Where were the Maryland 400 Buried?

We frequently receive questions about where the Maryland 400 are buried. Popular folklore, advanced by prominent historians and public figures like Sir Patrick Stewart, suggests that a single mass grave existed, traditionally said to be located on Brooklyn’s Third Avenue between Seventh and Eighth Street. A more recent version of this theory suggested that a mass burial ground existed beneath a concrete lot between Ninth Street and Third Avenue. Following an archaeological study of the lot in 2017, we know there are no human remains there. However, a mystery still remains: Where did those brave soldiers who sacrificed their lives on August 27, 1776 likely end up? 


This New York State Historic Marker, located outside of Brooklyn’s American Legion Post 1636, honors the Marylanders who fought at the Battle of Brooklyn but does not tell the entire story.

The earliest known print reference to a single mass grave comes from an 1867 book written by Thomas Field, citing an unreliable local family tradition. Another historian, Henry Stiles, cited Field’s work that same year in his own book. In a different book, Field further explained that local farmers probably created the supposed mass grave in the years following the war. Field speculated that the location “was too distant” from the Old Stone House, and that the farmers reburied the bones after disinterring them while plowing their fields. Field’s later assertion has largely been overlooked by the popular theory. An 1896 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, for example, described the area between “Third Avenue and Eighth Street [as] the exact spot where so many brave soldiers from Maryland fell.” This version of the story has taken hold for many years. [1]


This lithographic image from Field’s The Battle of Long Island depicts a view of the Brooklyn battlefield’s Old Stone House.

Researchers have attempted to locate Revolutionary War burial grounds in Brooklyn in the past. One recent archaeological dig in 2017 near the area uncovered a cistern and a well dating to the nineteenth centuries, but found no evidence of any human burials. The dig recovered unrelated charred animal bones dating from the late-nineteenth to early-twentieth century. Researchers connected the animal bones to an ink factory which formerly occupied the concrete lot’s northern section. An older archaeological survey conducted in 1957 concluded that “despite hearsay and traditional evidence, the burial site of these Marylanders… cannot be conclusively authenticated, either by historical or archaeological means.” [2]

Rather than being buried, the fallen soldiers remained on the field in the immediate aftermath of the battle. An American soldier noted that “our people who have come in say [Brooklyn’s] fields and woods are covered with dead bodies” a few days following the battle. The British set about building fortifications amidst heavy rainfall instead of digging graves. The rain, combined with the late summer heat, also sped up the decomposition process of the corpses, turning the battlefield into a sickening mess. William Howe’s secretary, Ambrose Serle, wrote that “putrid dead Bodies [laid] in the Fields about the Country, as the Army [had] hardly any Time to bury them.” A week later, Serle remarked that “the Woods near Brookland [sic] are so noisome with the Stench of the dead Bodies of the Rebels…that they are quite inaccessible.” Similarly, a Hessian chaplain noted the “terrible sight” in September when he “went over the battle-field among the dead, who mostly had been hacked and shot to pieces.” [3]

If the British had buried the dead, they would have likely done so where the bodies had fallen to save time and avoid prolonged contact with the decomposing corpses. The battle also took place over a wide area and not in one concentrated location, making it unlikely that anyone buried the bodies in one grave to begin with. British soldiers ambushed members of the Maryland 400 using one of their officers as a decoy prior to the action near the Old Stone House. Some soldiers reportedly drowned in the swampy Gowanus Creek. There is little evidence to suggest that the British even buried the fallen soldiers, however. While he was a prisoner, Colonel Samuel Atlee of Pennsylvania, captured at Brooklyn, reported that he “was shewn [sic] the Graves of several of the [British] Officers who fell” at the battle. Outside of these burials, there are no firsthand accounts of any graves related to soldiers who fell at the Battle of Brooklyn. Most accounts of any burials come from unreliable secondhand accounts and rumors, or were written nearly a century after the battle. Other evidence suggests that some corpses remained on the field and in the nearby woods long after death. While on “a tour upon Long Island” with a British officer in June of 1777, English diarist Nicholas Cresswell noted that their “noses were now and then regaled with the stink of dead Rebels.” Cresswell claimed that “some of them have lain unburied since last August” following the Battle of Brooklyn. [4]

Documenting burial practices at other Revolutionary War battles offers some clues as to where American soldiers may have been buried. Continental soldier Joseph Plumb Martin, for example, described the conditions of battlefield graves at White Plains two years after the battle. Martin explained how “some of the bodies had been so slightly buried that the dogs or hogs…had dug them out of the ground.” Prisoners who died on cramped, poorly equipped prison ships stationed near New York suffered similar fates. The dead prisoners ended up in shallow graves along the Brooklyn shoreline, where the waves often disinterred them. Other soldiers received no burial at all. Timothy Dwight, a chaplain from Connecticut, recalled finding the corpses of American soldiers who had died at the Battle of Fort Montgomery in October of 1777. Victorious British soldiers had thrown them into a nearby pond “when…the water was sufficiently deep to cover them.” Dwight described the sight of their bodies in May of 1778 as “overwhelming,” especially because the water caused their faces to become “bloated and monstrous.” Similar burial practices, or the lack thereof, likely occurred at Brooklyn. [5]

Developments in Brooklyn since the eighteenth century make archaeological research difficult. Residents used Brooklyn as farmland, which notoriously disturbs artifacts, including skeletal remains. The construction of roads, buildings, and parks vastly altered the landscape as well. Laborers have reported finding Revolutionary War era artifacts and bones since the nineteenth century. Workers found “mingled balls and bones frequently” in 1867 while building Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, where the Maryland Monument dedicated to the Maryland 400 is located today. Construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the early nineteenth century uncovered the bones of prison ship victims “sticking out of the crumbling bank in the wildest order,” revealing haphazard burial conditions. If graves once existed, they have likely been destroyed by the passage of time. [6]


The Monument to the Maryland 400, located in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park.

Regardless of where the remains are located, remembering the Marylanders’ sacrifices is extremely important. In the interest of repairing the newly formed country, fallen war heroes often faded from public thought in the years following the Revolution. Renewed interest in the mid-nineteenth century to memorialize fallen Revolutionary War soldiers, sparked by a desire for national reconciliation in the Civil War’s aftermath, helped with the process of commemoration. Efforts to preserve the memory of those who fought in the battle, whether they survived or not, honors their bravery. Telling the many stories of all those involved is one such way of protecting their legacies. [7]

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


[1] Thomas W. Field, The Battle of Long Island: With Connected Preceding Events, and the Subsequent American Retreat (Brooklyn: The Society, 1869, reprint), 202-203; Henry Reed Stiles, A History of the City of Brooklyn (Brooklyn: self-pub., 1867), 280; Thomas W. Field, Historic and Antiquarian Scenes in Brooklyn and its Vicinity (Brooklyn: n.p., 1868), 88;  “Maryland’s Four Hundred,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 10 April 1895.

[2] Frank Barnes and Louis Morris, “The ‘Maryland 400’ at the Cortelyou House, Brooklyn: The Action and the Burial Site (National Park Service, Region Five, 20 May 1957); William J. Parry, “Where is the Burial Site of the ‘Maryland 400?,’” unpublished, revised July 2017.

[3] “Extract of a Letter from New-York,” 28 August 1776, American Archives Online, series 5, vol. 1, 1194; Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed., The American Journal of Ambrose Serle (Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1940), 87, 91; “Letter from a Hessian Chaplain, Brookland, near New York,” 7 September 1776, qtd. in William L. Stone, trans., Letters of Brunswick and Hessian Officers during the American Revolution (New York: Da Capo Press, 1970), 187.

[4] “Extract from Colonel Atlee’s Journal,” Pennsylvania Archives, second series, vol. 1, 516; Nicholas Cresswell, Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1777 (New York: Dial Press, 1924), 231.

[5] Joseph Plumb Martin, A Narrative of a Revolutionary War Soldier (New York: Signet Classics, 2010, reprint), 116-117; Timothy Dwight, Travels in New England and New York, vol. 3 (London: Charles Wood, 1823), 417-418;  Robert E. Cray, Jr., “Commemorating the Prison Ship Dead: Revolutionary Memory and the Politics of Sepulture in the Early Republic, 1776-1808,” William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 56, no. 3 (July 1999), 565, 570.

[6] “Prospect Park Commission,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 5 February 1867, p. 3; Nathaniel Prime, History of Long Island (New York: Robert Carter, 1845), 367.

[7] Edwin G. Burrows, Forgotten Patriots (New York: Basic Books, 2008), 208-209, 234, 237-240; Cray, 566.

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6 Responses to Where were the Maryland 400 Buried?

  1. Love this article James! One further thing to note is that the 256 often cited as the number of dead from the Maryland 400 is not accurate such as the Brooklyn sign “Here lie buried 256 Maryland soldiers who fell in the Battle of Brooklyn”. Smallwood’s letter back to the Maryland Committee of Safety says: “a List of the Kill’d & Missing amounting to 256 officers inclusive” and he was referring to his full Battalion of almost 1000 men. We do not know if the missing were taken prisoner or found later (which we know for certain occurred in a few cases). Also the term “Maryland 400” came much later as the facts of this event took on a mythological strength. The name Maryland 400 references back to the immortal Spartan 300 and their stance against overwhelming forces.

    Liked by 1 person

    • James Schmitt says:

      Thank you!

      It is very unfortunate that Smallwood’s list has been lost to time, as it likely would have helped clear up some of the confusion surrounding what happened to the soldiers who died at the Battle of Brooklyn. The list probably would have also explained the fates of the many soldiers we know little about. The folklore surrounding the Maryland 400 is a highly interesting topic that speaks to the mythic quality the Marylanders gained over the centuries.


  2. This is an outstanding work. Please accept my thanks and the thanks of the Society of the Honor Guard, Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

    Your last thought re. telling their stories is our sacred duty.

    We must “Never Forget” them or what they contended for.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Richard,

      Thank you very much. The stories are the most important thing that we can do. For some of the soldiers, all we know is their name and enlistment date–not even their fate at the Battle of Brooklyn. But at least we can include them on the list of soldiers from Maryland.

      It’s been very rewarding and moving for me to be part of this project, studying the lives of people who haven’t been thought about for maybe two hundred years.



    • James Schmitt says:

      Thank you for you comment and for reading this post. I spent as much time with this as possible to get the most accurate information I could find from primary and secondary sources. Working on this project this summer has been a wonderful experience, and I hope that I have been able to honor their legacies through my contributions.


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