Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

James Mead
MSA SC 3520-18118

Biography:

James Mead enlisted as a drummer in Maryland’s Fourth Independent Company on March 16, 1776 under Captain James Hindman. Drummers served an important role during the Revolutionary War as non-commissioned officers and received the same pay as corporals. The standard musical unit within each American company typically consisted of at least one fifer and one drummer, although shortages often plagued the Continental Army. Music commanded the lives of soldiers in the Continental Army, as fifers and drummers were assigned with governing "the soldier's every move" during battle as well as in camp. Drummers and fifers worked together to regulate marches, and often played popular tunes for company morale. Mead therefore worked closely with the Fourth Independent's fifer, John Williams. [1]

Hindman’s company originally played a role in the Maryland Council of Safety's plan to protect the Chesapeake Bay from potential British invasions. At first stationed at Oxford in Talbot County, Hindman's company travelled to New York to reinforce the Continental Army in preparation for a British invasion. The Fourth Independent Company arrived in New York by mid-August 1776. [2]

On the morning of August 27, 1776, American forces faced British troops at the Battle of Brooklyn (otherwise known as the Battle of Long Island). While several companies engaged the British Army on the Gowanus Road and the nearby Gowanus Creek, taking severe losses in the process, the Fourth Independent Company was largely spared, suffering only three casualties. Hindman defended his actions during the battle to the Council of Safety, arguing that rumors referring to the Fourth Independent Company’s “very ill” behavior were unfounded. Hindman instead declared that “the company [he] had the honor to command...behaved themselves as well as in the service, notwithstanding the dark insinuations...thrown out to their prejudice.” [3]

Mead fell ill shortly after the Battle of Brooklyn, but recovered in early October 1776 prior to the Battle of White Plains. Mead survived the Battle of White Plains, despite heavy American losses. One Hessian volley alone wounded and killed ninety-two soldiers during the battle, and forty soldiers of the Maryland Line were killed, captured, or wounded in total. Despite a string of defeats in 1776, American victories at Trenton and Princeton revitalized the morale of the Continental Army and the Marylanders who served in the Fourth Independent Company. [4]

Mead briefly joined the Fifth Maryland Regiment on December 10, 1776 as drum major, but then transferred to the Second Maryland Regiment under the command of Thomas Price on June 11, 1777. Mead had been involved in an enlistment dispute between the two regiments. Colonel William Richardson of the Fifth Regiment lamented that Mead's transfer would "be a loss, for want of music is too often a tax upon the officers," noting that "£100 was paid recently" for a drummer and fifer. By this point of the war, demand soared for drummers and fifers, as they served important roles while on active duty and in the recruiting process. William Smallwood, for example, expressed great anger when one company refused "to deliver up [their] fifer and drummer" for an important campaign against Eastern Shore Loyalists in 1777, threatening to write to the Maryland General Assembly about the incident. [5]

Mead served in the Second Regiment as a drum major until the end of the war, a testament to his ability as a drummer; drum majors oversaw and trained all drummers in their unit. Mead's regiment remained in the northern theater until 1780 and participated in combat at locations including Staten IslandBrandywine, and Germantown. In 1780, Mead helped recruit new soldiers in Queen Anne's and Talbot counties under Levin Winder. Mead was eventually discharged on November 15, 1783. [6]

Mead returned to Queen Anne's County, Maryland after the war, where he married Mary Wilkinson on March 1, 1791. The personal details of Mead's later life are unknown. James Mead died on March 10, 1807. Mary Mead later moved to Baltimore City and received a pension as the widow of a Revolutionary War veteran for $108 per year in 1843. Mary unfortunately died on February 21, 1844, less than a year later. James Mead's nephew, Philip Mead, became his only surviving heir. [7]

-James Schmitt, Maryland Society Sons of the American Revolution Research Fellow, 2019

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 23; William Carter White, A History of Military Music in America (New York: Exposition Press, 1924), pp. 20-21, 26, 29; Charles Patrick Neimeyer, The Revolutionary War (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007), p. 137; Donald E. Mattson and Louis D. Walz, Old Fort Snelling Instruction Book for Fife: With Music of Early America (St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1974), p. 6.

[2] Mark Andrew Tacyn, “‘To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), pp. 33-34, 44-45.

[3] Tacyn, pp. 52-67; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety July 7, 1776 to December 31, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 12, pp. 345-346.

[4] Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from Fold3.com; Return of the Maryland troops, 11 October 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 92, from Fold3.com; David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 111.

[5] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 226; Deposition of Edward Edgerly, adjutant of the Second Regiment, 17 June 1777, Maryland State Papers, Series A [MSA S1004-7-171, 1/7/3/28]; William Richardson to Governor and Council, 10 June 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, vol. 16, no. 104, MdHR 4580A-16 [MSA S989-2489, 01/06/04/12]; William Smallwood to John Sterrett, Snow Hill, Maryland, 14 March 1777, Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution Smallwood Collection [MSA SC 6205-1-1, RB/01/02/S4]. Smallwood berated John Sterrett's Baltimore militia company for failing to provide a fifer and drummer in a letter, stating that the company "descended to a Degree of Petulance which in this Instance as Gentlemen and well Wishers to their Country, they ought to have held themselves above."

[6] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pp. 138, 546; Pension of Mary Mead (James Mead), National Archives and Records Administration, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, W 3847, from Fold3.com

[7] Mead pension.

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