Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Robert Crafford
MSA SC 3520-17238

Biography:

Robert Crafford (or Crawford) enlisted in the Fourth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 29, 1776, at the outset of the American Revolution. The company was largely drawn from Harford County, and was part of Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional soldiers raised to be part of the Continental Army. Crafford and his company were initially stationed in Baltimore, where it trained until early July. On July 9, 1776, the First Maryland Regiment was ordered to march north to New York, to protect the city from invasion by the British. Just days before it left, the company was assigned a new commander, Captain Daniel Bowie, and had only 58 men, instead of the 74 soldiers in a full-strength company. [1]

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, Crafford's company among them, 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, which held the British at bay for some time, at the cost of many lives, before being overrun. One of the Fourth Company's sergeants, William McMillan, described what happened:

We were surrounded by Healanders [Scottish Highlanders] [on] one side, Hessians on the other...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, the company lost 80 percent of its men, killed like Bowie, or captured like McMillan. Only the company's drummer, a dozen privates, and a sergeant 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]

Crafford was captured by the British at the Battle of Brooklyn, along with at least ten other men from his company. While he left no account of his time in captivity, one of the other Marylanders did. Thomas McKeel, a sergeant in the Sixth Company, reported that he "remained a prisoner on board of a Prison Ship until the British troops got possession of New York" in November 1776, and "he was then taken ashore and imprisoned in New York with the Maryland officers and prisoners, until he was parolled." Most of the Maryland soldiers were released, as McKeel was, in late 1776 or early 1777. [4]

It appears that Crafford returned to military service about six months after the end of his captivity, enlisting as a private in the Third Maryland Regiment, pledging to serve to the end of the war. During the summer and fall of 1777, the Continental Army was defending the American capital at Philadelphia, fighting battles at Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777). Crafford may have been present at those battles, although the new recruits may not have joined the army at that time. He probably did fight at the Battle of Monmouth (1778), and untold smaller skirmishes and engagements. The Americans also had severe supply problems during this period, and the soldiers of the Continental Army suffered greatly from starvation and illness. [5]

In the spring of 1780, the Maryland regiments joined the Continental Army's march from their winter camp in New Jersey to counter the new front that the British had opened in the Carolinas. Over the next two years, the Marylanders fought in the Revolutionary War's fiercest battles, ultimately culminating with the British surrender at Yorktown on October 19, 1781. The Americans' worst loss of the Southern Campaign, and one of the worst of the war, occurred at the Battle of Camden, August 16, 1780. Just as the had at Brooklyn five years earlier, the Maryland troops once again bore the brunt of the attack, losing some 600 men--about one-third of their troops. Crafford was reported as missing after the battle, which may indicate that he was killed, or just that he was separated from his unit during the battle and chaotic retreat that followed. Such a fate would have been similar to what happened to Thomas Wiseman, with whom Crafford had fought at the Battle of Brooklyn. Wiseman was reported as a deserter after Camden, even though in reality "he was taken sick and did not again join the Army." [6]

If Crafford was able to survive Camden and make his way back to Maryland, he may have returned to Harford County, and worked as a blacksmith or farrier in the town of Darlington, fathering ten children before his death in January 1814. There is no clear indication whether the blacksmith was the same man who had fought at the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, however. [7]

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. 11; Proceedings of the Conventions of the Province of Maryland, 1774-1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 78, p. 198; Return of Ramsey's, Smith's, and Bowie's companies, 9 July 1776, Maryland Historical Society, Revolutionary War Collection, MS 1814.

[2] The experience of the Fourth Company is described in the pension of William McMillan, one of the company's sergeants. See 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 Fold3.com.

[3]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] Return of Cash Paid to Men Released from Captivity at New York, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, MdHR 19970-6-25/1 [MSA S997-6-59, 01/07/03/011]; Pension of Thomas McKeel. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S34977, from fold3.com.  

[5] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 95; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com.

[6] Tacyn, 216-225; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 95; Compiled Service Records; Pension of Thomas Wiseman, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S 39126, from Fold3.com.

[7] Deed, Seaborn Crawford to Robert Crawford, 1805, Harford County Court, Land Records, Liber HD no. S, p. 141 [MSA CE113-18 ]; Petition of John W. Crawford, et al., heirs of Robert Crawford, 1814, Liber HD no. 2, p. 325 [MSA CE113-27]; Estate of Robert Crawford, Harford County Register of Wills, Estate Papers, no. 1223 [MSA T2757-11, 0/52/1/11]; Harford County Register of Wills, Estate Docket, Liber JA 1, p. 77 [MSA CM563-1, CR 10962].

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