Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Richard Smith (1755-1840)
MSA SC 3520-17917

Biography:

Richard Smith enlisted as a private in the First Company of the First Maryland Regiment in February 1776. Born in 1755, Smith was about twenty-one when he enlisted, a little younger than average age of soldiers in the regiment. The company was raised in Charles County, Maryland, where Smith lived, and was led by Captain John Hoskins Stone. It was part of Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional troops. Its men distinguished themselves that summer, gaining fame as the "Maryland 400." [1]

In July, the regiment received orders to march to New York to defend the city from an impending British attack. The Marylanders arrived in New York in early August, where they joined with the rest of the Continental Army, commanded by General George Washington. 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. Half the regiment, including the First Company, was able to cross the creek, and escape the battle. However, the rest were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, this group of soldiers, today called the "Maryland 400," mounted a series of daring charges, which held the British at bay for some time, at the cost of many lives, before being overrun. They took enormous causalities, with some companies losing losing nearly 80 percent of their men, but their actions delayed the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape. In all, the First Maryland lost 256 men, killed or taken prisoner. [2]

Smith survived the battle, as did most of the men in his company. During the fall of 1776, 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.

In December 1776, Smith's enlistment came to an end, and he signed on again, for a three-year term. Smith saw a great deal of combat during his second tour of duty. The Marylanders fought in the disastrous raid on Staten Island in August 1777, and the major battles of the campaign to protect Philadelphia from the British, Brandywine (September 1777) and Germantown (October 1777), both significant defeats. The Marylanders also fought at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778. Later that year, Smith was selected to serve in the Corps of Light Infantry, an elite unit drawn from various regiments in the Continental Army. He was a member of the light infantry in 1779, when it launched a daring attack on Stony Point, a fort on the Hudson River in New York. The Americans attacked the fort in the dark of night, and defeated the British using only bayonets. On December 27, 1779, Smith's enlistment ended, and he received his discharge. [3]

Smith returned to Maryland, but rejoined the army soon afterward. In the spring of 1780, he and the rest of the Maryland troops "marched from Annapolis...through Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, into South Carolina," as he later recounted. In 1780 and 1781, the Marylanders fought in the Revolutionary War's fiercest battles, including the disastrous defeat at Camden (August 1780), Cowpens (January 1781), Guilford Court House (March 1781), Ninety-Six (May-June 1781), and Eutaw Springs (September 1781). In the fall of 1781, the Americans gradually pushed the British north out of the Carolinas towards Yorktown, where they surrendered in October. In the course of these battles, the Maryland soldiers gained a reputation as brave and dependable, and were a cornerstone of the army. [4]

Smith and the First Maryland Regiment spent 1782 back in South Carolina, where British forces lingered for most of the year. In recognition for his long service, Smith was promoted to sergeant sometime in 1782, and held that rank until he was discharged in June 1783, seven and a half years after he first enlisted. [5]

Returning to civilian life in Maryland, Smith married Elizabeth Church, who was about twenty years old, in Prince George's County, Maryland in January 1785. They lived in Maryland until around 1812, when they relocated to Rowan County, North Carolina, an area through which Smith might have traveled during his time in the army. The family may have left Maryland in search of better economic opportunities, as many people did during the first decades of the nineteenth century. [6]

Richard and Elizabeth Smith lived in Rowan County for the rest of their lives. In 1833, Richard applied for a pension from the Federal government as a veteran of the Revolutionary War, and was granted $80 per year. He received his payments for seven years, until his death on June 12, 1840, when he was about eighty-five years old. After his death, Elizabeth was able to collect a pension as the widow of a Revolutionary veteran. She died in Rowan County on July 27, 1853, in her late eighties. [7]

Owen Lourie, 2018

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 7; Pension of Richard Smith, National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, W 4073, from Fold3.com.

[2] Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from Fold3.com; Mark Andrew Tacyn "'To the End:' The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution" (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 48-73. 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] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 159; List of receipts of soldiers who were paid upon discharge, 27 December 1779, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 3, no. 7-21, p. 1, MdHR 19970-3-7/21 [MSA S997-3-94, 1/7/3/9]; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com.

[4] Smith pension. In describing his service, Smith later recalled fighting only at Eutaw Springs, and it is not completely certain if he was actually in the army in 1780. Gaps in enlistment records complicate efforts to clarify his service.

[5] Smith pension; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pps. 441, 506, 555. Smith himself said he was discharged in December 1782, while Maryland service records list June 1, 1783. It is likely that he was furloughed and given permission to leave the army and return home at the end of 1782, then received his formal discharge in 1783.

[6] Smith pension; Prince George's County Court, Marriage Licenses, 1777-1797, p. 32 [CM783-1, CR 50230].

[7] Smith pension; U.S. Federal Census, 1820, Battalion 1 (Salisbury Side), Rowan County, North Carolina; U.S. Federal Census, 1830, Rowan County, North Carolina; U.S. Federal Census, 1840, Rowan County, North Carolina; U.S. Federal Census, 1850, District 2, Rowan County, North Carolina.

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