Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Samuel McPherson
MSA SC 3520-17924


Samuel McPherson enlisted as a corporal in the First Company of the First Maryland Regiment in January 1776. The company was raised in Charles County, Maryland, where McPherson 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]

McPherson was part of a well-off Charles County family, although they were far from being among the county's wealthiest. When his father, Alexander McPherson, died in 1775, the family's property was divided between Samuel and his three siblings, Walter, Chloe, and Anna. While Samuel was to eventually inherit 175 acres of land, most of the real estate that Alexander owned, he would not be able to take possession until both Chloe and Anna were married. Until then, Samuel was effectively landless, with his future opportunities circumscribed. When the Maryland regiment was formed, just a few months after his father's death, joining the army may have given Samuel a way to both fill his time and to improve his statue in the community and his future prospects. [2]

In July 1776, after training for several months in Annapolis, McPherson and the rest of 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. [3]

McPherson 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. At some point during the campaign, McPherson was promoted to sergeant, likely to fill a vacancy. [4]

When the Maryland troops were reorganized and expanded at the end of the year, McPherson secured a commission as an officer, becoming an ensign in the First Maryland Regiment. Within a few months, he was promoted again, to second lieutenant, as other men left the still-forming regiment. McPherson's rapid rise from lowly corporal to lieutenant was a remarkable ascent, and was the result of the army's desperate need for experienced soldiers while it was expanding from just one regiment to seven. As a veteran of the 1776 campaign, McPherson was such an experienced soldier. [5]

Over the next few years, McPherson and the Marylanders saw a great deal of combat. They 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. In May of 1778, McPherson was promoted to first lieutenant, just a month before the Marylanders fought at the Battle of Monmouth in June 1778, where they bested the British. The next year, 1779, saw little major combat as the war slowed to a stalemate. As a result, McPherson spent part of the year back in Maryland, recruiting new troops and securing supplies. [6]

In the spring of 1780, McPherson and the Marylanders joined the American army sent to the Carolinas to counter the new front that the British had opened in the south. Over the next two years, the Maryland troops fought in the Revolutionary War's fiercest battles. They took catastrophic casualties at the Battle of Camden in August 1780, losing some 600 men--about one-third of their troops. In the wake of the loss, the Maryland Line was reorganized, and McPherson was promoted to captain, in command of a company, in April 1781. The next year, the Americans earned a series of victories at Cowpens (January 1781), Guilford Court House (March 1781), Ninety-Six (May-June 1781), and Eutaw Springs (September 1781), pushing 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. McPherson and his men spent 1782 back in South Carolina, where British forces lingered for most of the year. In June 1783, after returning to Maryland, McPherson was given his discharge, seven and a half years after he first joined the army. [7]

Returning to civilian life in Charles County, McPherson took his place among the county's gentry. When he left the army, his sisters Anna and Chloe still held the land that Samuel would eventually control. However, over the next decade McPherson began to acquire significant land holdings, up to nearly 800 acres by 1801, placing him in the top tier of land owners. He also owned about fifteen slaves, a significant number. As a prominent local citizen, McPherson was chosen as an officer in the Maryland Militia, receiving a commission as the major of the Forty-Third Regiment in 1794. While he may have been given the rank in part because of his military experience during the Revolutionary War, it is more likely that McPherson was named to the post because of his status in the community and his political allegiances. His resigned his position in 1799. [8]

McPherson married a woman named Catherine (maiden name not known), known as Kitty. They had at least two children, Robert H. and Richard W. McPherson. Samuel McPherson died in 1809, and his property was divided among them equally. He had sold about half of this land in 1805, but still owned about over 400 acres at the time of his death. His estate was valued at $4,100, and included seventeen slaves. It took more than seven years to settle the estate, during which time Catherine remarried, wedding a man named Smoot. [9]

Owen Lourie, 2018


[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 5.

[2] Will of Alexander McPherson, 1775, Prerogative Court, Wills, Liber 40, p. 488 [MSA S538-59, 1/11/2/8]; Inventory of Alexander McPherson, 1776, Prerogative Court, Inventories, Liber 122, p. 387 [MSA S534-123, 1/12/2/21]; Land Office, Debt Books, Liber 17, Charles County, 1772-1774, p. 33 [MSA S12-91, 1/24/2/17]; Jean Butenhoff Lee, "Land and Labor: Parental Bequest Practices in Charles County, Maryland, 1732-1783," in Lois Green Carr, Philip D. Morgan, and Jean B. Russo, eds., Colonial Chesapeake Society (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 321; Jean B. Lee, The Price of Nationhood: The American Revolution in Charles County (New York: W.W. Norton, 1994), 163.

[3] Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from; 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.

[4] List of Regular Officers for Promotion, January 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, vol. 12, no. 66, MdHR 4573-66 [MSA S989-17, 1/6/4/5]; List of Cadets, Sergeants & Volunteers, c. early 1777, Maryland State Papers, Blue Books, vol. 4, no. 49, MdHR 4643-49 [MSA S990-5, 1/6/4/43].

[5] Reiman Steuart, The Maryland Line (The Society of the Cincinnati, 1971), 110; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from

[6] Steuart, 110; Compiled Service Record; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 137; Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, 1778-1779, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 21, p. 479.

[7] Steuart, 110; Compiled Service Record; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pps. 356, 364, 379, 443, 479; Receipt for pay, Capt. Samuel McPherson, 19 June 1783, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 4, no. 2/8, MdHR 19970-4-2/8 [MSA S997-4-21, 1/7/3/10].

[8] General Assembly House of Delegates, Assessment Record, 1783, Charles County, District 5, p. 6 [MSA S1161-5-1, 1/4/5/48]; Federal Direct Tax, 1798, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 729, Charles County, General List of Land, p. 1392; General List of Houses, p. 1419; General List of Slaves, p. 1450; U.S. Federal Census, 1790, Charles County, Maryland; U.S. Federal Census, 1800, Durham Parish, Charles County, Maryland; Deed, Samuel Hawkins to Samuel McPherson, 1794, Charles County Court, Land Records, Liber N 4, p. 273 [MSA CE82-40]; Deed to Samuel McPherson, 1799, Charles County Court, Land Records, Liber IB 3, p. 85 [MSA CE82-42]; Deed, Robert and Mary Armstrong to Samuel McPherson, 1801, Charles County Court, Land Records, Liber IB 6, p. 450 [MSA CE82-44]; Adjutant General, Militia Appointments, Vol. 2, p, 94 [MSA S348-2, 2/6/5/10]; Adjutant General, Military Papers, Charles, Samuel McPherson, resignation of commission, 15 May 1799, box 24, folder 57, MdHR 4176-16 [MSA S926-16, 2/5/2/23].

[9] Inventory of Samuel McPherson, 1809, Charles County Register of Wills, Inventories, 1808-1812, p. 176 [MSA C665-14, 1/8/10/25]; Additional inventory of Samuel McPherson, 1814, Charles County Register of Wills, Inventories, 1812-1815, p. 264 [MSA C665-15, 1/8/10/26]; First account of Samuel McPherson, 1815, Charles County Register of Wills, Accounts, 1812-1815, p. 537 [MSA C650-14, 1/8/10/26]; Re-inventory of Samuel McPherson, 1815, Charles County Register of Wills, Inventories, 1815-1818, p. 107 [MSA C665-16, 1/8/10/27]; Samuel McPherson, final account and distribution, 1817, Charles County Register of Wills, Accounts, 1815-1818, p. 268 [MSA C650-15, 1/8/10/27]; Deed, Samuel McPherson to Richard Briscoe, 1805, Charles County Court, Land Records, Liber IB 6, p. 399 [MSA CE82-44].  

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