Family in Uniform

Finding the Maryland 400 seeks to not only identify the individuals who made up the First Maryland Regiment, but it also explores the links between these individuals that were forged and tested by the Revolutionary War.

The danger and uncertainty of war made these connections indispensable for family members waiting for news from New York to reach Maryland. The documents at the Maryland State Archives offer hints at the significance of intangible relationships. In the case of William Sterrett, Mordecai Gist was able to relieve his anxious family with the news that Sterrett had survived the Battle of Brooklyn. In the sad case of Daniel Bowie, his companions helped him fulfill his final wishes by returning Bowie’s battlefield will to Maryland. Today we highlight a letter that attests to the role of family both at the front and back in Maryland.

MdHR 6636-1-100

Lt. Col. Francis Ware’s letter to Col. John Dorsey. MdHR 6636-1-100

Larkin Dorsey was around sixteen years old when he left his home in Anne Arundel County to fight in the Ninth Company of the First Maryland Regiment. Larkin was the second son of Colonel John Dorsey, who remained in Maryland. However, his father asked Lieutenant Colonel Francis Ware to keep an eye on the young cadet. Francis Ware was second in command of the Regiment. Ware, who did not have children of his own, agreed to take on the responsibility of Larkin Dorsey’s “morels and in case of necessaty to lecture him as an own child”.

Following the Battle of Brooklyn, Lt. Col. Ware wrote a glowing letter to Col. John Dorsey regarding his son. Larkin Dorsey, he reported, had “prudance to be such as would do credit to one of much riper years… [and] in the action which hapened on Long Island on tuesday last he give singular proofs of bravery.” In fact, Ware was not at that battle; he had been at the court martial of Lt. Col. Zedwitz with Colonel Smallwood and saw the end of the fighting from a distance.

The paternal role Ware adopted was not an unheard of dynamic in the American forces, where military hierarchy and bonds were sometimes put into familial terms. George Washington referred to his staff of aides de camp and military secretaries as his “military family”.[1] More than half of the men that made up Washington’s “military family” were from Maryland and Virginia families. Additionally, many members of Smallwood’s Regiment actually were related. The muster rolls of the Regiment include many repeated surnames, and the officers were often connected by blood, marriage, or business. Larkin had enlisted in the Ninth Company along with Richard Dorsey, although Richard had been transferred by the time of the Battle of Brooklyn. Brothers-in-law James Peale and Nathanial Ramsey served together in different companies. The McMillan brothers were both captured at the Battle of Brooklyn and traveled together through the wilderness from Halifax to Boston.

The First Maryland Regiment was made up of men connected by geography, ideology, and kinship. Digging into these links uncovers the magnitude of the sacrifice made by Smallwood’s Regiment at the Battle of Brooklyn, and can offer insight into the connections that sustained the Marylanders throughout the hardships they encountered in the 1776 campaign.

[1] David Hackett Fisher, Washington’s Crossing, (Oxford University Press, 2004), 19.


This entry was posted in Biographies, Maryland 400. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Family in Uniform

  1. David L Smith says:

    Emily, where does the plague about the Maryland 400 saving the revolution reside? Brooklyn? Thanks, D.L. Smith, Annapolis.


Comments are closed.