Brothers in Arms

During the Revolutionary War, it was not uncommon for multiple men of the same immediate family to enlist. Some brothers, like Samuel and William McMillan, enlisted in the same company, while other sets of siblings dispersed and entered separate companies or regiments. The latter was the case with Robert, William, and John Bruce of Charles County.

All three brothers entered the army in the early stages of the Revolutionary War. Robert enlisted in one of the rifle companies formed in Maryland and Virginia in July of 1775, while William and John both joined the First Maryland Regiment in early 1776, John as a corporal in the Fifth Company, and William as a sergeant in the Ninth Company.[1]

During his enlistment with the Maryland Rifle Regiment, Robert participated in the Siege that drove the British from Boston in March of 1776.[2] At the end of his enlistment, Robert reenlisted as a private in the Fourth Continental Light Dragoons for the duration of the war. During this time, Robert served alongside David Plunket, a former member of the Fifth Company who fought with his brother John at the Battle of Brooklyn.

While in the Dragoons, Robert was taken prisoner by the British and held for fifteen months before being exchanged in 1779. Although he had enlisted for the war, Robert was discharged shortly after his release. Since Robert was a private during his captivity, and therefore more likely to be mistreated or neglected, it is possible that he was discharged due to deteriorated physical condition or illness. In 1818, Robert applied and received a federal pension on account of his Revolutionary War service.[3]

As part of the First Maryland Regiment, both William and John saw action at the Battle of Brooklyn, earning each a place of distinction among the Maryland 400. At the battle, about half of William’s Ninth Company was killed or captured, after they skirted the Gowanus Creek and were forced to make a stand at the Old Stone House.[4] William reenlisted in December of 1776, and received a commission as second lieutenant in the First Regiment. By the end of the war, he had risen to the rank of captain. William applied and received federal pensions as a result of his service during the war. In addition, William received 200 acres of bounty land in Western Maryland in return for enlisting for the duration of the war.[5]

Unlike his brothers, John Bruce left the army at the end of his one-year enlistment at the end of 1776 or beginning of 1777. Following his service in the army, John served for a period of time on the Maryland naval galley Independence, defending Baltimore against potential British naval attacks, which never materialized, before retiring to his home in Charles County.[6]

John is the most recent addition to the biographies on the Finding the Maryland 400 website. To read more about the life of John Bruce, check out his biography here.


[1]Veterans Pension of Robert Bruce, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S. 34666, fold3 (hereafter cited as Pension of Robert Bruce); Veterans Pension of William Bruce, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, S. 34668, fold3 (hereafter cited as Pension of William Bruce); Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 639 (hereafter cited as Volume 18).

[2] Tucker F. Hentz, “Unit History of the Maryland and Virginia Rifle Regiment (1776-1781): Insights from the Service Record of Capt. Adamson Tannehill, 2007, Virginia Historical Society, Richmond, E259. H52 2007, p. 2.

[3] Pension of Robert Bruce; Service Records of Robert Bruce, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, NARA M881, 0046, fold3.

[4] To read more about the experience of the Fifth Company at the Battle of Brooklyn see “The Fate of the Fifth Company,” on the Finding the Maryland 400 blog.

[5] Pension of William Bruce; COMMISSIONERS FOR RESERVE LAND WESTWARD OF FORT CUMBERLAND (Bounty Land Soldiers) 1789, MdHR 17,301-1 [MSA S162-1, 01/27/01/031]; LAND OFFICE (Lots Westward of Fort Cumberland) 1793-1903, p. 235, MdHR 17,302 [MSA SE1-1]; LAND OFFICE (Military Lot Plats) 1787-1935, Map of Military Lots, Tracts, and Escheats, MdHR 50,823 [MSA S451-1, OR/04/18/000].

[6] Volume 18; MARYLAND STATE PAPERS (Red Books) A List of Men Belonging to the Independence, MdHR 4570 [MSA S989-14, 01/06/04/002]; Ernest McNeill Eller, Chesapeake Bay in the American Revolution (Centerville: Tidewater Publishers, 1981), 224-234, 247; Widows Pension of Martha Logue, Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land Warrant Application Files, NARA M804, W.1441, fold3.

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