Stories of the 400
“The Revolutionary Era has always been a passion of mine,” says Jeffrey Truitt ’14, a 2013 Comegys Bight Fellow who interned last summer in the Military History Research Department of the Maryland State Archives.
Truitt had already planned to do his senior capstone project (he is a history major with a minor in philosophy) on the 1st Maryland Regiment of the Continental Army. The regiment (which Truitt discovered included one of his ancestors) distinguished itself at the Battle of Long Island on Aug. 27, 1776, by heroically covering the retreat of the Americans against numerically superior British and Hessian forces. The group of men who fought in that battle are remembered, with admiration and gratitude, as the Maryland 400.
Truitt’s job at the Archives (a job he shared with fellow intern Daniel Blattau under the supervision of staff researcher Owen Lourie) was to trace the Maryland 400 and find out who they were.
On his first day at the Archives, Truitt set up a blog about the project. He and Blattau sifted through reams of documents—the most useful included everything from contemporaneous newspaper accounts and battle maps to lists detailing what had happened to supplies of pants (and, thus, to the men to whom they’d been allocated).
By the end of the summer, Truitt and Blattau had produced, not only the blog, but a list of 1,000 names of members of the regiment as well as online biographies of more than 80 members of the Maryland 400.
“It was fun,” Truitt says. “They have huge databases we had to search and it was really worthwhile, because when you did find something it was truly unique.
One of Truitt’s favorite discoveries was an especially rich cache of material on a soldier named William McMillan. It included a letter handwritten by McMillan many years after the fact about how he had fought at Long Island, been taken prisoner, then escaped from the prison at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Truitt’s detailed and colorful biography of McMillan can be found at the Maryland State Archives.
Truitt wants to eventually practice criminal law, a career (he points out) which requires a passion for research and piecing together people’s stories. He says the research he did last summer was not only good practice, it also helped him refocus his thesis. “I’m now looking at six different veterans of the 1st Maryland Regiment,” he says. “Three of them left Maryland after the war and three stayed. I want to look at their reasons and chronicle the whole experience.”