Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Zachariah Tilley
MSA SC 3520-18060

Biography:

Zachariah Tilley came from a family of ship builders, but in 1776, instead of following that trade he became a soldier. Tilley enlisted as a private in the Third Company of the First Maryland Regiment on January 20, 1776, and he was one of the first men to join. The company was part of Maryland's first contingent of full-time, professional troops, raised to fulfill the state's quota of soldiers for the Continental Army. The Third Company was commanded by Captain Barton Lucas, a veteran of the French and Indian War. Most of the company's men enlisted in Bladensburg, Maryland, and many of them were natives of Prince George's County. The company spent the first part of 1776 stationed in Annapolis, along with most of the other companies of the regiment (the rest were in Baltimore), where it trained and helped guard the city. [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 was able to cross the creek, and escape the battle. However, the rest of the men, including the Third Company, 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 casualties, with some companies 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]

The Third Company suffered greatly, and more than 60 percent of its men were killed or captured, and at least twenty two were taken prisoner by the British. Lucas was sick during the battle and unable to fight with his men, and was greatly affected by the high number of casualties they took. One of his soldiers recalled that "Captain Barton Lucas became deranged in consequence of losing his company...Lucas was sent home" later that fall. [3]

Tilley survived the battle, and went on to serve for the rest of the 1776 campaign with the Marylanders, who 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. [4]

At the end of 1776, the enlistments of the Maryland troops ran out. While some men returned home, many signed on for another term, and Tilley was among them. However, in February 1777 he wrote to the Council of Maryland asking to be discharged. Tilley had "been bred to the business of a Ship Carpenter." Now, after surviving a hellish year in the army, Tilley told the Council that he "conceives he can be of more service to his country by working for the Publick...as he understands that Ship Carpenters are much wanted in the publick Dock yards." Evidentially, the Council agreed, and Tilley returned to his civilian career. [5]

After he left the army, Tilley lived in Prince George's County, working as a ship carpenter along with his father and brothers. In June 1781, was drafted from the county's militia to serve in the Maryland Line, during a severe manpower shortage. He was discharged in December, and it is not clear whether he joined the army in the Carolinas or stayed in Maryland during that time. [6]

It is likely that Tilley never married or had any children, and while ship carpentry was a desirable trade, he did not amass very much personal wealth. When he died in the summer of 1815, his estate was valued at $143, with his carpentry took comprising most of that amount. He left his property to his nieces Catherine and Elizabeth, daughters of his brother John. [7]

Owen Lourie, 2018

Notes:

1. Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Safety, 1776-1777, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 16, 119; Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, 9; Pension of John Hughes. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S 5954, from Fold3.com; Pension of George Reed. National Archives, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty Land-Warrant Application Files, S 30669, from Fold3.com.

2. Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, 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. Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776; Hughes pension.

4. Account of money paid sundry soldiers by Gen. Smallwood, paid to Zachariah Tilley, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Revolutionary Papers, box 6, no. 7-3 [MSA S997-6, 1/7/3/11].

5. There is no record that Tilley reenlisted. However, he must have done so, otherwise he would not have needed to petition the Council to be released from his enlistment. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 16, 119; Tacyn, 26-27.

6. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pps. 382, 412; Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, 1781-1784, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 48, 18.

7. Will of Zachariah Tilley, 1815, Prince George's County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber TT1, 144 [MSA C1326-3, 1/25/7/4]; Estate of Zachariah Tilley, Prince George's County Register of Wills, Estate Papers [MSA C2119-84-16, 0/50/7/43].

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