Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Smith (1752-1830)
MSA SC 3520-16824

Biography:

William Smith enlisted as a private in the Ninth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 29, 1776. The regiment was Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional soldiers raised to be part of the Continental Army. Smith joined the company in Frederick County, Maryland, where many of the other men hailed from; while the company mostly consisted of men from Western Maryland, it drew men from other parts of the state as well, since it was designated as the elite light infantry company for the regiment. Instead of fighting in a line with the other companies, the light infantry was often deployed in small groups ahead of the main body of troops as scouts or skirmishers. They carried rifles, rather than muskets, and were intended to be a more mobile group. [1]

Smith and the rest of the company traveled to Annapolis in early 1776, where they trained until July, when the First Maryland Regiment was ordered to march north to New York, to protect the city from invasion by the British. On August 27, a month after arriving in New York, the Americans clashed with the British at the Battle of Brooklyn (also called the Battle of Long Island), the first full-scale encounter of the American Revolution. 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. While half the regiment was able to cross the creek, the rest, Smith's company among them, were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, these men, now known as 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. [2]

Smth's company fared poorly at the battle, probably because the light infantry's role placed them closest to the enemy lines during combat. At least 13 soldiers from the company were captured, and fewer than half the men from the Ninth Company escaped death or captivity at the battle. Smith seems to have been among the lucky ones, however, and was able escape safely from the British. He fought with the Marylanders at the Battle of White Plains in October 1776, and through the rest of the difficult fall of 1776, a series of defeats that saw the Americans pushed out of New York, followed by revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton late that winter. When his enlistment ended at the end of 1776, Smith returned home. [3]

Just over a year later, Smith rejoined the army, signing on as a private in the First Maryland Regiment in March 1778. At least one of the men we served with at Brooklyn, Samuel Denny, did the same thing. Smith participated in the campaigning around Philadelphia in 1778, probably including the Battle of Monmouth (June 1778). In 1780, he traveled with the rest of the Marylanders to South Carolina, to counter the British threat in the south. The Southern Campaign featured some of the fiercest combat of the war, particularly at the Battle of Camden, in August 1780. Smith survived that engagement, where the Marylanders lost some 600 men--about one-third of their troops. He was discharged on November 1, 1780, in Salisbury, South Carolina. [4]

Smith's life after he left the service is difficult to trace, owing to the common nature of his name. By 1818, when he applied for a veteran's pension from the Federal Government, Smith was married with two children, and lived in Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia). A few years later, he and his family moved to nearby Morgan County, Virginia (also now West Virginia); both of these places are relatively close to Frederick County, Maryland, where Smith had enlisted in early 1776. He was still living in Morgan County when he died on June 27, 1830.

Owen Lourie, 2016

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 19; Pension of William Smith, National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S 38,379, from Fold3.com; George Stricker to Council, 21 January 1776, Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, August 29, 1775 to July 6, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 11, p. 102.

[2] 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.  

[3] Pension of William Smith.

[4] Archives of Maryland, vol. 18, p. 160; Pension of William Smith; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; Tacyn, 216-225; 229-230.

[5] Pension of William Smith.

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