Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Sheild (1760-1816)
MSA SC 3520-17412


At the age of sixteen, William Sheild enlisted in 1776 as a private in Maryland's Seventh Independent Company, commanded by Captain Edward Veazey, during the Revolutionary War's early days. He was probably the youngest man in the company--close to thirty years younger than the oldest soldiers--and among the youngest men from Maryland to fight during the war. The soldiers who enlisted in 1776 were twenty-three on average. William's father John had died in early 1774, and while William would eventually inherit his father's land, when he enlisted he was living at home in Kent County, Maryland with his mother Martha. He may also have mustered with the county militia in 1775. [1]

Maryland's independent companies were formed in early 1776, and differed from the nine companies that made up Colonel William Smallwood’s First Maryland Regiment. While the Council of Safety, Maryland's Revolutionary executive body, used the nine companies of regular troops to fulfill the state's quota for the Continental Army, it dispatched seven independent companies throughout Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore to guard the vast shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay. Half of the Seventh Independent Company, including Sheild, was stationed on Kent Island, while the rest were sent to Chestertown. In these first months, the company had great difficulty obtaining supplies, including uniforms and weapons. In the summer of 1776, Congress requested additional troops from Maryland to help reinforce the Continental Army, and the state agreed to shift the independent companies to that duty. When the First Maryland Regiment marched for New York in early July, it was accompanied by the Fourth, Fifth and Seventh independent companies; the rest followed later that fall. [2]

The Marylanders arrived in New York in early August, and prepared to protect the city from attack by the British. On August 27, 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. Half the regiment was able to cross the creek to safety. The rest, Sheild's company among them, were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, these men, now known as the "Maryland 400," mounted a series of daring charges, which held the British at bay for some time, at the cost of many lives, before being overrun. [3]

The Seventh Independent Company suffered greatly during the battle. Its commander Edward Veazey was killed early in the fighting, and two of the company's lieutenants were captured. First Lieutenant William Harrison was the sole officer in the company to escape, and only 36 men avoided death or captivity, just a third of the company. What exactly happened to Sheild at the battle is unknown, although he survived. Whether he was captured, or if he continued to fight with the Marylanders during the rest of the difficult 1776 campaign, is not known. [4]

While Sheild's service record is incomplete, he likely reenlisted in the army in 1777, as a private in the Third Maryland Regiment. In later years, Sheild told his family of having fought at the Battle of Germantown in October 1777, an American defeat that came a few weeks after the British capture of Philadelphia. After surviving the hard winter of 1777-1778, Sheild apparently deserted from the army in May 1778 and returned home. [5]

At home in Kent County, Sheild took up life as a moderately wealthy planter. His mother Martha died in 1780, and William took over the family's 200 acre farm along Langfords Bay. A few years later, Sheild married Rachel Ball (1766-1857), the daughter of James and Elizabeth Ball of Talbot County, in 1786. They had a son, John Ball, in 1787, and then two years later the family sold their land and left Kent County. They moved to "Long Point," an estate owned by Rachel's family in Talbot County. In the time the family lived there, William and Rachel had five more children: Elizabeth (1789-1865); Mary (1791-1831); Ann (1794-1843); Susan M. (1796-1880); and William Ball (1798-1834). Over the course of the 1790s, William twice attempted to sell the property where the family lived, advertising its sale in 1794 and 1799. The property, he wrote, "is well adapted to Wheat, Corn or Tobacco; a wonderful place for all kinds of stock. The beautiful situation of this place renders it both agreeable and very healthy." It cannot be determined whether William was successful in these efforts, but in 1800 the family still lived in Talbot County. [6]

Sometime after 1800, the Sheild family moved to Baltimore City, where they had two more children, Martha (1803-1830) and Sarah Ball (1806-1863). William Sheild died there on September 2, 1816. His wife Rachel, who passed down the stories of her husband's military service and their life together, died on July 21, 1857, at the age of 90. [7]

Owen Lourie, 2017


[1] Francis B. Culver, "Ball of Bayside, Talbot County, Maryland," Maryland Historical Magazine 40:2 (June 1945), 162-164; Maryland Society, Sons of the American Revolution, Membership Application, William Sheild, application no. 24867; Administration Bond, estate of John Sheilds, issued 8 June 1774, Prerogative Court, Testamentary Proceedings, Liber 46, p. 52 [MSA S529-64, 1/12/4/13]; Inventory of John Shields, 1775, Prerogative Court, Inventories, Liber 121, p. 250 [MSA S534-122, 1/12/2/20]; Land Office, Debt Books, Liber 32, Kent County, 1769, John Shields, p. 114 [MSA S12-139, 1/24/2/34]; S. Eugene Clements and F. Edward Wright, The Maryland Militia in the Revolutionary War, (Silver Spring, Maryland: Family Line Publications, 1987), 184.

[2] Mark Andrew Tacyn “’To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 33-34, 43; Journal of the Maryland Convention and Council of Safety 1775-1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 11, pps. 318, 468; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, July-December, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 12, p. 4.  

[3] Tacyn, 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] Extract of a letter from an officer in the Maryland Battalion, 28 August 1776, American Archives, series 5, vol. 1, p. 1195; Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from;

[5] Culver, 162-164; SAR application; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from; Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 289.

[6] Administration Account, estate of Martha Sheilds, 1780, Kent County Register of Wills, Liber 7, p. 426 [MSA C1016-8, 1/15/2/7]; Inventory of Martha Sheilds, n.d. [c. 1780], Kent County Register of Wills, Inventories, Liber 8, pps. 39, 117 [MSA C1059-14, 1/15/1/44]; William Shields, Chestertown and Upper Langfords Bay Hundred, p. 11, General Assembly House of Delegates, Assessment Record, 1783 [MSA S1161-7-2, 1/4/5/50]; Deed, William Shields to James Ringgold, 1789, Liber EF 7, p. 393 [MSA CE118-28]; Culver, 162-164; Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties, "Long Point/Elston," T 335; "For Sale," Maryland Herald and Eastern Shore Intelligencer (Easton, MD), 27 May 1794; "For Sale," Maryland Herald and Eastern Shore Intelligencer (Easton, MD), 26 February 1799; Talbot County Commissioners of the Tax, Tax Book, District 1, 1793-1797, p. 111 [MSA C1915-1, 1/44/1/36]; District 1, 1798-1812, p. 138 [MSA S1915-3, 1/44/1/37]. No deed indicates that William owned the property, although there may have been an informal transfer of the property to him from his father-in-law. Similarly, there is no recorded deed selling the property to its next owner.

[7] U.S. Federal Census, 1800, Talbot County, Maryland; Culver, 162-164; "Died," The Sun (Baltimore), 22 July 1857.

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