Enlistment Bounties: Use and Abuse

When men enlisted to fight in the Revolutionary War, they left home with the expectation that they would be properly paid for their military service. However, that’s not what happened. Paychecks lagged severely behind schedule, with some men never receiving theirs, and were heavily reduced due to the replacement costs of uniforms, arms, and equipment, which was taken out of the soldiers’ pay.

In an attempt to grow the army and encourage men to join, states offered enlistment bounties, which usually came in the form of cash, land, and clothing.  This provided a little bit of relief for soldiers and their families, but also gave dishonest soldiers a way to make some extra money.  Although not a common occurrence, some men enlisted in more than one regiment at a time, allowing them to collect multiple enlistment bonuses. This alone was punishable, but was coupled with desertion from at least one of the regiments, since men could not be in two places at once.

Hugh Wallace, a member of the Maryland 400 who served in the Sixth Company, was one soldier guilty of these crimes.  When his original enlistment ended, he re-enlisted in the First Maryland Regiment on December 10, 1776. Just a few days later, he also enlisted in the Second Canadian Regiment.  The Canadian Regiment was fighting as part of the Continental Army, and at this time was in the same region as the Marylanders. Although it is not completely clear, Wallace likely continued on with the Canadian Regiment, deserting from the Maryland Line.


Hugh Wallace’s enlistment into Colonel Hazen’s regiment, December 12, 1776.

Just a few months into his enlistments, on April 28, 1777, Wallace’s plan was exposed and he was taken into custody, where he awaited trial for almost a month.  On May 23, his punishment was issued: Wallace only had to pay back his enlistment money to the Canadian Regiment. This was not much of a punishment: often, for desertion alone, men could receive up to 100 lashes. Upon learning about Wallace’s trial, General George Washington thought the discipline was too moderate, and ordered Wallace to remain in custody while he reviewed the case. Thinking that “the court must have had some mitigating evidence…in favor of the prisoner,” Washington ordered the judge to present him with all the relevant trial documents.

After reviewing the evidence, Washington was satisfied.  He “approve[d] the sentence and order[ed] that as soon as he [Wallace] refunds the money received of Colonel Hazen’s office, or of the office with whom he stands enlisted in the Maryland regiment…he will be released from his confinement and return[ed] to his duty in the Maryland regiment.”  It’s unknown what caused Washington to change his mind, but it likely saved Wallace from a harsh and painful punishment. Presumably, Wallace followed the orders and returned to the Maryland Line to finish out his enlistment. However, there is no record of him after his trial, and nothing else is known of his life.

If you’d like to learn more about crime and punishment in the Continental Army, click here!



Charles Patrick Neimeyer, America Goes to War: A Social History of the Continental Army (New York: New York University Press, 1996), 125.

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4 Responses to Enlistment Bounties: Use and Abuse

  1. I’ve been researching my own MD Continental soldier, Joseph Greenwood. I may be seeing more than one man of the same name serving from MD because the service record a man of this name in online MSA records differs from another found on Ancestry/Fold 3 (original source: NARA). If there IS more than one MD Rev War vet named ‘Joseph Greenwood’ (I would like to chat with someone at MSA about this, if possible), my 5th GGF is the one who died in Calloway KY in 1836. His record indicates not two enlistments at the same time but that he first signed up to serve in Kent County Delaware and when that enlistment was up, was drafted (not sure if ‘drafted’ is the right word?) to serve as a substitute in Maryland. (Can a soldier be drafted as a sub OR is what’s meant that Joseph agreed to sub for someone else who was drafted? Is there a way to identify who he was substituting for? I assume the arrangement was likely for money?) Apparently, the Greenwood family was on the eastern shore in Kent County MD and in Kent County DE; not sure how fluid the state line would have been then (but I’m guessing pretty fluid). I’m trying to get the parlance correct and to understand his service on behalf of two states. After reading this VERY INTERESTING article, I’m thinking Joseph was within the law because he talks about his double service in his c. 1833 old age pension application, and doesn’t appear to have been punished for it.


    • I knew there was more I wanted to share — Joseph says he enlisted with Delaware in Jan 1776 and was still serving Delaware in 1777; he didn’t enlist with Maryland until Jan 1778 according to his pension application. He says he served under Capt Henry Downs and Col Guess (Gist?) when he served for Maryland. He lists his battles as Long Island and White Plains which greatly excited me when I read it because I’ve been reading these fabulous posts since they began, and know that White Plains is aka Brooklyn/Brooklyn Heights and I wondered if Joseph was serving with the MD 400. Looking closer at the dates, it looks to me that he joined the MD troops AFTER the MD 400’s stand (likely to fill their decimated ranks?) and so, if he was at White Plains and Long Island, he was there serving DE (I have not yet confirmed that DE troops were even present for these two battles) so if he was there as a witness to the valiant stand of the MD 400, he got away to fight another day with his Delaware compatriots?


      • Hi Cathy,
        Thanks for your comments! You have a very interesting story, and are asking the right questions. I took a look at Joseph Greenwood’s pension and you dissected it well. It looks like he fought with Delaware at the Battle of Brooklyn. The Delaware soldiers fought alongside the Marylanders at this battle, and throughout most of the war.
        As you said, he did indeed witness the stand of the Maryland 400! In fact, he mentions his captain’s brother, Captain Peter Adams, who was in charge of the Sixth Company of the First Maryland Regiment, which I’m working on right now.
        Greenwood survived and continued to fight with Delaware, going on to participate in the Battle of White Plains, where the Marylanders also fought. He continued to serve with Delaware into 1777. After that enlistment ended, he was a substitute for someone in Maryland, serving a short enlistment of two months. Substitutes were paid, and he probably served in place of someone who was drafted. On rare occasions, one can determine for whom the soldier substituted, but it can get quite complicated.
        You are correct in thinking Greenwood was within the law to serve in two different regiments at different times. We have a few Maryland 400 members who served in Maryland, then moved to another state and served there.
        I also saw a Joseph Greenwood who enlisted in Maryland in 1776. However, if you know your ancestor is the Joseph Greenwood who wrote the pension, then you can rule this other one out. I hope this was helpful!


  2. errata: I messed up the second comment up….it’s ‘Long Island’ that’s aka ‘Battle of Brooklyn’


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