Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Coe (1757-1833)
MSA SC 3520-16830 


William Coe enlisted as a private in Maryland's Fifth Independent Company, led by Captain John Allen Thomas, in early 1776. He was the son of Samuel and Elizabeth Coe, and was born on November 9, 1757. The family was from Calvert County, Maryland, where it owned a small farm. Coe had at least one sibling, a sister named Ann, who was born in March 1760. Enlisting at just eighteen years old, Coe was among the younger soldiers from Maryland, six years younger than the average. [1]

The Fifth Independent Company was raised in St. Mary's County, Maryland, and was one of seven independent companies that the Maryland Council of Safety formed across the state in early 1776, initially intended to guard the Chesapeake Bay's coastline from a feared British invasion. By that summer, however, the independent companies were dispatched to New York, to help reinforce the Continental Army as it prepared to defend the city from the British. In total, twelve companies of Maryland troops traveled to New York that July and August: nine companies that comprised the First Maryland Regiment, commanded by Colonel William Smallwood, and the Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Independent companies, the only three that were ready to travel then. [2]

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. While half the regiment was able to cross the creek, the rest were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, the Marylanders mounted a series of daring charges. These men, now known as the "Maryland 400," held the British at bay long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape, at the cost of many lives. In all, 256 Marylanders were killed or captured by the British; some companies lost as much as 80 percent of their men. Coe and his company likely saw little combat. Instead, the Fifth Independent Company did not cross the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn until after the fighting had begun, and did not venture into the field of battle. They did, however, perform valuable service assisting the Americans retreating through the Gowanus Marsh. [3]

During the fall of 1776, Coe and the rest of the Marylanders fought a series of battles in New York: Harlem Heights (September), White Plains (October), and Fort Washington (November). While the Americans had some tactical successes at these engagements, by November they had been pushed out of New York entirely, though they secured key revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton late that winter. The independent companies were disbanded and reformed as part of the regular Maryland troops at the end of 1776. Coe's enlistment expired in December 1776, and he returned to Maryland. [4]

However, a few months later, in May 1777 he enlisted as a corporal in an artillery company commanded by Captain William Campbell, based in Annapolis. As Coe later recalled, the company mainly did "garrison duty," although it saw action at the battles of Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777). In August 1779, Coe obtained two substitutes to serve the rest of his enlistment in his place, including a man named Josiah Daudge, and left the army. [5]

Returning to civilian life, Coe settled in Annapolis. In July 1780, he married Eleanor Devonish, and they had a daughter named Catherine. Coe evidently had training as a tailor, and practiced his trade even while he was in the army. In 1779, for example, he was paid £238 by the state "for making soldiers cloaths." He continued as a tailor in Annapolis after leaving the army, and by 1783 he was working in partnership with John Beveridge, an arrangement which lasted for five years. They owned a house in Annapolis together, presumably where their business was located. How Coe was able to achieve that level of financial success is not clear, but it suggests that he established himself professionally in a relatively short time. [6]

Eleanor died in January 1793, and Coe married again just six months later. His second wife was Mary Sears, the daughter of Edward and Sarah Sears, and was just nineteen when she married Coe. Mary and William had twelve children: William Sears (1794-1795); William McNeir (b. 1795); Charles Campbell (1797-1824); John William (b. 1798); Helen Maria (b. 1800); Eliza Ann (b. 1801); Maria Caecelia (b. 1803); Mary Clare (b. 1804); Alexander Benson (1806-1849); George Washington (1807-1807); Louise Jane (1809-1830); and Edward Sears (1817-1817). [7]

During these years, Coe continued to work as a tailor in Annapolis, and his business thrived. By 1800, he owned a large house on South East (now Duke of Gloucester) Street, and another on Green Street, which he rented. Coe also owned several slaves, as many as six in 1798. He manumitted one of them, a man named William Berbeck, in 1799. [8]

In 1818, when he was sixty-one years old, Coe applied for a pension from the Federal government as a Revolutionary War veteran. At the time, he described himself as a resident of Baltimore City, although he seems to have continued to operate his tailor's shop in Annapolis. Coe's pension request was approved, and he was awarded nine dollars per month, commensurate with a corporal's pay. However, in 1820 eligibility rules were altered, and veterans had to provide evidence of financial hardship, which Coe could not do, and his pension was stopped. [9]

In the years that followed, Coe's life saw much sadness. At least five of his children died during his lifetime, including three who died in infancy. His son Charles drowned in 1824 at twenty-seven years old after having a seizure while he was fishing with his father in a creek near Annapolis; William nearly died while trying to save his son. [10]

While Coe lost his Federal pension in 1820, he did receive financial assistance from the state of Maryland. In 1819, he was awarded annual payments equal to half his army salary, which he collected until his death. Finally, in 1832, thirteen years after he received his last pension payment and more than fifty since he had left the army, Coe was again awarded a veteran's pension by the Federal government. As the number of living Revolutionary War veterans declined, Congress eliminated the old eligibility rules, and Coe was granted nine dollars per year, just as he had been in 1819. [11]

William Coe died in Baltimore on December 30, 1833, in Baltimore, a short time after he turned seventy-six years old. His wife Mary received his state pension payments for another year-and-a half, until her death at age sixty-three, on June 29, 1835. [12]

Owen Lourie, 2018


[1] Pension of William Coe, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S 8227, from; Kenneth Sewell Coe, William Coe, Revolutionary Soldier (1957), 1; Christ Church, Christ Parish (Calvert County), Parish Register, 1685-1847, p. 49 [MSA SC2638-1-1, SCM 267].

[2] Mark Andrew Tacyn "'To the End:' The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution" (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 33-45.

[3] Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from; Tacyn, 48-73; Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 154-155. 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] Coe pension.

[5] Coe pension; Enrollment in artillery company, February-May 1777, Maryland State Papers, Series A, box 2, no. 141, MdHR 6636-2-141 [MSA S1004-2-1313, 1/7/3/25]; Pension of Henry Litzinger, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S 34964, from Coe served in the artillery with Litzinger, and gave testimony in support of his pension application. Journal and Correspondence of the State Council 1778-1779, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 21, p. 493.

[6] Marriage of William Coe and Eleanor Devonish, 15 July 1780, Anne Arundel County Court, Marriage Licenses, 1777-1813, p. 11 [MSA C113-1, 1/1/11/27]; Coe, 4; Order to pay William Coe, 16 February 1779, Maryland State Papers, Series A, box 16, no. 123-41, MdHR 6636-16-123/41 [MSA S1004-19-738, 1/7/3/33]; General Assembly, House of Delegates, Assessment Record, 1783, Annapolis Hundred, Anne Arundel County, p. 1 [MSA S1161-1-1, 1/4/5/44]; Maryland Gazette, 17 January 1788.

[7] Coe, 4; Marriage of William Coe and Mary Sears, 29 June 1793, Anne Arundel County Court, Marriage Licenses, 1777-1813, p. 53.

[8] Federal Direct Tax, 1798, Anne Arundel County, Annapolis Hundred, Particular List of Houses. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 729, p. 96; U.S. Federal Census, 1800, Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, Maryland; Anne Arundel County Court, Manumission Record, 1797-1807, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 825, p. 49.

[9] Coe pension. Census records do nothing to clarify where Coe lived. He may, in fact, have been listed in both cities in 1820. U.S. Federal Census, 1820, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Maryland; U.S. Federal Census, 1820, Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

[10] Coe, 4; "Melancholy Accident," Maryland Gazette, 23 September 1824.

[11] Maryland General Assembly, Session Laws of 1819, Resolution 39, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 638, p. 119; Maryland General Assembly, Session Laws of 1820, Resolution 30, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 625, p. 175; Coe pension.

[12] Maryland General Assembly, Session Laws of 1833, Resolution 19, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 210, p. 335; Maryland General Assembly, Session Laws of 1833, Resolution 39, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 210, p. 343; Coe, 3; "Died," Baltimore Patriot, 1 January 1834; "Died," Baltimore Gazette and Daily Advertiser, 1 July 1835.

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