Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thomas Crafford
MSA SC 3520-17240

Biography:

Thomas Crafford (or Crawford) enlisted in the Fourth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 27, 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. It is not certain that Crafford was among the men who marched to New York. A man with that name enlisted as a private in Baltimore-based company of the Flying Camp, a group of short-term reserves raised in the summer of 1776, on July 5. If that was the same man, he did not participate in the early battles of the fighting around New York, including the Battle of Brooklyn, but probably fought in several ensuing battles in October and November. [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's fate at Brooklyn, if he was present, is unknown. Indeed, no other military service can be documented beyond his enlistment in 1776, and nothing further is definitively known about him.

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, pp. 11 , 45; 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.

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