Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Armstrong
MSA SC 3520-17797

Biography:

John Armstrong enlisted as a private in the Third Company of the First Maryland Regiment, led by Captain Barton Lucas, on February 17, 1776. [1]

The Third Company was recruited primarily from Prince George’s County, Maryland, but traveled to Annapolis in the spring of 1776 to train for several months. That July, the company received orders to march north, making it to Philadelphia by mid-July and to New York a month later.  It was positioned 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 Third 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 daring stand earned them the honorable name of the “Maryland 400.” [2]

Despite the heroic actions of the Maryland 400, the battle was a defeat for the Americans, and the First Maryland Regiment suffered greatly. By the end of the battle, Maryland losses totalled 256 men killed or captured.  As for the Third Company, only 27 men, just 35 percent of the company, escaped death or captivity. Of the remaining men, at least an astonishing 22 men, or 29 percent, were taken prisoner. Sadly, the rest of the company remains unaccounted for.  On the day of the battle, Captain Lucas was sick and unable to lead his men. He "became deranged as a consequence of losing his company," and left the army not long after. [3]

John Armstrong was one of the many taken prisoner.  Although he did not leave an account of his time in captivity, it is likely that he was kept on a prison ship before being taken ashore and held on land in the fall, after the British captured New York City.  He was released in a prisoner exchange and presumably returned home to Maryland in the winter of 1776-1777. Unfortunately, several men named John Armstrong served throughout the war and were active in Maryland, and it is unclear if any of them were the same John Armstrong who earned membership in the Maryland 400. [4]

-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. 10.

[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," 1 September 1776, American Archives, series 5, vol. 2, 107-108.

[3] Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, from Fold3.com; Pension of John Hughes. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S 5954, from Fold3.com.

[4] Payroll and return certification of Long Island Prisoners, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, Box 19, no. 3, MdHR 19970-19-03 [MSA S 997-19-3]; Pension of Thomas McKeel, National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S 34977, from Fold3.com.

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