Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

James Ranter
MSA SC 3520-17566

Biography:

James Ranter enlisted as a private in the Seventh Company of the First Maryland Regiment, led by John Day Scott, on March 12, 1776. [1]

The Seventh Company began its 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.

The Marylanders remained in New York until being forced out by the British and retreating through New Jersey. It is possible that Ranter participated in the revitalizing victories at Trenton  and Princeton during the winter of 1776-1777.  When his nine-month enlistment ended, James Ranter left the service. In 1781, he served briefly in a militia.  A man named John Ranter, likely James’ brother, served alongside him in the militia. They were positioned along the Patuxent to defend against a possible British attack. [4]

John and James Ranter were charged in Prince George’s County in March 1784 with disturbing the peace.  Their case was never resolved, but it seems this behavior was part of a larger pattern for James. He had “for several years past, at times, been in a state of lunacy, during which periods he hath done considerable injury to...the inhabitants of [Prince George’s] County.”   The court decided Ranter was a threat to the “peace and safety of many of the citizens,” but there was “no secure jail" where he could be "confined to prevent his doing further mischief.”   The justices of the Prince George’s County Court were tasked with gathering enough money to support and secure Ranter.  He was held in Baltimore for about a year before being transferred to the Prince George’s County Alms House, who provided a room and clothing for him. [5]

Unfortunately, there is no information about James Ranter after this time.  

-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. 16.

[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] 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].

[5] State of Maryland vs James Ranter, Prince George’s County Court Docket, March 1784, Criminal Appearances, case no. 2, MdHR 5835 [MSA C1203-30, 01/20/09/043]; Laws of Maryland 1785, Chapter 59, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 204, p. 77; Prince George’s County Court, Court Record, April 1786, p. 565, MdHR 5784 [MSA C1191-42, 01/20/09/010].

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