“Determined to Run the Risk of Being Hanged”: The Enlistment Feud between the Second and Fifth Maryland Regiments

In my last post, I discussed a few examples of the enlistment problems plaguing former members of the Maryland 400 in 1777. Some of the examples focused on a growing feud between Captain Archibald Anderson of the Second Maryland Regiment and Captain William Frazier of the Fifth Maryland Regiment. Both had previously worked together as lieutenants in the Fourth Independent Company, and both wanted their former soldiers to join their companies. The Maryland Council of Safety stated that former members of the Independent Companies should enlist in the Second Regiment, yet some soldiers wanted to join other regiments. Some of the soldiers of the Fourth Independent particularly seemed to dislike Anderson, and wanted to avoid serving under him again. Frazier gladly recruited his former soldiers into his company, eager to make use of their experience as hardened veterans, although this led to conflicts with Anderson as discussed last week. This week’s post will look more in depth into the feud between the two regiments. [1]

“At Colonel [James] Hindman’s request,” Frazier enlisted a drummer named James Mead in December of 1776. Mead formerly served as the Fourth Independent’s drummer, which influenced Frazier’s decision to “supply [Mead] with cash beyond…his bounty pay and subsistence.” In May of 1777, Anderson requested that Frazier’s superior, Colonel William Richardson, transfer Mead to the Second Regiment. Richardson refused, arguing that Anderson had “taken off two Recruits which [he thought] in justice” belonged to his regiment. Frazier remarked that he had “no objection to relinquish one of [the recruits] to Captain Anderson in lieu of the Drummer.” Richardson’s reasoning irreversibly entwined the two events together. [2]                                         

Richardson’s reluctance to part with Mead reflected the scarcity and importance of drummers during the Revolutionary War. Mead served an even more important role as he acted as the Fifth Regiment’s drum major, taking responsibility for training and overseeing all of the drummers in the regiment. Anderson, who also wanted a skilled drummer, persistently hounded Richardson for Mead during the latter part of May. Colonel Thomas Price of the Second Regiment eventually received orders from the Maryland State Council on June 4 to incorporate Mead into his regiment. Price then sent Edward Edgerly, the Second Regiment’s adjutant, to demand Mead’s transfer. [3]

Edgerly arrived at Talbot Court House on June 8, and immediately sought out Frazier, who told him that he could not take Mead because he had gone “out upon furlough.” Deterred but not defeated, Edgerly instead went to Colonel Richardson the following day. Richardson informed Edgerly that he could take Mead with him if Mead had returned to duty. In a letter to Governor Johnson, Richardson lamented that Mead’s transfer would “be a loss to the Regiment” because “the Want of Music [was] too often a Tax upon the Officers.” Noting that he had recently paid £100 for a fifer and drummer, Richardson argued that “a proper distribution of these People in a Country so scarce of them…ought to have been made.” [4]

Although Richardson told Johnson that Mead had been officially transferred to the Second Regiment, Edgerly failed to return with the drummer. Irritated by the proceedings, the Maryland State Council requested that Richardson “send him over.” The Council explained how such Trifles” proved to be “very disagreeable,” especially when “the same Thing [appeared] before [the Council] over and over again.” Richardson finally complied with their request, and sent James Mead to Annapolis. [5]

While the James Mead incident deteriorated, Frazier continued to recruit former members of the Fourth Independent Company. Acknowledging how “much Concern and trouble” the Independents gave him, Richardson wrote to Governor Johnson asking what should be done with them. 

Since I mentioned to your Excellency the propriety of Collecting the Scattering Independents in which Opinion you seemed to agree and promised to write me upon the return of General Smallwood from his seat, Captain Frazier has enlisted six of them, and now waits upon you to know if he may keep them and such others as he can find or not. They really give me much Concern and trouble, and I shall be very happy to have your positive Orders wither to Collect and keep them, or not to meddle with them at all. They are Continually applying to Frazier who was one of their former Officers and for whom they have a fondness. He too thinks it a hardship to be deprived of his Quota of them after having a large share of the trouble in disciplining them. I pray your Orders may be in such Terms as will prevent me from further difficulty with them or with my Officers about them. I will just remark that four of those Men which were taken from us by General Smallwood’s Order have deserted and are returned to this [as in Talbot] County, determined to run the risk of being hanged rather than go out with the Second Regiment.

Anderson later issued an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Gazette, listing four men “enlisted in Talbot County” who deserted from his company while in Elkton, Maryland. Like Richardson, Anderson believed that the men left for their homes in Talbot County. When Price ordered Edgerly to retrieve Mead, he also ordered Edgerly to find any “Deserters from his Regiment.”[6]

Edgerly soon heard word from a local man named John Jacobs about one of the four deserters, John O’Bryan. O’Bryan had deserted shortly after enlisting with the Second Regiment, only to enlist with the Fifth Regiment a few days later. Following the conversation between Edgerly and Frazier regarding Mead on June 8, Frazier stopped at O’Bryan’s house. Determined not to lose another experienced Independent veteran to the Second Regiment, Frazier told “O’Bryan to keep out of [Edgerly’s] Way.” Frazier also told O’Bryan to meet the rest of his company in a small village in southern Talbot called Hole in the Wall on June 9. O’Bryan, eager to avoid service under Anderson at any cost, apparently agreed. Although one of Anderson’s sergeants found O’Bryan and tried to take him to Anderson, Frazier stopped the sergeant. Frazier gave the sergeant “an Order for a man to be delivered to [Anderson] out of the detachment of Colonel Richardson’s…at Camp.” Angered by this turn of events, Anderson sent one of his lieutenants to retrieve O’Bryan from Frazier. [7]


talbot map

This 1792 map by Dennis Griffith depicts Talbot County, where these incidents occurred. The crossroads village of Hole in the Wall, where Frazier told O’Bryan to meet the rest of his company, is located in southern Talbot.

The feud between Anderson and Frazier, which originally stemmed from a simple transfer of troops, followed a pattern of continual escalation. Anderson confronted Frazier at some point upon learning that Frazier had “taken…a very fine soldier who [belonged] to the late Fourth Independent Company.” Frazier discharged the unnamed man and instead gave Anderson a soldier “not…so good a man as the one” from the Fourth Independent. Anderson also received word from another member of the  Fourth Independent that “Mr. Frazier persuaded him not to join [Anderson’s] company” simply so “that [Anderson] would not get” the solder. [8]

Tired of the rivalry and competition between the Second and Fifth Regiments, the Maryland State Council ordered Colonel Richardson to appear before a Board of War in Salisbury, Maryland. The Council believed that several of his officers had been “remiss in their Duty,” and considered them “not qualified in any tolerable Degree.” Richardson desired the Board of War to fully hear out his officers, even though some of them proved so “unfit to hold commissions” that “no one acquainted with them [could] deny” it. Richardson himself certainly never denied the accusations. He had previously described his officers in a confidential evaluation earlier that year, referring to one as “indolent and fond of grog” and another as “a stupid sot.” [9]

Although the verdict of the Board of War has been lost to time, any decisions reached likely favored the Second Regiment overall. Richardson expected the hearing to lead to the court martial of some of his officers, yet nothing happened in the immediate aftermath of the event. The soldiers involved in the controversy instead marched north to participate in the 1777 campaign, fighting at Staten Island a month after the hearing. The feud between the two regiments over enlistments seemingly ran its course and settled down following the hearing. The majority of the soldiers who Smallwood transferred to the Second Regiment from the Fifth Regiment did not return to Frazier’s company. Frazier resigned his commission in 1778 and went on to hold a variety of public offices. James Mead remained in the Second Regiment as its drum major until the war’s end. John O’Bryan transferred to Anderson’s company and served in the Second Regiment until 1780, later dying at the Battle of Hobkirk’s Hill on April 25, 1781. After being promoted to the rank of major, Anderson died at the Battle of Guilford Court House on March 15, 1781. Although some of Anderson’s former soldiers had been reluctant to serve under him in 1777, Anderson’s contemporaries greatly mourned his death. [10]

-James Schmitt, Maryland Society Sons of the American Revolution Research Fellow, 2019


[1] Thomas Johnson’s Address to the Gentlemen of the General Assembly, June 28, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, 18:11 [MSA S989-27, 1/6/4/15]; William Richardson to Thomas Johnson, May 12, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, 16:12 [MSA S989-24, 1/6/4/12]; Deposition of William Frazier, May 13, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, 16:150 [MSA S989-24, 1/6/4/11].

[2] William Richardson to Thomas Johnson, May 12, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, 16:12 [MSA S989-24, 1/6/4/12]. Although Richardson had “no doubt [that Frazier had] been imprudent” in paying Mead more than he should have been, Richardson also noted that “Officers too often do these things to Favorites.”

[3] William Carter White, A History of Military Music in America (New York: Exposition Press, 1924), 20-21; Deposition of Edward Edgerly, June 17, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Series A [MSA S1004-7-171, 1/7/3/28].

[4] William Richardson to Thomas Johnson, June 10, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, 16:104 [MSA S989-24, 1/6/4/12]; Deposition of Edward Edgerly, June 17, 1777.

[5] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 16, 292-293.

[6] William Richardson to Thomas Johnson, June 10, 1777; “Forty Dollars Reward,” Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia), June 18, 1777; Deposition of Edward Edgerly, June 17, 1777. Along with O’Bryan, Anderson accused William BeaverWilliam Bratchee, and Charles Cooper of deserting in a June 18, 1777 advertisement.

[7] Archives of Maryland Online, Vol. 18, 148; “List of Bounty, Subsistances [sic], and Pay due..,” May 10, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, 16:99 [MSA S989-24, 1/6/4/11]; “Forty Dollars Reward,” Pennsylvania Gazette; Archibald Anderson to Thomas Johnson, July 20, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, 12:54 [MSA S989-17, 1/6/4/5].

[8] Archibald Anderson to Thomas Johnson, July 20, 1777.

[9] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 16, 306-307; William Richardson to Thomas Johnson, July 19, 1777, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, 16:121 [MSA S989-24, 1/6/4/12]; Evaluation of Officers in the Battalion, Maryland State Papers, Red Books 12:88 [MSA S 989-23, 1/6/4/5]. Frazier’s evaluation simply states “you have seen him.”

[10] Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, 138, 546, 550; William Richardson to Thomas Johnson, July 19, 1777; Maryland Gazette (Annapolis, MD), April 12, 1781.

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5 Responses to “Determined to Run the Risk of Being Hanged”: The Enlistment Feud between the Second and Fifth Maryland Regiments

  1. Christos Christou Jr. says:

    This is a very intriguing look into the daily life of the mustering of troops that most people don’t think about as a problem. Great article and information. It really highlights the personalities too of some of the leaders of the regiments. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Schmitt says:

      You’re welcome, and thank you for reading! I greatly enjoyed researching and writing my recent posts. This topic definitely allows for Revolutionary War soldiers to be viewed as more complex people rather than just names on a sheet of paper.


  2. Leonard B Glasser says:

    Unit identification and loyalty are very important to soldiers throughout the ages. The first question asked by veterans to one another is’ What unit did you serve with and under what commander’ . The article is very informative and the personalities come through clear. My 5th generation grandfather Richard Nagle (1747-1837) enlisted in June 1776 with the Maryland Flying Camp and was captured at Fort Washington, I have seen these names in some research I have done. He was released around May 1777 from one of the Sugar House’s in New York and returned to Maryland where he enlisted in May 1781 with Capt Murdock, and was a Yorktown. He best friend and brother in law John Baum (1758 – 1836) who served with him are resting in the Revolutionary War Baum ( Bloomberg Farm) Cemetery, Patton, Cambria County, Pennsylvania,USA. I have yet to find out if he served between 1777 and 1781, so if you come across him please let me know:-). We cannot allow the memory of this Patriots to ever be forgotten.
    Yours sincerely,
    Leonard B Glasser, CW4 AUS (RET)

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Schmitt says:

      Thank you for reading! I briefly looked at Richard Nagle’s and John Baum’s pensions on fold3.com to familiarize myself with them. If I ever find any information related to Nagle’s service, I will let you know!


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