Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Alexander Shaw
MSA SC 3520-17716


Alexander Shaw enlisted as a sergeant in the Eighth Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 23, 1776. The Eighth Company, commanded by Captain Samuel Smith, was raised in Baltimore in early 1776, and trained there that spring and summer. Two other companies from the regiment were located in Baltimore as well, while the rest were stationed in Annapolis. 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. [1]

In July, the regiment was ordered to march north to New York, to protect the city from invasion by the British. The Eighth Company lost four men who deserted along the march, a problem which plagued the regiment that summer. [2]

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 Eighth, 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, losing 256 men killed or captured. Because the Eighth was able to escape the battle early, it only lost approximately six men. [3]

Shaw survived the battle, and went on to fight with the Marylanders through the rest of the difficult fall and winter of 1776. While the Maryland troops demonstrated their skill and bravery at Harlem Heights in September and White Plains in October, 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 the year, Shaw reenlisted for a three-year term. [4]

A few months after reenlisting with the Marylanders, Shaw and another soldier named Christian Close, who had served in Smith's Company in 1776 together, left their regiment and signed on with the Fourth Pennsylvania Regiment. Enlisting in two regiments was strictly prohibited--soldiers could never serve in two places as once--but men sometimes tried to do it anyway, since they could potentially receive two enlistment bonuses; at least one other Marylander did it in 1777. Shaw and Closs both joined the Pennsylvanians as sergeants, and Shaw even rose to sergeant major, the chief non-commissioned officer for the regiment. That July, however, Closs and Shaw's scheme was discovered, and they were arrested. [5]

A court martial was held to try the two men, and at the trial it was revealed that they had not acted on their own. Robert Connolly, a captain in the Fourth Pennsylvania, was also charged with recruiting soldiers away from the First Maryland Regiment. However, no verdict was ever rendered in the case. The trial occurred at the Continental Army's headquarters in New Jersey, but "the witnesses to prove the charge against the prisoners, being in the First Maryland Regiment, [had] gone to Peekskill [New York]," as the army began to mobilize. As a result, "the Court released the prisoners from confinement, to be tried when the witnesses can be procured," but there is no evidence that the trial was ever concluded. The summer and fall of 1777 was a time of intense campaigning, and the Maryland Line fought three battles, beginning with Staten Island in August, then marched to Philadelphia to defend it from the British, and took part in the battles of Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777). [6]

Shaw's whereabouts during that time are not certain, but he probably did not take part in the fighting. He likely did not rejoin his Maryland unit until December 1777. The Marylanders fought at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, which was probably Shaw's last experience with a major battle. The next year, 1779, saw little combat as the war slowed to a stalemate. In the spring of 1780, the Maryland troops were ordered south, joining the Continental Army's march to counter the new front that the British had opened in the Carolinas. Shaw did not accompany the army, however. He received a furlough in June, and does not appear to have ever returned to active duty. Nothing is known about him after he left the service. [7]

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. 640; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from; Frederick Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Part I. (Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1792), 148-151.

2. "Eight Pounds Reward." Philadelphia Evening Post, 10 August 1776; 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; Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from 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. Compiled Service Record.

5. Compiled Service Record; "General Orders, 13 July 1777," Founders Online, National Archives.

6. "General Orders."

7. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 160; Compiled Service Record; Receipts for cash lent to soldiers on furlough, December 1779, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 3, no. 10-1, MdHR 19970-3-10/1 [MSA S997-3-161, 1/7/3/9]; Record of money received, December 1779, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 3, no. 7-14, MdHR 19970-3-7/14 [MSA S997-3-88, 1/7/3/9].

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