Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Babbs
MSA SC 3520-16820

Biography:

John Babbs enlisted as a private in the First Maryland Regiment's Seventh Company, commanded by Captain John Day Scott, in January 1776. The Seventh Company was raised in Annapolis, and was stationed there during the first part of 1776, along with five of the regiment's other companies; 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. [1]

In July, the regiment received orders to march to New York to defend the city from an impending British attack. The Marylanders arrived in New York a month later and joined the rest of the Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington. One of the company’s sergeants, William Sands, described the scene in mid-August: “Our Maryland Battalion is encamped on a hill about one mile out of New York, where we lay in a very secure place…We are ordered to hold ourselves in readiness. We expect an attack hourly.” [2]

That attack finally came two weeks later, on August 27, 1776, 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. As Babbs later described, "the Regiment...sustained severe losses, was dispersed, and almost broken up." As the Maryland troops fought their way towards the American fortifications, they were forced to stop at the swampy Gowanus Creek. Half the regiment, including the Seventh Company, was able to cross the creek 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. They held the British at bay for some time before being overrun, at the cost of many lives. The Marylanders took enormous casualties, with some companies 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]

Babbs survived the battle, as did most of the men in his company, although William Sands was among those killed. In October, the Marylanders fought at the Battle of White Plains, where they again took the brunt of the fighting. They were ordered to leave their defensive position on the top of a hill and charge at the British. “Smallwood’s [regiment] suffered most, on this occasion, sustaining, with great patience and coolness, a long and heavy fire–and finally retreated with great sullenness, being obliged to give way to a superior force,” wrote one observer. The Seventh Company lost its captain and one of its lieutenants, Thomas Goldsmith, both killed. Babbs himself was wounded in the fighting: his "leg was badly broken by a piece or fragment of a rock knocked off by a cannon ball." [4]

Babbs was taken to an American hospital, and spent many years recovering. As he put it, he "was a long time confined in the hospitals...[and] never after so far recovered from the wound and injury received as to be capable of performing active duty in the field." Despite his wound, Babbs nevertheless reenlisted in the army at the end of 1776 when his initial term of service ended. It is unclear when he was finally healthy enough to do any duties. Eventually, however, after Babbs "had partially and measurable regained the use of his leg...[he] acted as an orderly sergeant and attendant" in the Continental Army's hospitals. In December 1779, at the end of his three year term, Babbs was discharged, and he returned home to Maryland. [5]

Little is known about Babbs's life for the next few decades. He got married and had several children, and at some point he moved to Hamilton County, Ohio, in the southwest part of the state. While living there, Babbs applied for a Federal veteran's pension in 1818, seeking assistance because "of his advanced age and disability [he was] entirely unable to support himself by labour." He received a pension of $8 per month, although he still had to rely on his family for support. Eventually, Babbs moved west to Ripley County, Indiana, where he died on February 13, 1844. [6]

Owen Lourie, 2017

Notes:

1. Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 15.

2. William Sands to John and Ann Sands, 14 August 1776. Maryland State Archives, Special Collections, Dowsett Collection of Sands Family Papers [MSA SC 2095-1-18, 00/20/05/28].

3. Pension of John Babbs. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S45241, from fold3.com; Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, 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), 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. "Extract of a letter from White-Plains," American Archives Online, October 28, 1776, series 5, vol. 2, p. 1271; Babbs Pension.

5. In the summer of 1778, Babbs (mistakenly called Corporal Joseph Babbs), "having a sore leg," was granted permission to return to Maryland for three weeks, to "obtain relief." See Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, 1778-1779. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 21, p. 170. Babbs pension; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 81; Account of money paid sundry soldiers by Gen. Smallwood, paid to John Babbs, late 1776/early 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 6, no. 7-3a, MdHR 19970-6-7/3a [MSA S997-6-25, 1/7/3/11]; Receipt, pay received by John Babbs, 13 December 1779, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 3, no. 7-7, MdHR 19970-3-7/7 [MSA S997-3-77, 1/7/3/9].

6. Babbs pension.

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