Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Nathaniel Downing
MSA SC 3520-17787

Biography:

Nathaniel Downing enlisted as a private in the First Maryland Regiment’s First Company, commanded by Captain John Hoskins Stone, on January 24, 1776. [1]

The First Company was primarily recruited from Charles County, Maryland, but trained in Annapolis until the summer of 1776. That July, Maryland’s First Regiment marched north to rendezvous with General George Washington outside of New York. There, the majority of the Maryland Line experienced the bitter taste of war for the first time. [2]  

The Battle of Brooklyn (or Battle of Long Island) erupted on August 27, 1776 and was the first major battle that followed the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The British troops, totaling nearly 15,000 men, and the British Royal Navy arrived with the intention of ending the war with this battle.  Meanwhile, General Washington was determined to defend New York. Ultimately, between General Washington’s smaller army and the poor intelligence he referenced when preparing for the British invasion, the Battle of Brooklyn ended in a Continental retreat and a crippling loss. [3]

The Maryland 400 earned their heroic title during the peak of the conflict in Brooklyn. The First Maryland Regiment split into two separate wings, stretching in a continuous line from Gowanus Road to the Continental artillery stationed upon a ridge. Under the command of Major Mordecai Gist, the men fought off the first wave of advancing British troops. The British eventually retreated a few hundred feet, giving the impression that the Continental Army had successfully stopped the British invasion. Shortly after the first wave of British troops receded, the Marylanders were shocked as another larger group of British soldiers snuck up on their rear and threatened to surround them. Quickly, the Continental Army’s confidence culminated into fear, their line broke, and the companies retreated. [4]

During the retreat, the Marylanders found themselves unfortunately positioned in between enemy fire and the Gowanus Creek. About half of the Marylanders, including Downing, attempted to cross the creek and reach their allies. The other half of Maryland’s First Regiment had no other option but to turn back and face the enemy, allowing their fellow countrymen to reach safety. That day, 256 of the First Marylanders that stood on Gowanus Road were killed or made prisoners. Following the Battle of Brooklyn, 77% of the First Company was accounted for, including Nathaniel Downing. [5]

That fall, following the catastrophic events in Brooklyn, Downing likely fought in the devastating battles of White Plains and Fort Washington. However, he remained loyal to the Maryland Line and enlisted again as a private in Maryland’s First Regiment on December 10, 1776. Shortly after his re-enlistment, Downing fought during the Continental Army’s notable triumphs at Trenton and Princeton. After January of 1777, the Continental Army’s brief winning streak ended with the Battle of Brandywine and Battle of Germantown. [6]

In the summer of 1778, Downing was stationed with the Seventh Company at Valley Forge. The company left its post in June to pursue the British, who were marching toward New York. During that time, Downing and the Continental Army took up arms against the British Army at the Battle of Monmouth. Following the Continental victory, he was stationed in White Plains, New York, followed by Fishkill, New York. In 1779, a long year with no major military engagements, the Seventh Company traveled back to New Jersey. On December 27, 1779, Nathaniel Downing’s enlistment ended and he was discharged from the army. [7]

After leaving the military, Downing presumably returned home to Prince George’s County and continued his civilian life after forty-seven months with the Continental Army. In 1818, he began receiving disability pay four times a year, valued at half of his salary as a private. The Maryland State Government granted him this money due to an injury he received at some point during his service with the army. [8]

Later in 1818, due to the overpopulation in Baltimore City, “sundry inhabitants” were in favor of expanding the city’s boundaries an extra four square miles. “Nathaniel Downing, a revolutionary soldier” petitioned the growth of Baltimore City. Unfortunately for Downing, his petition was denied and the city grew its limits. [9]

For Nathaniel Downing, this is the end of his revolutionary narrative. He dedicated four years of his life to the First Maryland Regiment and was never promoted. Records of marriage, children, residency, and profession, among other things, have yet surfaced, but his loyalty to the Maryland Line is evident.

-Elizabeth Cassibry, Research Intern

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 6.

[2] Mark Andrew Tacyn, “‘To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 21.

[3] Tacyn, 23-30.

[4] Tacyn, 30-60.

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

[6] John Dwight Kilbourne, “A Short History of the Maryland Line in the Continental Army,” (Baltimore, Maryland, 1992), 11-25.

[7] “Compiled Service Records of Those who Served in the American Army During Revolutionary War”, Revolutionary War Service Records, NARA M881, from Fold3.com.; “Maryland Regiments in the Continental Army,” RevolutionaryWar.us, 2017; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 100.

[8] Resolutions, the Laws of Maryland, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 192, p. 2997.

[9] “Petitions,” The Maryland Gazette (Annapolis, MD), 18 December 1817; “The History of Baltimore,” planing.baltimorecity.gov, 2018.

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