Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Hanson Briscoe (1752-1796)
MSA SC 3520-18228


Born in 1752 to Philip Briscoe and Chloe Hanson, John Hanson Briscoe grew up in his childhood home at Laureetum, located in Chaptico, St. Mary’s County, Maryland. The eldest of four children, Briscoe's parents raised him alongside his younger siblings, Hanson Briscoe, Elizabeth Storey, and Samuel Hanson Briscoe. Likely named after his grandfather, John Hanson, best known as the President of the Continental Congress between 1781-1782, John Hanson Briscoe had high aspirations as well. He attended the University of Edinburgh Medical School in 1771 with the intention of becoming a surgeon. He later returned to Chaptico to practice medicine prior to the Revolution. [1]

In the early stages of the Revolutionary War, Briscoe joined the Upper Battalion of the St. Mary’s Militia as a major. Around the same time, Maryland’s Council of Safety established a group of seven Independent Companies to protect the Chesapeake Bay from British invasions, placing them throughout the state to maximize their effectiveness. The Council of Safety “appointed [Briscoe as the] Surgeon to the Seven Independent Companies” on August 27, 1776 at the young age of twenty-four. Maryland officials had already sent three of the Independent Companies to New York to help the Continental Army defend the city from a potential British invasion. The Independent Companies arrived in time for the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776, aiding other Marylanders in defending the Continental Army. [2]

Aided by surgeon’s mates William Dashiell, Daniel Jenifer, and Barton Tabbs, Briscoe likely arrived in the area a few weeks after the Battle of Brooklyn, caring to the wounded. As the war dragged into the fall of 1776, other battles such as the Battle of White Plains added to the number of wounded. Sickness spread rampantly throughout the Continental Army as well, making Briscoe’s job harder still. Captain John Allen Thomas of the Fifth Independent Company complained that sickness rendered “near two hundred Men unfit for duty, and most of them without any assistance from the Doctor.” As health conditions worsened, Briscoe struggled to provide assistance for the Independent Companies. [3]

Briscoe joined the Second Maryland Regiment in 1777 and continued to act as a surgeon for the Second Regiment until January 11, 1778, when he resigned. Briscoe complained about “the general contempt” directed at “Regimental Surgeons and Assistants” by Hospital Department surgeons and Continental Army officers. Conflicts arose between the regimental surgeons and the Hospital Department not long after the latter's creation. Dr. Benjamin Church, head of the department at the time, accused the regimental surgeons of "inexcusable neglect," and wanted to move patients to general hospitals to lower costs. Even George Washington referred to regimental surgeons as "very great Rascals." Along with several other doctors, Briscoe argued that the army “furnished [them] with nothing necessary to relieve [the] Wants and distresses” of the soldiers they cared for. Tired of the poor treatment, Briscoe resigned, promising to tend to the soldiers for a few more weeks after January 11. [4]

After tending to the soldiers, Briscoe seemingly returned to St. Mary’s County, where he once more joined the county’s Upper Battalion of militia as a major on November 18, 1779.  Briscoe continued to practice medicine throughout the war, possibly serving in government hospitals in Philadelphia near the war’s end. [5]

Briscoe continued to practice medicine after the war and operated a large plantation at Laureetum, owning 26 slaves by 1790. Briscoe married Elizabeth Attaway Bond and had at least six children with her: Thomas, Phillip, Dr. John Hanson, Eleanor, Celia Brown, and Elizabeth Attaway. [6]

Briscoe later served as a justice of the peace for St. Mary’s County in 1793. Briscoe rejoined the militia on June 18, 1794, serving as a brigadier general. Although he received orders to prepare to “march against the Insurgents in the Western parts of Pennsylvania” during the Whiskey Rebellion, Briscoe’s detachment did not participate. [7]

John Hanson Briscoe died on September 7, 1796 in Chaptico at the age of 44, leaving behind “his disconsolate widow and several small children to lament their great and irreparable loss.” Briscoe owned 587 acres at the time of his death, attesting to his wealth. [8]

Elizabeth Attaway Briscoe later died on June 5, 1816. She divided her property into sixths among her children. Her son, Dr. John Hanson Briscoe, received one-third of the land, more than any of her other children. This John Hanson Briscoe, educated at the University of Pennsylvania, served as a captain in the St. Mary's militia between 1808 and 1812 and went on to fight in the War of 1812 in the Forty-Fifth Maryland Regiment. Philip Briscoe also served in the War of 1812 as the Fourth Regimental Cavalry's adjutant. Philip Briscoe later acted as Charlotte Hall's headmaster twice, first between 1817 and 1826 and then between 1837 and 1840. [9]

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


[1] Margaret K. Fresco, Doctors of St. Mary’s County, 1634-1900 (1992), p. 37; Margaret K. Fresco, Marriages and Deaths, St. Mary’s County, Maryland, 1634-1900 (1982), p. 410; The University of Edinburgh Historical Alumni Database; Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 15 September, 1796, p. 2.

[2] Proceedings of the Conventions of the Province of Maryland, 1774-1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 78, p. 78; 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; Journal and Correspondence of the Maryland Council of Safety, July 7, 1776 to December 31, 1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 12, p. 241.

[3] Robert K. Wright, Jr., The Continental Army (Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History, 1983), p. 87; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 12, p. 256; Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army during the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, from

[4] Compiled Service Records, NARA M881; Mary C. Gillett, The Army Medical Department, 1775-1818, (Washington, D.C.: United States Army Center of Military History, 1981), pp. 27-27, 31-32.

[5] Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, October 27, 1779 to November 13, 1780, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 43, p. 18; Fresco, Doctors of St. Mary’s County, p. 37.

[6] U.S. Federal Census, 1790, St. Mary’s County, Maryland; Will of Elizabeth Attaway Briscoe, St. Mary’s County Register of Wills, Wills, 1816, Liber JJ no. 3, pp. 447-448 [MSA C1720-6, 1/60/10/37]. Elizabeth Attwaway Bond was sometimes referred to as Mary Elizabeth.

[7] Journal and Correspondence of the State Council, February 23, 1789 to November 11, 1793, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 72, pp. 313, 315; Adjutant General, Militia Appointment, 1794-1816, no. 2, p. 90 [MSA SE67-1]; William Wood, Jr. to Brigadier General John Hanson Briscoe, September 13, 1794, Maryland State Papers, Scharf Collection, MdHR 19,999-050-052 [MSA S1005-53-5954, 1/8/5/42].

[8] Maryland Gazette, 15 September, 1796; Charles E. Fenwick, St. Mary's County Tax Assessment Records, 1793-1849 (St. Mary's County Historical Society, 2004), p. 65.

[9] National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), June 15, 1816; Adjutant General, Militia Appointment, 1794-1816, no. 2, pp. 54, 147 [MSA SE67-1]; Eugene Fauntleroy Cordell, Medical Annals of Maryland 1799-1899 (Baltimore: The Medical and Chirurgical Faculty for the State of Maryland, 1903), p. 332; Captain John Hanson Briscoe (45th Regiment) to Henry Turner, Quartermaster, September 10, 1813, Maryland State Papers, Scharf Collection, MdHR 19,999-054-230 [MSA S1005-58-6927, 1/8/5/45]; Regina Combs Hammett, History of St. Mary's County, Maryland (Ridge, MD: St. Mary’s County Bicentennial Commission, 1977), pp. 105, 302.

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