Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Justinian Bullock
MSA SC 3520-17880

Biography:

Justinian Bullock enlisted as a private in Maryland's Fifth Independent Company, led by Captain John Allen Thomas, in early 1776. The company was raised in St. Mary's County, Maryland, and was one of seven independent companies that the Maryland Council of Safety formed across the state in early 1776, initially intended to guard the Chesapeake Bay's coastline from a feared British invasion. By that summer, however, the independent companies were dispatched to New York, to help reinforce the Continental Army as it prepared to defend the city from the British. In total, twelve companies of Maryland troops traveled to New York that July and August: nine companies that comprised the First Maryland Regiment, commanded by Colonel William Smallwood, and the Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Independent companies, the only three that were ready to travel then. [1]

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. During the retreat, the Maryland troops fought their way towards the American fortifications, but were blocked by the swampy Gowanus Creek. While half the regiment was able to cross the creek, the rest were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, the Marylanders mounted a series of daring charges. These men, now known as the "Maryland 400," held the British at bay long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape, at the cost of many lives. In all, 256 Marylanders were killed or captured by the British; some companies lost as much as 80 percent of their men. Bullock and his company likely saw little combat. Instead, the Fifth Independent Company did not cross the East River from Manhattan to Brooklyn until after the fighting had begun, and did not venture into the field of battle. They did, however, perform valuable service assisting the Americans retreating through the Gowanus Marsh. [2]

During the fall of 1776, Bullock and the rest of the Marylanders fought a series of battles in New York: Harlem Heights (September), White Plains (October), and Fort Washington (November). While the Americans had some tactical successes at these engagements, by November they had been pushed out of New York entirely, though they secured key revitalizing victories at Trenton and Princeton late that winter. However, at some point during the end of 1776, Bullock was taken prisoner by the British. At the time of his capture, Bullock "was then very sick," and the British apparently took him to a hospital. Bullock escaped, "but being too weak to travel he was overtaken and kept a prisoner all Winter." [3]

Conditions in British prisons were horrible, rife with disease and starvation, and Bullock suffered greatly that winter. However, "he escaped from the Enemy early in the Spring [of 1777] much emaciated." While Bullock was able to make his way back to Maryland, "on his Return home, his Legs began to swell, and to be very painful," no doubt an after-effect of his ill-treatment in British captivity. While he was still determined to return to the army, Bullock's legs made that impossible. As John Allen Thomas, his old captain from 1776 wrote, "Twice since his Return [he has] endevoured to march in order to join one of the Regiments but has been obliged to return, his legs swelling to a great degree and very painful." [4]

In April 1778, Bullock joined the Third Maryland Regiment, and served with them for a few months. By that June, however, Thomas was moved to intercede on Bullock's behalf. While Bullock had been able to persevere despite his infirmities, "lately...one of his Legs bursted in two Places." According to Thomas, a doctor had examined Bullock, "and gives it as his Opinion that it is so bad That the Man cannot do anything to pursue a livelihood." Thomas hoped that the poor soldier would be discharged and granted some financial support. Bullock had "neither Friends or Money to support him. As this has befallen him from his Engagement in the Service of the State I am in hopes your Excellency will do something for him, especially as the Faith of the State was obliged to those People that proper Care should be taken of them if they were disabled." [5]

What became of Thomas's request is not known, which suggests that no support was ever granted to Bullock. By September 1778, he was no longer with his regiment, having been transferred to an army hospital. Service records only indicate that he died at some point after that time. Nothing else is known about his life. [6]

Owen Lourie, 2018

Sources:

[1] John Allen Thomas to Gov. Thomas Johnson, 30 June 1778, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, vol. 19, no. 93 MdHR 4584-93 [MSA S989-28, 1/6/4/16]; Mark Andrew Tacyn "'To the End:' The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution" (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 33-45.

[2] Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from Fold3.com; Tacyn, 48-73; Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 154-155. 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.

[3] Thomas to Gov.

[4] Thomas to Gov.

[5] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pps. 86, 329; Thomas to Gov.; Compiled Service Record of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, National Archives, NARA M881, from Fold3.com.

[6] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 86.

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