Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Ryan
MSA SC 3520-18204

Biography:

John Ryan enlisted as a private in Maryland's Fourth Independent Company on February 6, 1776 under Captain James Hindman. 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. [1]

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 suffered 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.” [2]

The Fourth Independent Company later fought at the Battle of White Plains in October 1776. John Ryan 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. [3]

After his enlistment in the Fourth Independent Company ended in the winter of 1776-1777, Ryan enlisted in the Second Maryland Regiment as a private on January 1, 1777. Ryan served under Captain Archibald Anderson, who had previously been Ryan's first lieutenant in Hindman's company. Ryan's regiment remained in the war's northern theater between 1777 and 1780. [4]

John Ryan took part in a raid led by Brigadier General John Sullivan on British forces on Staten Island on August 22, 1777. Although the skirmish went well for American forces at first, forcing Loyalist militia to retreat, it fell apart when American soldiers began to loot the area. British regulars then surprised Sullivan's forces, who believed that the Loyalist militia served as the island's only defenders. Forced to retreat, American forces left behind some of the Marylanders guarding their rear. In total, the British captured around 150 soldiers, including John Ryan. [5]

Along with other soldiers captured during the raid, the British probably imprisoned Ryan aboard a prison ship in New York City. As the British considered American troops to be rebels, British soldiers often abused and tortured American prisoners like Ryan. Over ten thousand American prisoners died on the prison ships stationed in New York due to rampant disease and poor nutrition. Ryan survived his experience and returned to duty by July of 1778. [6]

Ryan continued to serve in the Second Regiment throughout the rest of 1778 until 1780. In the fall of 1778, George Washington ordered the creation of multiple light infantry units "composed of the best, most hardy and active Marksmen" chosen for their "alertness, daring, and military efficiency." Light infantry forces carried little baggage, allowing them to travel and strike quickly. Ryan served in the light infantry during this period, participating in raids and reconnaissance missions. [7]

After returning to regular service, British forces captured John Ryan once more in February of 1780. The British did not capture Ryan during battle. He was likely captured while travelling away from camp on the orders of his superiors. Although his further fate is unclear, Ryan would have been released at the end of the war if he survived prison conditions. Many people named John Ryan lived in Maryland following the war, making it difficult to determine what became of him. [8]

-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. 24; 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.

[2] 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.

[3] Tacyn, pp. 120-126; David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 111.

[4] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 156.

[5] Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army during the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; Patrick O'Donnell, Washington's Immortals: The Untold Story of an Elite Regiment Who Changed the Course of the Revolution (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2016), pp. 137-140; Tacyn, pp. 135-137.

[6] Compiled Service Records, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; George C. Doughan, Revolution on the Hudson: New York City and the Hudson River Valley in the American War of Independence (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016), p. 72; O'Donnell, pp. 96-98.

[7] Compiled Service Records, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; "A Corps of...Partizan Officers," George Washington, General Orders, 8 August 1778, Papers of George Washington; O'Donnell, pp. 192-193.

[8] Compiled Service Records, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 156. Other individuals named John Ryan also served in the Continental Army between 1780 to 1783.

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