Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Richard Eaton
MSA SC 3520-18227

Biography:

Richard Eaton enlisted in the Fourth Independent Company in 1776. Commanded by Captain James Hindman, the Fourth Independent Company played an important 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. Eaton 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. Eaton's enlistment ended in the winter of 1776-1777. [3]

Eaton enlisted for a three-year term in Maryland's Fifth Regiment on December 10, 1776. Captain Archibald Anderson, Eaton's former first lieutenant, incorrectly accused Eaton of deserting in 1777 along with several other former soldiers of the Fourth Independent Company. Most of the soldiers accused alongside Eaton never reenlisted or had already enlisted with a different company. One soldier, Levin Frazier, even joined the navy. Eaton's company remained in the northern theater between 1777 and 1779, and participated in combat at locations including Staten IslandBrandywine, and Germantown. Eaton left the service on December 10, 1779 when his time expired. [4]

An individual named Richard Eaton from Talbot County joined fledgling Maryland naval forces in 1781, serving for one year as a gunner on board the barge Intrepid. He later served on the barge Fearnought in 1782, commanded by Talbot County militia veteran Levin Spedden. [5]

While serving on the Fearnought, this Richard Eaton fought in the Battle of Kedges Strait (also known as the Battle of the Barges) on November 30, 1782. The Fearnought was part of Commodore Zedekiah Whaley’s flotilla, which had been tasked with ending raids mainly perpetrated by New York Loyalist and British ships. The Defence, commanded by brothers Solomon and Levin Frazier, had spotted six British barges during a reconnaissance mission, and Whaley decided to pursue them. Upon reaching the Chesapeake Bay’s Tangier Straits, the British fired upon the American barges. The Fearnought’s lieutenant, Zadock Botfield, recalled that the barge’s six pound cannon exploded, leaving “as much as Two feet of the upper part of the Muzzle” gone. The chaos only worsened once the magazine of Whaley’s barge, the Protector, exploded, allowing the British to board it. Some of the Fearnought’s crew attempted to row towards some of the American survivors who jumped overboard while other crew members attempted to row away from the battle. Eventually, the Fearnought and several other American barges fled as the Protector surrendered following Whaley’s death. [6]

No further information about the Fearnought's Richard Eaton exists and he cannot be conclusively linked to the Fourth Independent Company.

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

Notes:

[1] “Forty Dollars Reward,” Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), 18 June 1777; 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. Richard Eaton may have been the same person as Richard Caton. 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] 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] Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 203; Compiled Service Record of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, National Archives, NARA M881, from Fold3.com.                          

[5] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pp. 610, 611, 613-614; Maryland Historical Trust, Maryland Maritime Archaeology Program, and New South Associates, Inc., “Naval Engagements of the Revolutionary and 1812 Wars in Maryland,” Final Technical Report, vol. 1 (September 2013), p. 51.

[6] Maryland Historical Trust, Maryland Maritime Archaeology Program, and New South Associates, Inc., pp. 46-50.

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