The SAR Magazine

Spring 2018

The SAR MAGAZINE is the official quarterly publication of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution published quarterly.

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Page 22 of 47

God, to winter in Annapolis, those that live of us." He was killed in the swamps of Brooklyn on Aug. 27. His parents received both letters some time later. Most of the soldiers who were 30 years of age or older were officers, but the researchers found exceptions. Take Zachariah Gray, a father of five from Baltimore County. He was 45 when he enlisted as a corporal in early 1776. It's unknown why he joined at his advanced age—most soldiers' motivations remain lost to time—but we do know that Gray's unit, the Third Company, sustained heavy losses in the Battle of Brooklyn. A troop-strength list a month after the confrontation showed the 74-member company had shrunk to 29 soldiers. Gray was taken prisoner, but the carnage of the battle must have shaken him: he returned to Maryland and composed "a short will" in January 1777. He died in a skirmish later that year. The Smallwood letters are valuable in a different way. Though Smallwood, a well-to-do planter from Charles County, was commander of the 1st Maryland (a newspaper reporter erroneously dubbed the entire regiment the "Maryland 400" in the 1890s), he was on the sidelines for the Battle of Brooklyn. A historian claims a vacant lot in Brooklyn may be the final resting place of soldiers from the Maryland 400. In what Lourie describes as a rookie mistake, Washington—a stickler for administrative detail—insisted on sending Smallwood and several other members of his high command to Manhattan to take part in a court- martial on the morning of Aug. 27. By the time he arrived at the battle site at Gowanus Swamp, the fight was well under way. Barred from approaching, Smallwood is said to have watched in horror from a nearby hilltop. The letters to and from Smallwood, who later served as Maryland's governor, illustrate life in the regiment in the months and years after Brooklyn—such as when Maryland's provincial government sent him and his men to capture the British Loyalists. Smallwood's indignation comes to life as he describes the prisoners' behavior. "I made it my particular duty to treat [them] with politeness," he writes, but they "descended to a degree of Petulance which ... as gentlemen and well wishers to their country, they ought to have held themselves above." Adkins says he knew nothing of the letters until last winter, when word reached him that a private collector planned to put them up for sale at auction. The local SAR chapter—the project's main funding source—staked him to $17,000 for the bidding, and he raised a few thousand more. When another bidder drove up the price, Adkins had a decision to make: throw in money of his own or throw in the towel. He won with a $28,000 bid. Though they're yellowed with age, the letters remain in "remarkably good shape," in Lourie's words, in part because the paper used at the time had a high cotton content. Most remain in the archives' conservation lab, where conservators are working to stabilize the paper and repair minor tears. Once that work is done, Lourie and his team will transcribe the handwritten content and post it online along with the letters. That work is expected to be completed by late August, when Adkins' group plans to unveil the Smallwood materials at a formal ceremony at the Maryland State House. The research team plans to complete the project by year's end—and to gather its contents into a book well in advance of the semiquincentennial—America's 250th birthday—in 2026. One of the goals of "Finding the Maryland 400," Adkins says, has been to rescue this treasure trove of information from the courthouses, attics and private collections where it has lived for so long, and to make it accessible to the public. Another is simply to get the word out about these heroes' lives. That process is already under way. More and more descendants of the Maryland 400 have been contacting the team with questions and new information, Lourie says. And their work is making its way into academia. Adam Goodheart, a history professor at Washington College, has been giving the team advice and the assistance of student interns for years. He's teaching a course—"Finding the Maryland 400: A Revolutionary Mystery"—on the subject. He took his 12 students to New York one recent weekend to explore the battlefield, now obscured beneath layers of asphalt and concrete. As they gazed across the city from the World Trade Center, Goodheart says, it was not hard to envision the massive British fleet that arrived in the harbor 242 years ago, ready to snuff out the new nation. Then came the battle and the 400, whose sacrifice earned for Maryland its nickname: "The Old Line State." Goodheart's students are writing some of the last biographies of those men. He's proud of their work. "It has been hundreds of years since anyone has thought about many of these heroic people," he says. "It's a powerful thing to resurrect their memory. SPRING 2018 23

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