Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Taylor
MSA SC 3520-17815


In 1840, Ruth Taylor, widow of Maryland Revolutionary War veteran John Taylor, applied to the Federal government for a pension owed to her husband. John had initially been granted a pension as a Revolutionary War soldier in 1818, but had been declared ineligible in 1820, when all veterans were directed to submit evidence of financial hardship in order to continue to receive their money. Ruth claimed that her late husband had merely failed to provide a required affidavit, and the court had previously judged his wealth to be $400, well under the $500 threshold, and thus he should always have been eligible. [1]

Although Ruth was granted a pension as a widow, which she received until her death, the family had missed out on many years of necessary financial aid due to the extra bureaucracy put in place in 1820. Such a situation had been unthinkable in 1818, when the Pension Act was first passed. The law’s passage was aided by feelings of patriotic pride about helping the surviving Revolutionary War soldiers. Yet while the act was designed to unite America behind those who had fought for its liberty, it proved divisive and a few short months after its inception those who had pledged to help the defenders of liberty were cost-cutting at the expense of poor and infirm veterans such as John Taylor. [2]

Taylor enlisted in the Eighth Company of the First Maryland Regiment in April 1776, in the war’s earliest days. He survived the battles of Brooklyn, White Plains, and Trenton during the grueling fall and winter of 1776. Reenlisting in late 1776, he served at the Battle of Brandywine (September 1777), the siege of Fort Mifflin (October 1777), the Battle of Monmouth (June 1778), and the attack on Stoney Point (July 1779). He was wounded in combat at least once (or multiple times, according to various testimonies). [3]

The battles themselves were tough, and the experiences of the Marylanders at each was difficult. At the Battle of Brooklyn alone, some companies lost more than three-quarters of their men, and the survivors escaped only by swimming through a creek. Revolutionary War diarist Joseph Plumb Martin described the “regiment of Maryland troops (volunteers)…When they came out of the water and mud [they] look[ed] like water rats, it was a truly pitiful sight. Many of them were killed in the pond, and more were drowned.” This was to be the start of a difficult campaign for John Taylor and the Maryland force, one which also saw them become one of the foremost combat divisions in the army. [4]

The sufferings Taylor witnessed first-hand were numerous, beginning with the defeat at the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. In the years following, Taylor faced significant hardships alongside his fellow troops. While camping in the winter of 1778-1779 in Middlebrook, New Jersey, conditions threatened to rival those of Valley Forge, and the winter encampment of 1779-1780 at Morristown was even worse, with basic supplies, food and shelter all lacking. Further, after the bravery they demonstrated at Brooklyn, the Maryland troops were often placed in the worst of the fighting. At Staten Island in 1777, the Maryland Line was assigned to cover the American retreat, and at Camden in 1780, the Marylanders were the last to withdraw, and took heavy losses both times. [5]

In addition, Taylor’s own military prowess was made clear when was selected for the elite Corps of Light Infantry, and took part in the daring, night-time bayonet attack on the British fort at Stoney Point in 1779, during which he was injured. During his service, therefore, Taylor saw many times the extreme bravery required of the Maryland troops, and also the difficulties faced by soldiers and the expectations of what they were meant to endure while protecting the republican virtues of liberty and freedom. After being wounded at Stoney Point, Taylor was transferred to the Invalid Corps, a unit made up of wounded soldiers "who shall be found capable of doing guard or garrison duty," but were unfit for duty in the field. Taylor spent some time recruiting new soldiers while in the Invalid Corps, and also acted as an orderly. He was discharged in 1782, as the war came to an end. [6]

Not long after being transferred to the Invalid Corps, Taylor married his wife Ruth Bailey on March 16, 1780. Their first child, Elizabeth, was born soon after, on January 1, 1781. Eight more children followed: Mary (b. 1782); Jemima (b. 1784); John (b. 1787); Lesson (b. 1791); Hillery (b. 1793); Mahala (b. 1795); Washington (b. 1798); and Walter (b. 1800). John and Ruth also cared for their grandson Levi Sherly, and their daughter Mahala was seriously ill for many years. Searching for better living conditions and economic opportunities, the Taylor family moved from Maryland to Harrison County, Kentucky, where they lived when John applied for his pension. [7]

Taylor’s pension application was accepted in 1818, and was crucial given his financial situation. In addition to his war wounds, Taylor worked as a house carpenter, and as he grew elderly was no longer physically able to pursue this occupation. This pension was therefore not merely a symbolic reward for his service, but had a genuine and significant impact on his and his families’ lives by enabling them to survive, and survive with some form of dignity. The pension allocated eight dollars per month for privates, and given their poverty, such money would have proven essential to the family. When Taylor was struck off the list, he did not apply again and it was left to his family after his death to pursue financial compensation. [8]

John Taylor died in the summer of 1827 in Harrison County, Kentucky. He left a short will, leaving all of his property to his wife Ruth. His estate was valued at $283, and consisted mainly of farm tools, household furniture, and a small amount of livestock. Some of his possessions were sold at auction to help pay the estate’s debts, bringing in a little under $100; most items were bought by John and Ruth’s children. [9]

The pension system went through several rounds of revision, in response to intense criticism about the financial burden it inflicted upon the country. The 1832 version expanded the number of eligible veterans and widows, as the number of Revolutionary War veterans began to dwindle and amid renewed clamor for their families to be rewarded. In 1840, Ruth Taylor tried once again to be put back upon the widow’s pension list and was this time accepted. By then, the country’s the mood towards those who had served in the war had swung yet again, and enough time had passed that the bitterness over the expense of the first pension bill had passed. [10]

John Taylor thus represents the experience of the average soldier in the post-war years. Having made sacrifices for his country in its war of independence, he later became part of a large-scale migration which would expand the territorial boundaries of the burgeoning American state and define the adventurous national character which has become synonymous for Western America. Despite being part of a period of great change and transformation, he remained destitute for most of his life, and the injuries he sustained in the campaign against British rule directly contributed to this poverty.

John Taylor, and later his widow Ruth, were greatly assisted by the pension bill, although they suffered as a result of the later revisions. The debate as to what sort of nation America would become raged, and ordinary individuals were used to fight it and provide a ground-up approach to the political events of early independent America. To understand their experience is to understand the changing character of America over the period, and how important a pension bill was to the defining of the American national character which exists to this day.

Adam Zinkin, Washington College, 2018


[1] Pension of John Taylor (Ruth Taylor), National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, W 8780, from

[2] Taylor pension; Mark Andrew Tacyn, "'To the End:' The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution" (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 81.

[3] Taylor pension; Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 20, which mistakenly lists Taylor as a member of the Ninth Company in 1776; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from; James Thatcher, Military Journal of the American Revolution (Hartford, CT, 1823), 161; Tacyn, 212-213; Christopher Ward, The War of the Revolution (New York: Skyhorse, 1952) 597-602.

[4] Joseph Plumb Martin, Private Yankee Doodle: Being A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier (1830; reprint, George F. Scheer, ed., 1962), 26.

[5] Taylor pension; Henry C. Peden, Marylanders to Kentucky (Westminster, MD: Family Line, 1991), 142.

[6] Maryland Session Laws of October 1778, Chap. 14, sect. 8, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 203, p. 201.

[7] Taylor pension.

[8] Taylor pension.

[9] John Taylor, Will, 1827, Vol. B, p. 301, Harrison County, Kentucky, Will Records, from; John Taylor, Inventory, 1828, Vol. B, p. 359, Harrison County, Kentucky, Will Records; John Taylor, Account of sale, 1828, Vol. B, p. 360, Harrison County, Kentucky, Will Records.

[10] Taylor pension; The Evening Post (New York, New York), 13 March 1818; John P. Resch, "Politics and Public Culture: The Revolutionary War Pension Act of 1818," The Journal of the Early Republic 8, no. 2: 144-149.

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