Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

George Hamilton
MSA SC 3520-17263

Biography:

George Hamilton enlisted as a corporal in the Fourth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 23, 1776. He held that rank, training with the company in Baltimore, until early May, when he was promoted to sergeant. Hamilton was designated the company's first corporal, and so was the first to be promoted to fill a vacancy. [1]

Hamilton was part of Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional soldiers raised to be part of the Continental Army. They left Baltimore on July 9, 1776, after receiving orders 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. [2]

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, the Fourth 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. [3]

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." [4]

The one sergeant from the company who did escape was John Toomy, not George Hamilton. It is uncertain, however, whether Hamilton was still a member of the First Maryland Regiment by the time of the Battle of Brooklyn. A man by that name was named an ensign in Captain Joshua George's company of the Flying Camp on June 29, 1776. George's company was raised mainly in Cecil County, where a number of men in the Fourth Company also came from. At the time the Flying Camp was created, the need for officers was so great that a number of noncommissioned officers were able to obtain commissions, an increase in status less frequently available later in the war. Thus, it is entirely likely that Hamilton had joined the Flying Camp in the summer of 1776 and never marched to New York with the First Maryland Regiment. [5]

The service record of George Hamilton, ensign in the Flying Camp, is relatively well documented. He and his company marched to New York in August, 1776, arriving there in mid-September. They were intended as reinforcements to prevent the British from taking New York, but by the end of November 1776, the Americans had been forced to retreat into New Jersey. Hamilton likely returned home shortly before Christmas, when the company's enlistments expired. He did not, as a result, take part in the rejuvenating American victories at Trenton and Princeton. That winter he was promoted to lieutenant in the Fifth Maryland Regiment. He served in that capacity until he became a captain in 1778. Hamilton was taken prisoner at some point the war's latter stages, probably 1780, and eventually exchanged in 1782, before being discharged in November 1783. [6]

It remains uncertain whether that officer was the same George Hamilton who enlisted as a corporal in the Fourth Company in January 1776, however. Several other men with the same name from Maryland served as enlisted men during the war. One could have been the same man who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn, but it is impossible to determine. [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; Muster roll, Fourth Company, Smallwood's Battalion, 1776. Manuscript. Revolutionary War Military Records, MS 1146, Maryland Historical Society.

2. 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.

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

4. 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.

5. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 61; Proceedings of the Convention, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 78, p. 178.

6. On the location of the company in 1776 see: Council of Safety to Capts. Walter Alexander and Joshua George, Order to march “northwards,” ca. mid-August 1776, Maryland State Papers, Series A, MdHR 6636-4-149 [MSA S 1004-4-40]; Federal veteran’s pension applications of John Emmitt, who served in the Hamilton's company, and Cornelius Comegys, who was in another company in the same regiment. Veteran's pension of John Emmitt, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, W 8692, and Widow’s pension of Catherine Comegys (widow of Cornelius Comegys), Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files. NARA M804, W 6718, both from Fold3.com. Hamilton's service records comes from Reiman Steuart, History of the Maryland Line in the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783 (Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland, 1969), 9, 90-91; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pps. 213, 476, 480, 518; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com.

7. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pps. 118, 124, 356, 394, 493, 539.

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