Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Peter McNaughton
MSA SC 3520-17705


Peter McNaughton (or McNorton) enlisted as a sergeant in the Ninth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 12, 1776, and held that rank until he was discharged in November 29, 1783. He was very likely the longest-serving soldier from Maryland during the American Revolution, including officers. William Smallwood and Mordecai Gist, who commanded the First Maryland in 1776 and later rose to general by the war's end, both served eleven days fewer than McNaughton. In the course of his service, McNaughton endured more than two years of British captivity, and was part of the heralded Maryland 400. [1]

The First Maryland Regiment was the state's first contingent of full-time, professional soldiers raised to be part of the Continental Army. Many of the men in the company came from Western Maryland, and it was designated as the light infantry company for the regiment. Instead of fighting in a line with the other companies, the light infantry was often deployed in small groups ahead of the main body of troops as scouts or skirmishers. They carried rifles, rather than muskets, and were intended to be a more mobile group. As a sergeant, McNaughton was responsible for keeping the soldiers of the company properly aligned during marches and in battle, and ensuring order among the men in camp, as well as other administrative duties. [2]

McNaughton and the rest of the company were ordered to travel from Frederick to Annapolis in March 1776 to join with the rest of the regiment. As they departed, however, they were instructed to head for Baltimore instead to provide reinforcements in case of an anticipated British attack launched from the HMS Otter, a warship reportedly heading for the city. No attack ever materialized, and the company proceeded to Annapolis. They trained there until July, when the First Maryland Regiment was ordered to march north to New York, to protect the city from invasion by the British. [3]

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 was able to cross the creek and escape the battle. However, the rest, including the Ninth Company, 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, losing 256 men killed or captured. [4]

The Ninth Company fared poorly at the battle, probably because the light infantry's role placed them closest to the enemy lines during combat. Fewer than half the men from the Ninth Company escaped death or captivity at the battle, and at least fourteen soldiers were taken prisoner. McNaughton was one of those who was captured. While many of the Marylanders taken prisoner at Brooklyn were held on prison ships or makeshift jails around New York City, McNaughton was conscripted into a British Army unit. Several other Marylanders shared this fate, including Jacob Harman, who was in McNaughton's company. [5]

Which British unit McNaughton was made to join is not known, so his activities and whereabouts cannot be determined, but it is possible that he faced his Maryland comrades in battle. In early November 1778, McNaughton escaped from the British and found his way to the American camp near New York. He was able to give the Americans intelligence about the British, and then returned to his old Maryland unit. He had been kept in the regiment rolls despite his absence, and remained a sergeant. In February 1779, just three months after his return to the Maryland Line, McNaughton reenlisted, volunteering to serve until the end of the war. [6]

In early 1780, McNaughton returned to Maryland to recruit new soldiers, and also was issued a new uniform in early March. In April, he joined the rest of the Marylanders as they traveled south, to help counter new British threats in the Carolinas. However, on April 18, just before departing Annapolis, McNaughton married a woman named Sarah Ellis. [7]

The Marylanders arrived in South Carolina that summer. In August, they took catastrophic casualties at the Battle of Camden, losing some 600 men--about one-third of their troops. The next year, however, the Americans rebuilt, and earned a series of victories at Cowpens (January 1781), Guilford Court House (March 1781), Ninety-Six (May-June 1781), and Eutaw Springs (September 1781), pushing the British north out of the Carolinas towards Yorktown, where they surrendered in October. In the course of these battles, the Maryland soldiers gained a reputation as brave and dependable, and were a cornerstone of the army. McNaughton and the First Maryland Regiment spent 1782 back in South Carolina, where British forces lingered for most of the year. Finally, after eight years of service, McNaughton was discharged in November, 1783. Nearly all of Maryland's soldiers were officially discharged on November 15, but McNaughton remained in the army until November 29. [8]

McNaughton probably spent the next year in Maryland, but after 1784 there is no definite record of his life. He may have settled in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, but that is not certain. [9]

Owen Lourie, 2018


1. Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 18; Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 35; Proceedings of the Conventions of the Province of Maryland, 1774-1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 78, p. 67.

2. George Stricker to Council, 21 January 1776, Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, August 29, 1775 to July 6, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 11, p. 102; Frederick Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Part I. (Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1792), 137-140.

3. Order to Capt. Stricker, Council of Safety Proceedings, 6 March 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 11, p. 102; Order to Capt. Stricker, 9 March 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 11, p. 224-225.

4. 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. Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from; Charles Scott to George Washington, 7 November 1778, Founders Online, National Archives.

6. Scott to Washington; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 138; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from; Record of Money Received, 4 September 1779, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 3, no. 10/1, MdHR 19970-3-10/1 [MSA S997-3-161, 1/7/3/9].

7. Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, 1779-1780, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 43, pps. 96, 104; Anne Arundel County Court, Marriage Licenses, 1778-1813, p. 11 [MSA C113-1, 1/1/11/27].

8. Tacyn, 216-225; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pps. 357, 396, 431, 495, 545, 626; Muster Roll, First Company, Maryland Battalion [formerly First Maryland Regiment], 1 November 1780, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 15, no. 31, MdHR 19970-15-31 [MSA S997-15-38, 1/7/3/13]; Peter McNaughton, Discharge, 29 November 1783, Maryland State Papers, Series A, box 53, no. 49-1, MdHR 6636-53-49/1 [MSA S1004-75-11260, 1/7/3/60].

9. Peter McNaughton, Assignment of Back Pay, 18 November 1784, Maryland State Papers, Series A, box 53, no. 49-1, MdHR 6636-53-49/2 [MSA S1004-75-11261, 1/7/3/60]; Alphabetical List of Revolutionary Soldiers, Pennsylvania Archives, Series 2, vol. 13, p. 159; U.S. Federal Census, 1820, Carlisle, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.

Return to Peter McNaughton's Introductory Page


This web site is presented for reference purposes under the doctrine of fair use. When this material is used, in whole or in part, proper citation and credit must be attributed to the Maryland State Archives. PLEASE NOTE: The site may contain material from other sources which may be under copyright. Rights assessment, and full originating source citation, is the responsibility of the user.

Tell Us What You Think About the Maryland State Archives Website!

© Copyright Monday, 01-Oct-2018 11:50:02 EDT Maryland State Archives