Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Anthony Ryan
MSA SC 3520-17575


William Ryan enlisted as a private in the First Maryland Regiment's Seventh Company, commanded by Captain John Day Scott, in January 1776. The company was raised in the beginning of the year, and was stationed in Annapolis, along with five of the regiment's other companies; 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 a month later and joined the rest of the Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington. One of the company’s sergeants, William Sands, described the scene in mid-August: “Our Maryland Battalion is encamped on a hill about one mile out of New York, where we lay in a very secure place…We are ordered to hold ourselves in readiness. We expect an attack hourly.” [2]

That attack finally came two weeks later, on August 27, 1776, 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 Seventh 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 causalities, 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. [3]

Ryan survived the battle, as did most of the men in his company, although William Sands was among those killed. In October, the Marylanders fought at the Battle of White Plains, where they again took the brunt of the fighting. They were ordered to leave their defensive position on the top of a hill and charge at the British. “Smallwood’s [regiment] suffered most, on this occasion, sustaining, with great patience and coolness, a long and heavy fire–and finally retreated with great sullenness, being obliged to give way to a superior force,” wrote one observer. The Seventh Company lost its captain and one of its lieutenants, Thomas Goldsmith, both killed. By November, the Americans had been 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. [4]

In December 1776, Ryan’s enlistment came to an end, and he signed on again, for a three-year term in the First Maryland Regiment. However, just a few months later, on March 22, 1777, he deserted. Interestingly, at the same time he was also reported as a deserter from the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment, with the note that "It is supposed he is now in Col. Wier's [Francis Ware, colonel of the First Maryland Regiment] battalion now." The best explanation for how he deserted from two different regiments at the same time is that he had enlisted in both. While that was not permitted, some men did it as a way to obtain multiple enlistment bounty payments. There is no record of Ryan ever serving in any unit except the First Maryland Regiment, however, so it is not certain what happened. [5]

While desertion during the Revolutionary War was not necessarily a permanent departure from the army--men returned to their units regularly--there is no record of Ryan ever rejoining his unit, nothing further is known about his life.

Owen Lourie, 2017


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. Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from; 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.

4. "Extract of a letter from White-Plains," American Archives Online, October 28, 1776, series 5, vol. 2, p. 1271; Pay Abstract, First Maryland Regiment, September 1776, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 6, no. 5, MdHR 19970-6-5 [MSA S997-6-6, 1/6/2/42]; Account of money paid sundry soldiers by Gen. Smallwood, paid to Anthony Ryan, late 1776/early 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 6, no. 7-6, MdHR 19970-6-7/6 [MSA S997-6-28, 1/7/3/11].

5. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 155; "Sixty Dollars Reward," Pennsylvania Packet, 17 March 1777.

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