Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

William Clift
MSA SC 3520-17416

Biography:

William Clift was twenty-two years old when he enlisted as a private in Captain Edward Veazey's Seventh Independent Company in 1776. He was a native of Ireland, like about a third of the company. [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 was stationed on Kent Island, while the rest, including Clift, were sent to Chestertown, in Kent County. 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, the Seventh Independent 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 Captain 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. Clift's exact fate at the battle is uncertain, but he was not among those killed in the fighting. If he was not taken prisoner or wounded, he likely would have participated in the rest of the 1776 campaign, fighting at battles like Harlem Heights, White Plains, and Fort Washington, as the Americans were pushed out of New York, as well as the revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton late that winter. Clift's enlistment expired at the end of 1776, and he did not rejoin the army. [4]

Nothing definite is known of Clift's life after 1776. There were several Clift families in Caroline County, Maryland, and William may have been part of one of them. However, that cannot be determined for certain, and there are indications that the Clifts in Caroline were native-born, rather than immigrants from Ireland like William. [5]

Owen Lourie, 2016

Notes:

[1] Descriptions of men in Capt. Edward Veazey’s Independent Company, 1776, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, MdHR 19970-15-36/01 [MSA S997-15-36, 1/7/3/13].

[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 Fold3.com.

[5] On a William Clift from Caroline County, see Will of Henry Clift Sr., 1791, Caroline County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber JR no. B, p. 190 [MSA C577-3, 1/3/1/8] and Marriage of William Clift and Elizabeth Brodaway, 24 December 1789, Caroline County Court, Marriage Licenses, Index, p. 94 [CM1213-1]. This family appears to have been a well-established, landowning family, which was not typical of Irish immigrants in this period of Maryland's history.

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