Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thomas Gordon
MSA SC 3520-17438

Biography:

Thomas Gordon enlisted as a sergeant in the Seventh Company of the First Maryland Regiment, led by John Day Scott, on February 15, 1776. [1]

The Seventh Company began their military career by training in Annapolis for six months.  They then moved north, making it to Philadelphia by mid-July 1776 and to New York by August 14.  They positioned themselves about one mile outside of New York with orders to prepare for battle.  According to William Sands, a sergeant in the Seventh Company, they “had lost a great many of [their] troops [which] deserted from...Philadelphia and Elizabethtown, and a great many [were] sick in the hospital,” so the regiment was weakened before entering combat. [2]

The Seventh Company first met the British at the Battle of Brooklyn (Battle of Long Island) on August 27, 1776, where the Continental Army, led by General George Washington, fought to defend New York.  American troops were severely outnumbered and surrounded when they were ordered to retreat.  While the Seventh Company was withdrawing, they were again ambushed by British troops.  About half of the First Maryland Regiment stayed behind to fight off the British long enough for the rest of the Americans to safely escape.  Casualties were extreme, but so was the heroism that earned them the honorable name of the “Maryland 400.”  Fortunately, the Seventh Company escaped without immense casualties, losing fewer than ten out of approximately 75 troops.  Maryland losses totalled 256 men killed or captured, but without the Maryland 400, even more would have been lost.  Despite their courageous actions, the battle was a defeat for the Americans. [3]

The Maryland Regiment helped secure America’s first victory at the Battle of Harlem Heights in September 1776 where they were praised for their “gallant behavior” and “splendid spirit and animation.”  They fought again at the Battle of White Plains in October where, despite the Maryland troops’ immense improvement, there was no clear victory.  Unfortunately, the First Maryland Regiment suffered greatly, including the loss of John Day Scott, the captain of the Seventh Company, and Second Lieutenant Thomas Goldsmith who was fatally shot while attempting to save a soldier's life.

Gordon survived these battles and reenlisted on December 10, 1776 when the First Maryland Regiment was reorganized. However, on January 23, 1777, Thomas Gordon and fellow Seventh Company Sergeant William Noyes petitioned the Maryland Council of Safety that “as their worthy Capt. [Scott] had the misfortune to be kill’d, and as they are willing and desirous of entering into the service again, they hope [their] Honours [would] permit them to enter in any company they shall best approve, and not confine to the same they at present belong to.” The outcome of this petition is unclear, as are the reasons behind it, although it is possible that Gordon and Noyes preferred not to serve under the old officers or the new officers of the Seventh Company, and unfortunately we do not know who was in charge of their company at this time. [4]

Gordon returned home, presumably to Annapolis, long enough to marry Mary Burton at St. Anne’s Church in April 1777 and spend a few months enjoying their lives together.  Their son William was born on March 11, 1778.  Although there were no battles between October 1777 and June 1778, it is unclear if Thomas was able to be home for the exciting event. [5] 

After Gordon returned to the Maryland Line in 1777, he fought at the Battle of Staten Island, and the bloody Battles of Brandywine and Germantown, part of the Philadelphia campaign which was an unsuccessful attempt to defend the American capital at Phildelphia. All were British victories, however the Battle of Germantown was reported by John Adams to be considered the “most decisive proof that America would finally succeed.”

The Marylanders then fought in the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778 and a small skirmish at Yonkers, New York in September.  At some point in 1778, Gordon was promoted to the rank of quartermaster sergeant.  Under this title, he would have been the assistant to the quartermaster.  The two men had the important task of overseeing the quality, care, location, and amount of all equipment and supplies. After his promotion, he spent a few months at White Plains where he served along with William Noyes, now the regiment's sergeant major. [6]

Gordon held the rank of quarter master sergeant until February 22, 1779, when he was reduced to the rank of private and joined Captain Edward Prall's Company. He went on furlough the next month. In December 1779, Gordon was discharged. [7]

1780 and 1781 saw extreme shortages of manpower, and those enlisting at this time could be volunteers, draftees, or substitutes. Gordon voluntarily enlisted for the third and final time on March 2, 1781, this time in the First Company of the Third Maryland Regiment. [8]

The Marylanders participated in the quick Battle of Hobkirk's Hill in April, the Siege of Ninety-Six in June, and the Battle of Eutaw Springs in September 1781, all of which ended favorably for the British.  Gordon was possibly at these events, or could have been with the portion of the Third Regiment that was en route to the south when their travels were temporarily interrupted at Yorktown. [9]

In November, 1781, the Marylanders and other troops under the command of American General Nathanael Greene began marching towards Charleston, however, the men had reached the end of their limits.  They were barely clothed, starving, and sick. [10]

Thomas Gordon deserted on April 16, 1782. He was likely a victim of the extremely harsh conditions, and may have gone several years without seeing his wife and young son. However, some soldiers and officers brought their families with them throughout the war, mostly for financial reasons, but this was not well documented. Gordon served his developing country for five nonconsecutive years out of the total seven years of the war. Unfortunately, there is no reliable record of him after his time in the service.

-Natalie Miller, Maryland Society Sons of the American Revolution Research Fellow, 2017

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 15.

[2] William Sands to John and Ann Sands, 14 August 1776, Maryland State Archives, Special Collections, Dowsett Collection of Sands Family Papers [MSA SC 2095-1-18, 00/20/05/28].

[3] Mark Andrew Tacyn, "To the End: The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution," (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 48-73; Extract of a letter from New-York: Account of the battle on Long-Island, 1 September  1776, American Archives Online, series 5, vol. 2, p. 107; General Smallwood, Payroll, 1776-1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 6 folder 7, MdHR 19970-6-7 [MSA S997-6, 01/07/03/011].

[4]  Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 16, p. 71.

[5] Maryland State Archives, Special Collections, St. Anne’s Church Records Collection, Records of Marriages, Births, and Deaths from 1681-1785, April-March 1777-8 [MSA SC 15-1-10, 00/08/02/09].

[6] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online , vol. 18, p. 112; Joseph R. Riling, Baron von Steuben and his Regulations (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Ray Riling Arms Books Co., 1966), 136-37; Compiled Service Records; Tacyn, 201-202.

[7] Compiled Service Records; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18 , p. 112.

[8] Archives of Maryland Online, vol.18, p. 370.

[9] Tacyn, 237-239; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 393.

[10] Tacyn, 242-243.

[11] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 449.

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