Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Thomas Perkins (1755-1838)
MSA SC 3520-17503

Biography:

Thomas Perkins enlisted as a private in the First Maryland Regiment's Second Company, commanded by Captain Patrick Sim, in February 1776, in the early days of the Revolutionary War. After enlisting, Perkins and his company traveled to Annapolis, joining five other companies of the regiment that were stationed there; three additional companies were in Baltimore. Commanded by Colonel William Smallwood, the regiment was the first unit of full-time, professional soldiers raised in Maryland for service in the Continental Army. [1]

Born on January 14, 1755, Perkins had just turned twenty-one years old when he enlisted. He and his parents John and Ann lived in the Piscataway area of Prince George's County, Maryland, where many men in the Second Company also came from. His father died in early 1767, when Thomas was only twelve years old. They were farmers, and not very well off. They owned no land, and when John died, his estate was valued at only £57, which put them near the bottom third of wealth in the province. [2]

Between 1773 and 1776, Thomas married Cassandra Casteel, who lived in the same area. Cassandra was born on January 8, 1753, and was one of Edmund and Rebecca Casteel's nine children. Although the Casteels were far from wealthy, they were much better off than the Perkins, and the marriage likely did much to improve Thomas's fortunes. In 1776, for example, Thomas and Cassandra owned three slaves, and there are no indications that he would have been able to acquire them on his own before he got married. [3]

In July 1776, Perkins's regiment received orders to march to New York, in order to defend the city from an impending British attack. The Marylanders arrived in New York in early August, where they joined with the rest of the Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington. On August 27, 1776, the Americans faced the British Army at the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island), the first full-scale engagement of the war. 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, including the Second Company, was able to cross the creek and escape the battle. However, the rest were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, this group of soldiers, today called 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. They took enormous casualties, with some companies losing nearly 80 percent of their men, but their actions delayed the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape. In all, the First Maryland lost 256 men, killed or taken prisoner. [4]

Perkins survived the battle, and continued to serve with the Marylanders through the rest of the difficult fall and winter of 1776. While the Maryland troops demonstrated their skill and bravery, the Americans were nevertheless pushed out of New York, and put on the run through New Jersey. Not until late that winter did they secure revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton. Around the end of 1776, Perkins's enlistment expired, and he did not rejoin the army. [5]

He returned to farming in Prince George's County, on land that Cassandra had inherited from her father. With just under 200 acres of land and three or four slaves, they were typical middling planters in the county--far from wealthy, but with a relatively stable economic footing. In the 1790s, however, their position began to erode. They sold all of their land by the end of the decade, although they sold some of it to Cassandra's sister and brother-in-law, and may have continued to live there. Likewise, by the early 1800s, they no longer owned any slaves, having presumably sold them to raise money. [6]

Around 1806, the Perkinses left Maryland, settling in Belmont County, Ohio, following many other Marylanders who moved west. Cassandra died in 1816, and Thomas died on February 9, 1838, a few weeks after his eighty-third birthday. [7]

Owen Lourie, 2017

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 8.

[2] There are a variety of different birth dates given for Perkins, in both official records and genealogical sources. This date is from the parish register, recorded shortly after his birth, and is the date most likely to be accurate. St. John's Church, King George Parish, Broad Creek, Parish Register 1689-1801, 287 [MSA SC2227-1-2, SCM 229]; John Perkins Inventory, 1767, Prerogative Court, Inventories, Liber 94, p. 67, MdHR 1201 [MSA S534-95, 1/12/1/39]; John Perkins Administration Account, 1769, Prerogative Court, Accounts, Liber 60, p. 371, MdHR 1082 [MSA S531-60, 1/11/4/20]; Lois Green Carr and Lorena S. Walsh, "Inventories and the Analysis of Wealth and Consumption Patterns in St. Mary's County, Maryland, 1658-1777," Historical Methods 13:2 (Spring 1980), 90-91.

[3] St. John's Parish Register, p. 280; Maryland Council of Safety, Census of 1776, Prince George's County, Prince George's and St. John's Parishes, box 2, folder 18, p. 82, MdHR 4646-18 [MSA S961-19, 1/1/4/30]; Edmund Casteel Will, 1773, Prince George's County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber T1, p. 48 [MSA C1326-3, 1/25/7/4].

[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] Account of money paid sundry soldiers by Gen. Smallwood, paid to Thomas Perkins, late 1776/early 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 6, no. 7-2, MdHR 19970-6-7/2 [MSA S997-6, 1/7/3/11].

[6] Deed, Thomas Perkins and Cassandra Perkins to John Read Magruder, 1790, Prince George's County Court, Land Records, Liber JJ 2, 365 [MSA CE65-29]; Deed, Thomas Perkins to Nathaniel Scarce, 1799, Liber JRM 7, 149 [MSA CE65-36]; U.S. Federal Census, 1790, Prince George's County, Maryland; Assessment data drawn from Prince George's County Commissioners of the Tax, Assessment Records, personal property, Piscataway Hundred, 1793-1806 [MSA C1162].

[7] Cassandra Perkins on FindAGrave; Thomas Perkins on FindaGrave. The FindAGrave page lists incorrect birth and death dates for Thomas. The image of the gravestone clearly says that he died in 1838, not 1839. However, the stone also says that he was 92 years old when he died, meaning he was born in 1746. As the St. John's parish register gives his birth date as 1755, presumably someone--maybe Thomas himself--simply misremembered his date of birth.

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