Maryland, Mobilization in

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Maryland, Mobilization in

MARYLAND, MOBILIZATION IN. Because of its proprietary government, the movement towards independence in Maryland involved opposition to the Calvert family's control of the colony as well as increasing discontent with parliamentary policies regarding imperial governance. By 1773 the last vestiges of proprietary support had disappeared in the General Assembly and control of Maryland's local and colonial government increasingly fell to extralegal county meetings, committees of observation, provincial conventions, and a council of safety. The mobilization for such "out-of-door" politics required the traditional gentry-led, antiproprietary leadership to negotiate an often treacherous path through the forests of reaction, moderation, and radicalism.

For example, the enforcement of the Continental Congress's Articles of Association required coercion of those loyal to the crown. Coercion sometimes required the use of force; often this force came from crowd mobilization by some of the most radical leaders. For instance, when one Annapolis merchant attempted to unload tea from the brigantine Peggy Stewart in October 1774, a mass meeting dominated by militiamen defied conservative advice and forced the merchant to burn not only the tea but the ship carrying it. The arson of the Perry Stewart was so radical that the historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Sr. commented that "Annapolis had out-Bostoned Boston" (Colonial Merchants, p. 392).

As in other colonies, the Maryland Convention reacted adversely to the Intolerable Acts, and in February 1775 it issued an "Association of Freemen of Maryland." This document required the signature of each citizen to support the colonial cause or be disarmed. Those not signing and posting a bond for good behavior were to be imprisoned. While many Loyalists voluntarily left the colony, others were forced to leave as local committees of observation became increasingly more radical.

By the next summer, the February association was no longer sufficient, and a second document, "Association of Freemen of Maryland, July 26, 1775," pledged military and financial support against British armed forces in American to back the common colonial quest "for the lives, liberties and properties of the subjects in the united colonies." While the proprietary governor, Robert Eden, tried valiantly to preserve a nominal "hold on the Helm of Government," he feared he would be unable to steer a course that would avoid "those Shoals, which all here must sooner or later … be shipwreck'd upon." He lost his symbolic control of the ship of state when the council of safety allowed him to escape in April 1776.


As Governor Eden became a mere figurehead, the real power devolved to the extralegal agencies. The Maryland Convention that met in December 1774 created a rudimentary military force when it resolved that "a well regulated militia, composed of the gentlemen, freeholders, and other freemen, is the natural strength and the only stable security of a free government." The convention then argued that the creation of a militia relieved the British government of the necessity of taxing colonials for the maintenance of "any standing army (ever dangerous to liberty) in this province." It then disbanded the largely moribund colonial militia system and created a new militia under its direction. The governor lost to the convention his power to appoint officers and to direct the deployment of the militia. Soon volunteer militia companies appeared throughout the province, each electing its own officers. But these companies needed funds to purchase arms and ammunition and local Patriots began demanding "voluntary contributions" from all citizens for their support, in effect, taxation without official sanction. This effort sparked considerable controversy between those supporting the resistance to the crown and those opposing it. With the outbreak of hostilities in Massachusetts in April 1775, the situation became grave, and greater organization was required.

Not only did the convention face the possibility of military opposition from the British, it also found the militia companies becoming an enforcement arm of the increasingly more radical county committees of observation. A third threat emerged when Governor Lord Dunmore of Virginia offered freedom to slaves and indentured servants who joined him in opposition to the revolutionary movement. This required the regularization of the military structure of the province to defend against a possible social upheaval. The July-August convention called again for every able-bodied freeman to enroll in the common militia and declared that every eight companies constituted a battalion. These units constituted a strategic reserve. The more active component was forty companies of minutemen with twenty-nine Western Shore companies organized into three battalions and with eleven independent companies on the Eastern Shore. The convention armed the minutemen companies with provincial weapons. For both the common militia and minuteman battalions, the convention assumed the right to commission the field grade command and staff officers rather than have them elected, as were company officers.

But legal structure and reality differed greatly. By the time of the December 1775–January 1776 meeting of the convention, it had become apparent that reorganization was necessary. This time the convention disbanded the minutemen units and created a force of regular Maryland troops consisting of a battalion and seven independent companies of infantry plus two batteries of artillery. The regular battalion contained eight infantry companies and one light infantry company and was stationed at Annapolis and Baltimore. The convention posted two of the regular companies on the southern Western Shore and the remaining five on the Eastern Shore. These regular troops numbered only two thousand under the command of Colonel William Smallwood, with all of the officers commissioned by the convention rather than by election. Its leadership included some of the most ardent advocates of American rights; Smallwood, his regimental lieutenant colonel, and four of his captains were also members of the convention. This unit became the basis of the famous Maryland Line, one of General George Washington's most famous Continental army fighting units. Its reputation for gallantry is the reason Maryland calls itself the "Old Line State."

The remaining common militia units became one of the most important and, at least early in the independence movement, most radical elements in the revolutionary era. The pressure to enforce the universality of militia service brought tensions between those with Loyalist, neutral, and religious objections to joining and those who felt it was necessary to present a united front against British tyranny. Revolutionary leaders learned to accept those with traditional religious pacifist orientations, such as the Quakers and German pietistic sects. Dealing with Anglicans, Methodists, and Baptists who objected to this particular war and often had Loyalist leanings proved a more difficult problem. Nonetheless, the revolutionaries gradually obligated most white adult males to military service and with it the semblance of treason to the British Crown.

The militia units became the enforcement arm of the revolutionary movement. They forced individuals to observe the importation and exportation policies of the Continental Congress; those who did not obey were subject to punishment or banishment. They enforced the ordinances of the revolutionary conventions and later of the state government. They maintained order throughout most of the state with the exception of the lower Eastern Shore. The militia became the police force of the new state government and legitimized it in the eyes of residents who had to obey state laws and officials. From its ranks, the state's Continental Line recruited replacements. Because Maryland was never occupied by British soldiers, the militiamen never had to counter regular soldiers. But because the state's Chesapeake coastline was constantly threatened by British and Loyalist raids, eventually most white adult males took up arms merely to protect themselves from raiders who made little distinction in their activities between the persons and property of Loyalists, neutrals, or Revolutionaries.

During 1775–1776 a few militia regiments called for far more dramatic social and political change than the more traditional antiproprietary leadership thought necessary. Perhaps the most dramatic representation of the radical position was that of the Anne Arundel militia resolves of July 1776, which urged the adoption of a new state constitution with universal white manhood suffrage, a plural executive, an annually elected legislature, elected county officers, real estate instead of poll taxes, and low fees for officials. These resolves also called for the election of all militia officers, including those of field grade and general ranks, and opposed the creation of standing armies. While these ideals were too radical for the long-established leadership to incorporate into the constitution of 1776, they demonstrated how the requirement to mobilize a militia system dramatized a desire for a more egalitarian social and political order. The historian Ronald Hoffman has argued that the members of the traditional elite "sacrificed principle for power" in order to overcome "the disequilibrating social forces unleashed by the revolutionary movement" and thereby preserved their leadership status from those they considered to be egalitarian demagogues (Spirit of Dissension, pp. 3, 222).

The greatest military crisis in the state's history came in 1777, when Admiral Richard Lord Howe brought into Chesapeake Bay 267 sail, including 26 men-of-war, and General Sir William Howe's army. Many militia units did not muster, while those that did often were without arms, gunpowder, or shot. There was more bravado than bravery among those assembled to defend Annapolis and Baltimore, but fortunately the admiral headed for the Head of Elk, where he disembarked his brother's army for its assault on the Continental army in Pennsylvania. For the next several months Royal Navy vessels and Loyalist privateers created considerable alarm but did little damage along the Chesapeake coast. More dangerous were Loyalist uprisings on the Delmarva Peninsula during late 1777 and the first half of 1778. With the British army ensconced in Philadelphia and Royal Navy ships in the Chesapeake, militia units failed to muster and Loyalists openly flaunted their political preferences. The most significant event was an insurrection in Queen Anne's County led by a romantic figure named Cheney "China" Clow in the spring of 1778. Brigadier General William Smallwood led the suppression effort that forced Clow and his followers into the Eastern Shore swamps, where they hid out but did little damage for several years.

For most of the war, ground operations of Loyalists were centered in the lower Eastern Shore and the Potomac River. In many respects the militia became more efficient as it devised means to react quickly upon learning of the approach of the enemy, to move threatened livestock and foodstuffs inland, to operate under the command of a county lieutenant who coordinated local defenses, and to incorporate returning Continental army veterans into leadership positions. For instance, Charles County's lieutenant was Colonel Francis Ware, a distinguished veteran of the Maryland Line's campaigns of 1775–1776, whose leadership contributed significantly to the defense of the Lower Potomac Valley. Success in these activities involved coordination of local militia regiments with state naval vessels.


Because the people of Maryland and Virginia depended so much on the Chesapeake for their livelihoods and the bay presented an inviting avenue for British and Loyalist incursions along the vulnerable coastline, the colony's Patriot leadership provided naval as well as ground forces. In 1775 Maryland created its own navy by converting a merchant ship into the Defence, carrying eighteen six-pounder and two four-pounder cannon. Its mission was to escort merchant vessels past Lord Dunmore's outpost at Norfolk and to clear enemy raiders from the Chesapeake Bay. Commanded by James Nicholson, she drove off the British sixteen-gun sloop-of-war Otter on 9 March 1776. When Nicholson became a Continental navy captain, command of the Defence went to Captain George Cook, formerly of the Royal Navy, who took her on a successful Atlantic cruise until November. The vessel remained inactive until it served as a state-owned merchantman sailing to France in 1778–1779. Sold to a Baltimore merchant in 1779, the Defence concluded its wartime career carrying supplies to the French navy in the West Indies.

Besides James Nicholson, who became the Continental navy's senior officer, Maryland furnished a number of leading officers in the continental service; these included such distinguished commanders as Lambert Wicks and Joshua Barney. To man their vessels, hundreds of the state's sons served in the junior officer and enlisted ranks.

Far more damaging to the enemy than the state's Continental navy contributions were the efforts of her privateers. From Baltimore there sailed 250 privateers, and other ports provided more vessels that crippled British commercial shipping from the Irish Sea to the Caribbean. By 1778 over 559 captures were recorded by the state's daring seamen, who found themselves amply rewarded for the risks they took. Often these efforts were combined with the transportation of foodstuffs to the French West Indies. However, the profits to owners, officers, and crew were such that privateering adversely affected recruitment for the Continental army and Continental navy.

One of the most famous of these privateers was the brig Sturdy Beggar, owned by a group of Baltimore merchants, whose Caribbean exploits in 1776–1777 resulted in several notable captures, including a merchant vessel from Senegal containing gold dust, ivory, and over four hundred slaves that sold in Hispaniola for over twenty thousand pounds. Before she sank in a storm, Sturdy Beggar earned an infamous reputation among British merchantmen. The naval historian William James Morgan concluded, however, that "American privateers were a festering and annoying thorn in the British Lion's paw, but they were in no manner the decisive factor in the outcome of the war" (Morgan, "American Privateering," p. 86).

Besides these private enterprises, the state found itself involved in thwarting Royal Navy and Loyalist forays along the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. In June 1776 the council of safety let contracts for the construction of seven row galleys. While the exact dimensions of these vessels are unknown, they probably had a keel length of eighty-one feet but drew only eight feet of water. Problems procuring cordage, sailcloth, anchors, guns, and other items delayed the completion of five of these vessels in late 1777. As a result, they were unable to counter Vice Admiral Richard Lord Howe's incursion into the bay the summer of 1777. But for the next two years these vessels escorted merchant vessels and troop convoys, hindered smuggling, served as police boats, and transported war matériel. Usually armed with between two and four eighteen-pounders and ten to fourteen four-pounders, these small vessels combined with those of Virginia were able to keep the bay mostly under Patriot control until early 1780. At that time Maryland sold the galleys. Shortly thereafter, the British returned to the lower bay area and depredations along Maryland's bay shore resumed.

Throughout the war Loyalism flourished on the Eastern Shore, particularly in Dorchester, Worcester, and Somerset Counties. Whenever British warships appeared, small Loyalist craft joined them and conducted raids against Patriot leaders, magazines, tobacco warehouses, military supplies, naval and commercial vessels, and private property. One such raid came in 1779, when Commodore Sir George Collier conducted an expedition into the lower bay that brought with it the plundering of accompanying privateers. Operating out of the islands on Tangier Sound, armed Loyalist barges grew bolder after British army units occupied the James River and Norfolk area in 1780. They were navigated by knowledgeable local watermen. "Commodore" Joseph Wheland commanded four armed barges that raided in St. Mary's, Dorchester, and Somerset Counties. This plundering activity continued well into 1783, long after Lord Cornwallis's surrender at Yorktown.

To counter these activities, the Maryland leadership had to rebuild the state's naval forces. In the autumn of 1780 the General Assembly enacted the Bay Defence Act, and the state began gradually to build a series of barges for shoal water operations. This pace was too deliberate for those on the lower Eastern Shore, and privately built barges with crews of approximately twenty-five men soon began operating in local defensive operations. Small squadrons commanded by local commodores such as Zedekiah Walley and Thomas Grason appeared in 1781. Since the British navy operated in the bay at this time, Grason found it difficult to recruit men for his four-barge squadron, but he boldly undertook to counter a five-barge Loyalist force in the Tangier Islands on 10 May 1781 and lost his life and flagship in the process.

French naval dominance of the bay in the late summer and fall of 1781 curtailed Loyalist operations. During this time the state mobilized every possible water craft to transport the Continental and French armies from the north end of the bay to the encampment near Yorktown. The Yorktown victory did not end the Loyalist-Patriot struggle in the central Chesapeake Bay; instead, it seems to have intensified in 1782. A Virginia Loyalist named James Kidd, with seven barges and a galley, engaged Commodore Walley's Maryland squadron near Tangier Island. The subsequent Battle of the Barges or of Crager's Strait on 30 November 1782 was the bloodiest naval engagement of the Revolution in Maryland. The Loyalists drove off the Americans, killed Commodore Walley, and captured his flagship. The victory emboldened the Loyalists for months thereafter. The state's final naval activity of the war was a successful raid by army Captain John Lynn against a Loyalist base on Devil's Island (later Deal's Island) on 21 March 1783.


The regular Maryland troops of the December 1775 convention became part of the Continental army in the summer of 1776 as the 1st and 2nd Maryland Regiments. They participated in the defense of New York City, New Jersey, and Philadelphia during the 1776–1777 campaigns. In 1777 the 3rd, 5th, and 7th Maryland Regiments joined the Continental army, and along with the 1st Regiment became part of the 1st Maryland Brigade. The 4th and 6th Maryland Regiments became part of the 2nd Maryland Brigade along with the 2nd Regiment. Collectively known as the Maryland Line, these brigades fought in the 1777 and 1778 campaigns in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and remained part of the main army until the spring of 1780, when they were reassigned to the Southern Department and served in the Carolinas for the remainder of the war. All the Maryland regiments were reorganized in 1779 to consist of nine companies. William Smallwood eventually became a major general in the Continental army and commanded the Marylanders for most of the war.

Recruitment remained a constant problem as losses to battle, disease, accident, and desertion depleted the ranks. For instance, in the winter of 1777–1778, the Maryland and Delaware brigades stayed in Wilmington, Delaware, where they recruited replacements. Losses in the Southern Campaign, especially after the Battle of Camden, forced General Nathanael Greene to refill the 1st and 2nd Regiments from a provisional brigade created from the remnants of the Maryland and Delaware Lines. He disbanded the 6th and 7th Regiments. The 3rd, 4th, and 5th Regiments returned as cadre units to Maryland and recruited slowly. Eventually, they returned to the Southern Department—the 5th in February 1781, the 3rd in August, and the 4th in September. The latter two participated in the Yorktown siege. Another recruitment effort came during the winter of 1781–1782 and included bounties that the state hoped would entice enlistments and which in fact secured 308 new men. The battle honors of these seven regiments are now perpetuated in the 175th Infantry of the Maryland National Guard.


From 1775 to the end of the war, Maryland's mobilization efforts also included a number of Loyalist units, mostly from the Eastern Shore. During the British occupation of Philadelphia, General Howe commissioned James Chalmers lieutenant colonel of the Maryland Loyalist Battalion. It recruited over three hundred men for a unit that participated in the 1778 New Jersey campaign and spent most of the war in Pensacola, Florida. More that half its men were lost to disease, death, and desertion, and the Spanish captured its remnants at Pensacola in 1781. Only fifty survivors received grants in New Brunswick, Canada, after the war was over.

By far the largest number of Loyalists fought in irregular militia and naval units in the wetlands and islands of the Eastern Shore, where they cooperated with Loyalists from southern Delaware and Virginia's Eastern Shore to harass the Revolutionaries and to support British forces in the area. Attempts to eradicated them by both Continental army and Maryland militia forces never completely achieved their goal, and the Loyalists continued their hit-and-run tactics until 1783.


Continental army Brigadier General Mordecai Gist was in Baltimore when word was received that the Continental and French armies were coming to the Chesapeake. Gist immediately organized the owners and captains of vessels in the harbor to go to the Head of Elk to carry arriving units, ordnance, and supplies for movement to Yorktown. Soon more vessels sailed northward to engage in a massive transportation effort. Governor Thomas Sim Lee ordered a mobilization of militia units from across the Western Shore to march to Annapolis and Baltimore and assist in the effort. John Calhoun and Henry Hollingsworth, commissary generals of the Western and Eastern Shores respectively, worked under great stress to provide foodstuffs, supplies, and forage for the allied armies. After delivering the initial shipments to Yorktown, Maryland vessels returned to Georgetown, Annapolis, Baltimore, Head of Elk, and Eastern Shore ports for new cargoes for the allied forces. Gist found that the prospect of victory encouraged enlistments in the Maryland Line, which he took to Yorktown. George Washington later wrote that the supplies provided by the state were "so liberal, that they remove every apprehension of Want."

The war severely damaged Maryland's tobacco-centered economy, but it stimulated a variety of industrial activities, including the production of guns and gunpowder, iron, blankets and other textiles, shoes, saddles, and harnesses and the agricultural production of cereal grains and livestock. Rural Frederick County also found itself providing guards and food for the thousands of prisoners of war that were brought there following victories from Trenton to Yorktown. In Baltimore, water-powered enterprises dyed and carded wool; made linen, paper, and hardware; and ground flour. Baltimore shipyards build the continental cruisers Hornet, Wasp, and Virginia, plus a host of privateers. Like the rest of the fledgling Republic, the state found inflation eroding the financial situation of many of its citizens. The financial cost of the war created considerable stress in state politics from the late 1770s until the ratification of the Constitution in 1789.


Because it was never invaded, Maryland's mobilization effort primarily consisted of providing a manpower base for important elements of the Continental army, the Continental navy, and privateer naval forces. Its militia served to keep Loyalism to a minimum except in the lower Eastern Shore, and its agricultural and industrial output made important contributions to the war effort. While its Loyalist battalion served the British army well, it was the partisan bands of Loyalists on the Eastern Shore that proved a pacification problem throughout the war.

SEE ALSO Chase, Samuel; Eden, Robert; Gist, Mordecai; Paca, William; Smallwood, William; Stone, Thomas.


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