomas Jefferson, calling himself "a decided friend & supporter of the [former Jefferson] Administration." He claimed to have been swindled out of about two thousand dollars and asked Jefferson to assist him. In closing, Mitchell said that his family would "rise up and call him Blessed" if Jefferson lent him money. It is unknown if Jefferson lent him any money, but Mitchell’s fortunes dramatically decreased. [15]

On October 11, 1812, Mitchell died in Welcome, Charles County. He willed his six remaining enslaved black people to his children and his plantation to his wife, Catherine. He also equally divided his property among his children. He paid for a funeral after his death, and asked that his wife be paid whatever is necessary for her support and his children’s ongoing education. [16]

The Annapolis Maryland Gazette wrote a glowing obituary for John Mitchell. They declared that he valiantly and proudly fought for his country, although he never received adequate compensation for his service. The eulogy proclaimed that

He lived to feel the ingratitude of his country, and to witness her disgrace [in the War of 1812]. But he has now found a refuge in the silence of the tomb, and, we trust his patriotism will now be rewarded. Light lie the sod that covers the breast of a solder. [17]

After Mitchell’s death, his wife Catherine was appointed as executor of his estate. She tried to pay off creditors and address Mitchell's debt. Beginning in 1819, the Barnes and Mitchell families fought over his estate, arguing in a huge legal case that each of them had valid claims to John Mitchell's property. The main points of contention in this case were over ownership of land and enslaved people. The fight over Mitchell’s estate ended in 1851, thirty-nine years after his death. [18]

- Burkely Hermann, Maryland Society of the Sons of American Revolution Research Fellow, 2016; James Schmitt, Maryland Society Sons of the American Revolution Research Fellow, 2019

Notes:

[1] Will of Hugh Mitchell, 1761, Charles County Register of Wills, Wills, MdHR 7285, Liber AD 5, p. 180-181 [MSA C681-5, 1/8/10/5]; George A. Hanson, Old Kent: The Eastern Shore of Maryland (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 2002, reprint), 114-115, 117, 119-120; Inventory of Hugh Mitchell, 1761, Charles County Register of Wills, Wills, MdHR 7299, Liber 4, p. 299-302 [MSA C665-4, 1/8/10/19].

[2] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, 5; Roster of regular officers in Smallwood's battalion, January 1777, Red Books, MdHR 4573, Red Book 12, p. 66 [MSA S989-17, 1/6/4/5]; Mark Andrew Tacyn, “'To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 21; Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 29 October 1812.

[3] James Thacher, A Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War, from 1775 to 1783 (Boston: A. Richardson and Lord, 1823), 45, 73, 458, 468-484, 520; Friedrich von Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Part I (Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1792), pp. 137-140.

[4] Tacyn, pp. 44-45.

[5] Return of the six Independent Companies and First Regiment of Maryland Regulars, in the service of the United Colonies, commanded by Colonel Smallwood, Sept. 13, 1776, National Archives, NARA M804, Record Group 93, Roll 0034, courtesy of Fold3.com; Tacyn, p. 4

[6] Reiman Steuart, A History of the Maryland Line in the Revolutionary War (Towson, MD: Metropolitan Press, 1969), p. 112; Port Tobacco West Hundred, March 1778, Charles County Court, Census of 1778, MdHR 8167-2, Liber X 3, p. 630-632 [MSA C654-1, 1/7/7/27]. 

[7] Steuart, 112; Hanson's Laws of Maryland, Session Laws 1779, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 203, p. 214.

[8] Steuart, 112; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, 370458, 521; Charles County Bicentennial Committee, Charles County, Maryland: A History (Hackensack, NJ: Custom Book Inc., 1976), 311.

[9] Durham Parish Vestry Minutes, 1776-1777, 1791-1811, Special Collections, Durham Parish Collection, p. 47-49, 51, 53-58, 61, 63, 65-66, 68-73, 76, 78, 83, 91, 93, 95, 113-114, 119, 122, 129-131, 133 [MSA SC 2604-1-1, SCM 9950-1 (scanned)]; Session Laws, 1811 Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 614, p. 74.

[10] Census of 1790 for Charles County, U.S. Census Bureau, Maryland Census Record, p. 576 [MSA SM61-7, SCM 2053-1]; Census of 1800 for Charles County's Durham Parish, U.S. Census Bureau, Maryland Census Record, p. 495 [MSA SM61-28, SCM 2055-3]; Census of 1810 for Charles County, U.S. Census Bureau, Maryland Census Record, p. 315 [MSA SM61-48, SCM 2060-4]; John Mitchell to Thomas Jefferson, 26 February 1810, Founders Online, National Archives; Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties, "Holly Springs," CH-109 [MSA SE5-7941].

[11] John Herbert Truman Stoddart Mitchell and John Mitchell vs. John Courts and Priscilla Courts in the case of William Smallwood's estate, 1800, Chancery Court, Chancery Papers, MdHR 17898-3602 [MSA S512-3720, 1/36/3/65]; Pension of William Smallwood, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, National Archives, NARA M804, Record Group 15, Roll 2202, pension number B. L. Wt. 656-1100, from Fold3.com.

[12] John Mitchell Will, 14 November 1812, Charles County Register of Wills, Estate Papers, MdHR 7326-15 [MSA C651-16, 1/8/11/34].

[13] Appointments of John Mitchell, 1794-1796, Adjutant General, Militia Appointments, MdHR 5587, Militia Appointments Liber 2, p. 90, 94 [MSA S348-2, 2/6/5/10]; Session Laws, 1797, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 652, p. 93; Appointment of John Mitchell, 1801-1802, Governor and Council, Appointment List, MdHR 1900 [MSA S1082-3, 2/26/4/40]; Resignation of John Mitchell, 1802-1803, Governor and Council, Appointment List, MdHR 1901 [MSA S1082-4, 2/26/4/40].

[14] A New Nation Votes: American Election Returns 1787-1825.

[15] John Mitchell to Thomas Jefferson, 26 February 1810, Founders Online, National Archives.

[16] Will of John Mitchell.

[17] Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 29 October 1812.

[18] Catherine Mitchell Petition, 9 June 1813, Charles County Register of Wills, Estate Papers, MdHR 7326-16 [MSA C651-16, 1/8/11/35]; John Barnes vs. Walter H.J. Mitchell with an injunction against execution of judgment, 1836, Chancery Court, Chancery Papers, MdHR 17898-6518 [MSA S512-6577, 1/37/3/40].

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