Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Edelen
MSA SC 3520-17538

Biography:

John Edelen enlisted as a private in the First Maryland Regiment's Second Company, commanded by Captain Patrick Sim, in February 1776. After enlisting, Edelen and his company traveled to Annapolis, where they joined five of the regiment's other companies 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]

In July, the regiment received orders to march to New York to defend the city from an impending British attack. The Marylanders arrived in New York in early August and joined 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.

As the Maryland troops fought their way towards the American fortifications, they were forced to stop at 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. They held the British at bay for some time before being overrun, at the cost of many lives. The Marylanders 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. [2]

Edelen 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.

At the end of 1776, Edelen reenlisted in the First Maryland Regiment for a three-year term. During this period, he probably took part in the disastrous raid on Staten Island (August 1777), and the major battles of the Philadelphia Campaign, Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777). The Marylanders also fought at the Battle of Monmouth (June 1778). At the end of 1779, Edelen's enlistment ended and he left the army. [3]

Not much is known about Edelen's life after his discharge. He may have been from the Piscataway area of Prince George's County, Maryland. A soldier in another Maryland unit recalled Edelen as being among the men he served with, "all of us from the same neighborhood." That soldier came from Piscataway, where a large portion of Sim's company was from. It is possible that Edelen served in a militia unit which was raised in Prince George's County in April 1781 amid fears of a British invasion. [4]

Edelen may have been the son of Sarah and John Edelen, Sr. (1712-786). They were a prosperous farming family in Piscataway who had a son named John, probably born in the right approximate timeframe. However, while there is some evidence that their son John was the same man who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn and beyond, that cannot be proven definitively. [5]

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. 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.  

3. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 106; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; Account of money paid sundry soldiers by Gen. Smallwood, paid to John Edelen, late 1776/early 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 6, no. 7-2, MdHR 19970-6-7/2 [MSA S997-6-24, 1/7/3/11].

4. Pension of Moses Gill. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S 16823, from Fold3.com; Muster Roll, Capt. Hezekiah Wheeler's Company, April 1781, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 6, no. 21/1, MdHR 19970-6-21/1 [MSA S997-6-46, 1/7/3/11]. For more on Moses Gill, see "A Veteran Remembers" on Finding the Maryland 400, and the biography of Joseph Steward, one of the other men who Gill described.

5. Henry Wright Newman, Charles County Gentry (Baltimore: Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co, 1971, reprint 1940), 191; Estate of John Edelen, Sr., 1786, Prince George's County Register of Wills, Estate Papers [MSA C2119-31-12, 1/50/6/31]. All of John and Sarah's children were born in the 1740s and 1750s, the right time for someone who was around the typical age to fight in the Revolutionary War; the average age was twenty-four in 1776.

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