Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Phelps
MSA SC 3520-17665

Biography:

John Phelps enlisted as a private in the Sixth Company of the First Maryland Regiment, led by Captain Peter Adams, on May 20, 1776. Although the Sixth Company was recruited primarily from the Eastern Shore, Phelps likely enlisted after the company had traveled to Annapolis in the spring of 1776. [1]

After six months of training in Annapolis, the company then moved north, making it to Philadelphia by mid-July 1776 and to New York by August 14.  Once in New York, it was positioned, along with the rest of the First Maryland Regiment, about one mile outside of New York, with orders to prepare for battle.

The Marylanders met the British at the Battle of Brooklyn (sometimes called the Battle of Long Island) on August 27, 1776, where the Continental Army, led by General George Washington, fought to defend New York. The  American troops were severely outnumbered and surrounded when they were ordered to retreat.  Half the regiment was able to escape the battle, however the other half, including most of the Sixth Company, was trapped by the swampy Gowanus Creek.  They turned back to face the British, holding their position long enough for the rest of the Marylanders to return to safety.  This heroic stand earned them the honorable name of the “Maryland 400.” [2]

The First Maryland Regiment suffered major losses. The Sixth Company alone lost fifty eight of its men, or 80 percent. By the end of the battle, Maryland losses totalled 256 men killed or captured.  Despite the heroic actions of the Maryland 400, the battle was a defeat for the Americans. [3]

John Phelps’ fate at the battle is unknown, and there is no evidence that he completed his enlistment.  Several men with the same name lived in Maryland during this time period, including at least one in Anne Arundel County, where Phelps likely enlisted.  Unfortunately, it is unclear if any of those John Phelps are the same man who was a member of the Maryland 400.   

-Natalie Miller, Maryland Society Sons of the American Revolution Research Fellow, 2018

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] 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.

[3] Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from Fold3.com.

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