Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Smith
MSA SC 3520-18200

Biography:

John Smith enlisted as a private in the Fourth Independent Company on January 24, 1776. The company, commanded by James Hindman, was one of seven independent companies that the Maryland Council of Safety formed across the state in early 1776, which were stationed throughout Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore to guard the vast shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay. To help with this mission, the Fourth Independent Company was stationed in Oxford, Talbot County, in March 1776. Hindman outfitted his company in striking uniforms, purple hunting shirts with red capes and cuffs, which distinguished them from the rest of the Marylanders. [1]

Although the Council of Safety originally intended to use the independent companies for the defense of Maryland, the Council was sympathetic to the collective needs of the colonies and answered the Continental Congress’ request for more soldiers early in the summer of 1776. On July 7, 1776 the Council ordered the Fourth Independent Company, along with the nine companies that made up Colonel William Smallwood’s First Maryland Regiment and two other independent companies, to march to Philadelphia and then to New York to reinforce the Continental Army under the command of General George Washington. [2]

The Marylanders arrived in New York in early August. A few weeks later, 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. While half the regiment was able to cross the creek, the rest were unable to do so before they were attacked by the British. Facing down a much larger, better-trained force, the Marylanders mounted a series of daring charges, which held the British at bay for some time, at the cost of many lives, before being overrun. The Marylanders earned themselves the moniker "Maryland 400," and lost 256 men killed or captured, probably about a third of their total strength. [3]

Smith's company was spared the worst of the fighting, losing only three men, a fact which drew scorn from other companies. James Hindman was forced to write to the Council of Safety to clear his name, denying the "report [being] spread among Capt. [John Hoskins] Stone's friends that my company the day we were engaged at Long Island, behaved very ill." To the contrary, wrote Captain Hindman, "I have had the vanity to think the company I have had the honor to command have behaved themselves as well as [any] in the service, notwithstanding the dark insinuations that have been thrown out to their prejudice, and will refer to Col. Smallwood for their behaviour and conduct since they have been under his command." [4]

Smith survived the battle, and fought with the Marylanders through the rest of 1776. They fought a series of battles in New York: Harlem Heights in September, White Plains in October, and Fort Washington in 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. [5]

Nothing is known about Smith's life after his enlistment expired in late 1776. Because he had such a common name, it is not possible to determine any other information about his life.  

Owen Lourie, 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; Mark Andrew Tacyn “‘To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), 33; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, August 29, 1775 to July 6, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online vol. 11, p. 223. For Fourth Independent Company uniforms, see Pennsylvania Journal, 14 August 1776.

2. Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, July 7 to December 31, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 12, p. 4; Tacyn, 43.

3. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 12, p. 9; Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from Fold3.com; Tacyn, 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. James Hindman to Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer, 12 October 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 12, p. 345-346.

5. Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 24.

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