Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Francis Osborn
MSA SC 3520-16777 


Francis Osborn (or Osburne) enlisted as a private in the First Maryland Regiment's Second Company, commanded by Captain Patrick Sim, in January 1776. While Osborn served only one year in the army, he survived the Battle of Brooklyn, and became one of the famed "Maryland 400." [1]

Osborn was the son of John Osborn and his wife, whose name is unknown. His siblings were Ann, Dennis, John, Esse, Stephen, Ursulla, and Elizabeth. The family lived in the Collington area of Prince George's County, Maryland. John Osborn was a moderately prosperous planter, but Francis may have been moved to enlist in part because he had few opportunities for economic or personal advancement at the time: like many men of his generation, his prospects were held in check until he could inherit land from his father. [2]

After enlisting, Francis and his company traveled to Annapolis, joining five other companies of the regiment that were stationed there; three additional companies were in Baltimore. Commanded by Colonel William Smallwood, the regiment was the first unit of full-time, professional soldiers raised in Maryland for service in the Continental Army.

In July, the regiment received orders to march to New York, in order to defend the city from an impending British attack. The Marylanders arrived in New York in early August, where they joined with the rest of the Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington. 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. Half the regiment was able to cross the creek, including Osborn, 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, which held the British at bay for some time, at the cost of many lives, before being overrun. They took enormous causalities, with some companies losing losing nearly 80 percent of their men, but their actions delayed the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape. In all, the First Maryland lost 256 men, killed or taken prisoner. [3]

In the course of the battle, Osborn later wrote, he saw "Capt. Sim knocked down by the body of Thomas Connor, whos head was shot off by a cannon shot." Although he undoubtedly saw men killed at the battle, he was mistaken about Connor, who survived the battle, and served through 1779. [4] Osborn appears to have stayed with the army through the rest of the fall and winter of 1776, a series of defeats that saw the American pushed out of New York, followed with revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton late that winter. However, he did not reenlist when his term expired at the end of the year, and apparently suffered some long-term effects of his military service. In 1779, he was exempted from future military service, "appearing to be in no sort fit for the Service, nor likely to be so," although there is no further information about what caused Osborn's sufferings. [5]

Osborn married Charity Pope on July 9, 1778, and they had nine children: John, James, Joseph, Sarah, Elizabeth, Eliza, Louisa, Susan, and Joshua. After his father died in 1789, Osborn inherited 200 acres in Prince George's County, and lived there until around 1820. In 1821, Osborn sold his land to John and Thomas Osborn, likely his son and nephew, and may have left the county already, since he appeared in the 1820 census as a resident of neighboring Anne Arundel County. He lived in Anne Arundel when he died in March 1824. [6]

In his lifetime, Francis Osborn owned 245 acres, and roughly a dozen slaves, which placed him in the middle of the county's wealth. Small landowners, who owned a few hundred acres of land, and more than a few slaves, made up a large portion of the county's population. Their own status was relatively secure during the first decades after the Revolution--their family would never starve--but the future was more precarious for their children. Overall, landownership was declining, and the cost of purchasing new land was quite high. While some could acquire land through inheritance, not everyone could. Osborn, for example, had nine children, including four sons (his daughters would presumably hope to marry men who had land of their own), and dividing his land among them all would have resulted in plots too small to farm efficiently. Still, where many Revolutionary War veterans struggled in the new nation, Francis Osborn found relative success and stability. [7]

Owen Lourie, 2016


[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 8.

[2] Will of John Osborn, 1789, Prince George's County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber T1, 278 [MSA C1326-3, 1/25/7/4]; Jean B. Lee, The Price of Nationhood: The American Revolution in Charles County (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994), 163.

[3] Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from; 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.

[4] Pension of Patrick Sim. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S35072, from

[5] Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, October 27, 1779 - November 13, 1780, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 43, p. 4. The description of Osborn as a former member of "Simms's Company of the old Maryland Regiment" indicates that he had not served in any other unit.

[6] Prince George's County Court, Marriage Licenses, 1777-1797, 5 [MSA CM783-1, CR 50,230]; John Osborne, et al. v. Jeremiah Perry, et al., 1825, Chancery Court, Chancery Papers, MdHR 17,898-10,087 [MSA S512-9975, 1/39/2/32]; John Osborn will; Deed, Francis Osborn to Thomas and John Osborn, 1821, Prince George's County Court, Land Records, Liber AB 1, 538 [MSA CE 65-48]; Deed, Francis Osborn to Thomas Osborn, 1821, Prince George's County Court, Land Records, Liber AB 1, 540; U.S. Federal Census, 1790, Prince George's County, Maryland; U.S. Federal Census, 1800, Prince George's County, Maryland; U.S. Federal Census, 1810, Upper Marlboro, Charlotte Vale and Calvert Hundreds, Prince George's County, Maryland; U.S. Federal Census, 1820, District 4, Anne Arundel County, Maryland; Inventory of Francis Osborn, 1825, Anne Arundel County, Register of Wills, Inventories, Liber THH 3, 374 [MSA C88-19, 1/3/12/41].

[7] Wealth information is drawn from the annual county assessments, Prince George's County Commissioners of the Tax, Assessment Records, 1793-1822 [MSA C1162] and the 1798 Federal Direct Tax, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 729, General List of Land, Prince George's County, p. 1975, General List of Slaves, p. 1980, and Particular List of Land, p. 1999. Steven Sarson, "Landlessness and Tenancy in Early National Prince George's County, Maryland," The William and Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., vol. 57, no. 3 (Jul. 2000), 572-574; Steven Sarson, "Yeoman Farmers in a Planters' Republic: Socioeconomic Conditions and Relations in Early National Prince George's County, Maryland," Journal of the Early Republic 29, no. 1 (Spr. 2009), 68-78.

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