Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Richard Caton
MSA SC 3520-18178

Biography:

Richard Caton enlisted as a private in the Fourth Independent on January 29, 1776 under Captain James Hindman. [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. Colonel William Smallwood’s Maryland battalion of nine companies were stationed in Baltimore and Annapolis while the independent companies were divided between the Eastern and Western shores. While centered at Oxford in Talbot County during the summer of 1776, Hindman’s company received orders to march to New York to reinforce the Continental Army for a British invasion. The independent companies, including the Fourth Independent, arrived by mid-August 1776. [2]

On August 27, 1776, American forces faced British troops at the Battle of Brooklyn (also known as the Battle of Long Island), the first full-scale engagement of the war. Under heavy fire, the American troops attempted to retreat through Gowanus Creek, suffering severe losses in the process. To hold the British at bay, the remaining Marylanders who hadn’t crossed the creek yet mounted a series of charges. The Maryland troops delayed the British long enough for the rest of the Continental Army to escape. Despite the loss of the 256 men who were killed or captured, the bravery and sacrifice of the Maryland troops earned them the title of the "Maryland 400." [3]

Caton and the Fourth Independent were spared the worst of the fighting, taking only minimal losses. Hindman defended his company against allegations of non-participation, and blamed their orders for preventing them from taking a more active role: "I have had the vanity to think the company I have had the honor to command have behaved themselves as well as in the service, notwithstanding the dark insinuations that have been thrown out to their prejudice." [4]

Following the battle of Brooklyn, the Fourth Independent fought at the Battle of White Plains, a continuation of the retreat from New York and an American loss. Caton was most likely with his company at the battles of Trenton and Princeton, both American victories.

At the beginning of 1777, the issue of expiring enlistments came to call. After suffering the privations of an ill-supplied army, Caton did not return to military service. In the years after the Revolution, there were a couple of people named Richard Caton living in Baltimore County, but it is unknown if any were the same man who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn. No other information is known about Caton’s life.

Cassy Sottile, Explore America Research Intern, 2019

Notes:

[1] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 24. Richard Caton may have been the same person as Richard Eaton. Eaton's name never appeared in any musters related to the Fourth Independent Company, but Richard Caton's name does appear. Caton's name does not reappear in any muster rolls. Archibald Anderson, however, specifically lists Richard Eaton as a deserter from the Fourth Independent Company in an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette. As their names are similar, muster rolls for the Fourth Independent may have accidentally referred to Eaton as Caton, or vice versa.

[2] Mark Andrew Tacyn, "To the End: The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution," (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999) 34-45.

[3] Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from Fold3.com.

[4] Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, July 7: December 31, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 12, p. 346.

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