Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Smith Selby
MSA SC 3520-17445

Biography:

John Smith Selby enlisted as a sergeant in the Seventh Company of the First Maryland Regiment, led by John Day Scott, on March 9, 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...troops [who] 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.

Selby survived these battles and his enlistment ended in December 1776, at which time he left the army. He applied to serve at sea during the same year, although the outcome is unknown. He could have completed this application before his enlistment into the army, or after being discharged. [4]

In March 1777, Selby purchased a ninety acre piece of land in Prince George’s County from his brother Kenelm Selby and sister-in-law Jane Selby.  The land, called Leith, had been owned by John Smith and Kenelm’s father John. It is likely that Kenelm had inherited all of his father's 290 acres, then sold a portion of it to John Smith for the price of “five shillings sterling money,” as well as “the natural love and affection they have.” [5]

Then, in April 1780, John Smith Selby married Sabinah Orme in Prince George’s county, where they likely lived after their wedding.  They did not own any enslaved people, and had a relatively small amount of material goods.  However, because of the land, they were part of the approximately half of society who lived comfortably yet not luxuriously.  John Smith and Sabinah likely had enough to eat and decent clothing to wear, but no disposable wealth. [6]

Selby passed away during or shortly before 1801.  

-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.

[4] Application for Sea Service, 1776, Maryland State Papers, Series A, box 1, item 122, MdHR 6636-1-1/170 [MSA S1004-1, 01/07/03/25].

[5] Deed, Kenelm Selby to John Smith Selby, Prince George’s County Court, Land Records, 1778, CC 2, p. 428-429 [MSA CE 65-23].  

[6] Marriage of John Smith Selby to Sabinah Orme, Prince George’s County Court, Marriage Licenses, 1780, [MSA CM 783-1]; Steven Sarson, “Yeoman Farmers in a Planters’ Republic: Socioeconomic Conditions and Relations in Early National Prince George’s County, Maryland,” Journal of the Early Republic 29:1, (Spr. 2009), 73-74.

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