Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Toomy
MSA SC 3520-17117


John Toomy joined the First Maryland Regiment in January of 1776, enlisting as a sergeant in the Fourth Company, and was with the regiment when it marched to New York in July to join the Continental Army. As a sergeant, he was responsible for helping keep his company organized and properly aligned during battle. By enlisting as early as he did, Toomy became one of Maryland's earliest Revolutionary War soldiers, and took part in one of the war's most famous stands. [1]

On August 27, 1776, he and his fellow soldiers faced the British Army at the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island), seeking to resist the British attempt to take New York. 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, Toomy and the rest of 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, Toomy's company among them, were unable to do so before they were attacked the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, the Marylanders mounted a series of daring charges, which held the British at bay for some time, at the cost of many lives, before being overrun. One of Toomy's fellow Fourth Company sergeants, William McMillan, described what happened:

My captain was killed, first lieutenant was killed, second lieutenant shot through the hand, two sergeants was killed; one in front of me…my bayonet was shot off my gun...My brother [Sergeant Samuel McMillan] and I and 50 or 60 of us was taken…The Hessians broke the butts of our guns over their cannon and robbed us of everything we had, lit their pipes with our money…gave us nothing to eat for five days, and then [only] moldy biscuits…blue, moldy, full of bugs and rotten. [2]

All told, Toomy's company lost 80 percent of its men, killed or captured like McMillan. Only the company's drummer, a dozen privates, and one sergeant--Toomy--made it back to the American lines. The Marylanders took enormous causalities, with other companies losing nearly as many men as the Fourth, but their action had delayed the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape, earning themselves the moniker "Maryland 400." [3]

Toomy stayed with the army 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 the Maryland troops were reorganized and expanded, he secured a commission as an officer, becoming an ensign in the newly-created Third Maryland Regiment in late 1776. The following spring, he was promoted to lieutenant in Nathaniel Gist's Additional Regiment, a unit intended to serve as light infantry scouts, taking advantage of Gist's legendary experience as a frontiersman. These plans were never fully realized, and the men ended up being assigned to other Continental Army units. Toomy stayed with the Third Maryland, and participated in the battles of Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777), part of the unsuccessful American effort to protect their capital of Philadelphia from the British, as well as Monmouth (June 1778) and Stony Point (July 1779). He also endured the legendary 1777-1778 winter camp at Valley Forge. [4]

Toomy's military career was touched by controversy on two occasions. In 1778, not long before the Battle of Monmouth, he was convicted by a court martial of disobeying orders, and was publicly reprimanded. About a year later, he was accused of claiming excessive reimbursement for supplies he purchased for his company. Toomy was repaid, but harshly criticized. It is unknown what long-term consequences these incidents had, but they may have contributed to his decision to resign his commission at the end of 1779. Had he stayed on, he would likely have been captured with the rest of Gist's Regiment in the spring of 1780, when it was sent to break the British siege of Charleston, South Carolina. While Toomy escaped that fate, nothing of his life is known after his military service ended. [5]

Owen Lourie, 2015

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 11.

[2] Letter, William McMillan to Secretary of Treasury, ca. October 1828. Pension of William McMillan, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S 2806, p. 33-35, from

[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] Robert K. Wright, The Continental Army (Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center for Military History, 1983), 101, 321; “Orders to Colonel Nathaniel Gist, 13 January 1777,” Founders Online, National Archives. Toomy's military service records comes from Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pps. 11, 600; Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 141; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from; List of Officers of the Maryland Line, c. December 1776, Maryland State Archives, Revolutionary Papers, box 6, no. 12 [MSA S997-6-18, 1/7/3/11]; Mordecai Gist, Account, 23 January 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 2, no. 4/1-2 [MSA S997-2-254, 1/7/3/8].

[5] "General Orders, 3 June 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives; Letter, Council of Maryland to Gen. William Smallwood, 26 March 1779, Archives of Maryland Online, vol 21, p. 330; Wright, 321.

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