Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

George Kephart
MSA SC 3520-17809

Biography:

In January 1776, a young man named George Kephart left his family to enlist in the Ninth Company of the First Maryland Regiment. The regiment was Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional soldiers raised to be part of the newly-organized Continental Army. Kephart was about twenty-three when he joined the army, and hailed from the strong ethnic German community of Frederick County, Maryland. [1]

The Ninth Company, raised in Western Maryland, was the regiment's light infantry unit. 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 were intended to be a mobile group, and carried rifles, a weapon long associated with the region, rather than muskets. It was initially commanded by Captain George Stricker, until he left for another unit in the summer of 1776, and was replaced by Benjamin Ford. [2]

In July 1776, the Marylanders marched to New York to join the rest of the Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington. Washington knew Manhattan's strategic value, and predicted that it would be an ideal target for the British, who were sending a massive army across the Atlantic. If the British took control of Manhattan, they would be in a strong position to control the Hudson River. By taking control of the Hudson, the British would separate New England from the southern colonies. Washington was determined to repel any British attempt to take it. [3]

In the early morning of August 22, 1776, the British began their advance to New York. Under the cover of cannon bombardment from their warships, 22,000 British and Hessian troops began to land on Long Island. On August 27, British forces attacked the American lines in Brooklyn. The Maryland regiment was positioned to protect the far right flank of the American lines, and the Ninth Company was positioned on the far right of Maryland’s lines. As the fighting ensued, the Americans were forced to retreat. The Marylanders were caught between the British advance, the bay to their right, and a creek to their rear. Some did manage to cross safely, while others who attempted to retreat across the creek were drowned. The rest of the regiment continued to fight, which provided critical time for the rest of the forces to retreat. The Ninth's position on the furthest right flank was critical. Their positioning allowed them to effectively cover the other lines as they fell back. Many men from the Maryland regiment were killed or taken prisoner, including some two-thirds of the Ninth Company. These brave Marylanders who took part in the Battle of Brooklyn are remembered today as the "Maryland 400." [4]

Kephart himself was able to escape the fighting, and made it back to the rest of the army. Over the next few months, he and the surviving Marylanders took part in the battles of White Plains and Fort Washington. While the Marylanders were hailed as skilled soldiers, the American were nevertheless pushed out of New York, retreating into New Jersey. Not until late that winter did they secure revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton. At the end of the year, Kephart's enlistment expired, and he left the army. [5]

About a year later, however, Kephart volunteered to fight again, enlisting as a private in the German Battalion in February 1778. The battalion was raised in the mountains of Western Maryland and Pennsylvania, intended to draw the large ethnic German population into the American war effort, and to act as a counter to Britain's Hessian mercenaries. The unit fought at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, alongside the other Maryland regiments, including many of Kephart's comrades from the campaign of 1776. [6]

In 1779, Kephart and the German Battalion were sent to fight a very different enemy. In the west, Iroquois tribes and other Loyalists were providing British troops with supplies and fighters. They also carried out multiple raids on settlements that supported the Americans in New York and Pennsylvania. They quickly became a thorn in Washington’s side. Instead of sending some of his limited men to secure and hold the vast countryside, Washington decided to use a different tactic. He dispatched General John Sullivan to terrorize Native Americans who sided with the British in western New York and Pennsylvania. [7]

Sullivan's Expedition was intended to strike fear and eradicate any threat from the Iroquois. It was marked by the burning of settlements and indiscriminate killing. By the end of the operation, Sullivan reported that forty villages had been destroyed, along with food surpluses that had fed the British, while losing fewer than forty men. Sullivan and the German Battalion successfully neutralized the threat of the Iroquois and allied Loyalist militias, which increased security and stability to the western front. The Iroquois who survived were forced to relocate, since they were no longer safe and their homes had been destroyed. Due to the natives’ relocations, large portions of western New York opened up for new American settlers after the war ended. [8]

Sullivan's army remained stationed on the western frontier until mid-1780, and the German Battalion rejoined the main body of the Continental Army, near New York City, and stayed there until the unit was disbanded in early 1781. At the end of his three-year enlistment, Kephart was discharged in Frederick, Maryland on February 28, 1781. [9]

After he left the army, Kephart made his way west, as many veterans did. He settled eventually in the town of Vallonia, in Jackson County, Indiana. He worked as a brewer and baker, and established his business successfully enough that he was able to purchase two lots in town. By 1819, however, Kephart had grown old, and neither he nor his wife were able to work anymore. He was awarded a pension from the Federal government as a Revolutionary veteran in 1819, but even collecting those payments proved to be a challenge. "I have not drew any pension," he wrote in 1820, "on account [that] I could not get to Vincennes," a city about one hundred miles away. By the time Kephart finally made it to the pension office, "there was no money for me, as I was informed, and was advised to wait" another six months. Eventually, Kephart was able to collect his money, receiving eight dollars per month until his death on August 18, 1824. [10]

Mark Stewart, Washington College, 2018

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 19; Pension of George Kephart. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S 36673, from Fold3.com.

[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.

[3] David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 91; Mark Andrew Tacyn “’To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 77.

[4] Fischer, 56.

[5] Fischer, 110-111; Kephart pension.

[6] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 223, 262; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; Robert K. Wright, The Continental Army (Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center for Military History, 1983), 81, 320-321.

[7] Charles Francis Stein, “The German Battalion of the American Revolution” (Society for the History of the Germans in Maryland, 1975), 30-31; W. C. Sebring, "Character of Gen. Sullivan." Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association 6 (1906), 17.

[8] William Wait, "Sullivan’s Campaign," Proceedings of the New York State Historical Association 6 (1906), 85-86.

[9] Kephart pension; Henry J. Retzer, The German Regiment of Maryland and Pennsylvania in the Continental Army 1776-1781 (Westminster, MD: Family Line Publications, 1991), 28, 43; Compiled Service Records; Charles H. Lesser, ed., The Sinews of Independence: Monthly Strength Reports of the Continental Army (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1976), 192-193.

[10] Kephart pension; U.S. Federal Census, 1820, Jackson County, Indiana.

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