“A Gentleman of Maryland”: the short life of Edward Giles

Focus on what Christopher Weeks argues is the land within Harford Lower Hundred (“all the land drained by Romney Creek, Bush River, and Cranberry Run”), using an 1858 “map of Harford Co., Maryland.” Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Edward Giles was a gentleman that was different from the other officers of the Extra Regiment, who marched Southward just like him. After all, Edward had ancestors who were immigrants to Massachusetts in the 1630s and some of the “earliest settlers of Baltimore County,” specifically to “Old Baltimore.” His short life is worth noting, with its twists and turns, as it tells a story which has never been fully told in print.

In the final years of military service: 1780-1782

Edward was a major in the Extra Regiment as noted by fellow officer Theodore Middleton and a soldier named Giles Thomas. Remaining records of the Maryland Line would also show his military service within the regiment. [1] He held many other military positions. He was reportedly a captain in Hazen’s (2nd Canadian) regiment from 1778-1779, a major and aide-to-camp of General Morgan from 1779 to 1781, as he would note in a January 1781 letter. He was even made Brevet Major in Continental Army in March 1781 in honor of his role in the Battle of Cowpens, which he seems to have reported to Thomas Jefferson in a glowing account. [2] Until the close of the war, he served as an aide-to-camp of General Smallwood until the close of the war. Reportedly he also commanded Virginia militia in December 1780. [3] He was, undoubtedly, a “prolific correspondent” on the Extra Regiment.

In 1781, the Maryland General Assembly consider raising an all-Black regiment, similar to the state’s German Regiment, but did not do so. Even so, Edward wrote to Otho Holland Williams on June 1st arguing that

I wish the [Black] regiment would be raised. I am of the opinion that the Blacks will make excellent soldiers—indeed experience proves it…As to the danger of training them to Arms—tis the Child of a distempered Imagination. There are some people who are forever frightening themselves with Bugbears of their own Creation. [4]

The following year, Edward would be elected to the Continental Congress. However, he would not attend that year possibly related to his military service, but the true reason is not known. [5] The same year he would defend Samuel Chase, who then represented Maryland in the Continental Congress, from charges that he had used “secret congressional information to corner the market on flour,” knowing that the French fleet would be arriving in Maryland. Specifically he wrote to James McHenry saying that the evidence before the Maryland General Assembly had shown Chase innocent and urged the author of the “Publius” essays to retract their charges. As a letter from Alexander Hamilton to McHenry revealed (also implied in McHenry’s letter to Hamilton earlier that year), he was Publius, which comes as no surprise. Interestingly, Hamilton was angry that Edward had become a champion of Chase:

…You know that I can have no personal enmity to him, and that considerations of public good alone dictated my attack upon his conduct and character, influenced by a persuasion produced by the strongest authorities, that he was acting a part inconsistent with patriotism, or honor… I could not refuse it to my own feelings, to make him the most explicit and complete retribution…As to the discovery of my name demanded with such preposterous vehemence, by a volunteer in the dispute, I conceive myself under no obligation to make it…I have esteemed Major [Giles] character; and am sorry for his sake that he has so indelicately entered the lists; and made himself, not only the champion of Mr. Ch——e’s innocence in the present case, but of his virtues in general, certainly at best equivocal in spite of the Major’s panygerics. He should have recollected, that by an alliance with his family, he did not ally himself with his principles; and that he degrades Mr. Ch——e, as well as commits himself by unnecessarily taking up the glove for him…an apprehension of his, or any man’s resentment is a motive incapable of operating upon me or having the least share either in the concealment of my name or in the moderate return I make to his invectives.

In sum, Hamilton is saying that Edward is using formal speech (panegyrics) to defend Chase but that by doing so, he has made himself a champion of the latter’s values. He also suggests that he is degrading Chase by doing so and standing by his side, allying with the Chase family. Hamilton then worried about people guessing his motives so he decides to keep his name hidden.

The next year, 1783, the county assessment for Harford County would note Edward’s large landholdings, living in the same county as the former commanding officer of the Extra Regiment, Alexander Lawson Smith. He would own a total of 1,401 acres in Harford Lower Hundred. These acres were parceled out into seven land tracts:

  1. 90 acre tract called Mats Island
  2. a 50 acre tract called Hog Neck
  3. a 147 acre tract called Shepherds Choice
  4. a 770 acre tract called Rumney Marsh
  5. a 28 acre tract called Shepherds Adventure
  6. a two acre tract called Minorca
  7. 314 acre tract called Atkinsons Purchase.

Soon this would all change.

The last hurrah: A trip to Bermuda

A close-up of Bermuda within Joseph Smith Speer’s 1774 map of the 13 colonies, West Indies, and Caribbean. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On January 30, 1783, Governor William Paca and the Council of Maryland would write to Admiral Robert Digby of the Royal Navy. Guided by the “Motives of Humanity” he would describe Edward’s condition:

…Mr Edward Giles, a Gentleman of Maryland, is reduced to such a State, by a Disorder in the Breast, that his Physicians advise a Change of Climate as the only probable Means of his Recovery. As he is too Weak to undertake a long Voyage, his Friends are extremely desirous that he should try the Salutary Air of Bermuda, and it is at their earnest Solicitations that we have the Honor to request the Favor of your Excellency’s Passport for a Vessel to carry him thither, with a Companion and two Slaves to attend him; and Provisions for the Use of the Crew and his Family. Candor requires that you should be informed, that Mr Giles has been an Officer in the American Army, and that he is, at this Time, a Delegate to Congress. We know not whether it is in your Excellency’s Department to grant Mr Giles Permission to reside in Bermuda until his Health be restored, but if it is not, we persuade ourselves, from your acknowledg’d Attention to the Rights of Humanity, that you will be so obliging as to recommend him, for this Purpose, to the Governor of the Island [William Browne].

With the above letter showing his wealth, with two enslaved Blacks and a companion (his wife?), it is partially revealing. The following day, Edward would write a letter to Washington mentioning the above letter, noting that he felt “highly obliged” and hoped he could use the latter’s influence to “obtain the Passport and Permission as soon as possible.” As he described it,

“…With your Letter please to have that of the Governor and Council transmitted. I hope the Admirals not being furnished with the name and tonnage of the Vessel and number of hands will not impede the Business. It is impossible to give him this Information accurately as the Vessell is yet to be obtained. Thus far however he may be assured, she will be chosen for her good Cabbin Accomadations and her hands will not exceed eight. I am sensible that was Admiral Digby (tho’ an Enemy) acquainted with my Situation, he would blush to throw any obstructions in my Way. Your Excellency’s Veneration for humanity fills me with undoubting hopes that you will leave no means unessayed to accomplish this interesting Business. It is the opinion of my Physicians, that the month of March and April in this Climate might so confirm my Disorder as to make it an [   ] for Life. My Fate hangs on every passing hour, a small Delay may prove fatal to my Existence. Excuse the Anxiety of an Invalid, and believe Me to be with Sentiments of real Regard”-

This desperate plea would not go unanswered by Washington. Twelve days later on February 12, Washington would remark that he had received the letter, noting that the application should have “gone thro Mr Morris as Agent of Marine” and not himself, but since a “delay in the transaction of this business might have been fatal to you.” As a result, he sent the Admiral a letter immediately, noting that any answer he receives shall be forwarded to him.

Sadly, he would not make it another month. On March 13, the Maryland Gazette would announce his death in a detailed obituary. They would describe him as a man with a “liberal education” and imbued “patriotism,” calling him a “virtuous citizen” and an “excellent young man”:

Quotes around this obituary seem to say it was reprinted from another paper which is not currently known.

Using the first line of the obituary, one can easily calculate that he died on March 10, 1783, with others coming to the same conclusion. [6]

Over 148 years later, on December 1, 1931, Samuel K. Dennis, J. Hall Pleasants, and J. M. Vincents, would write to the “gentlemen” of the Maryland Historical Society about whole episode. They would write about how the council requested that Admiral Digby, commanding the British fleet, issue a “passport to Edward Giles” who seems to have had “tuberculosis of the lungs” and noted “Giles died a week or two later before the request could be acted upon” with subsequent developments thereafter in “humane amenities…between the belligerents” when the main hostilities seemed to cease.

Beyond this, little information is known other than the fact that his death would be reported in British newspapers by June, and a possible federal veterans pension in later years. Due to his death in 1783, this means he would not be in any of the federal censuses and would have no direct federal pension records associated with him. Regardless, he would live on, in some way, shape, and form through his ancestors and scattered records in varied pensions of others.

 

Notes

[1] Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1779-1780, Archives of Maryland Online, Vol. 43, 234, 248, 306, 314, 341, 530; Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1780-1781, Archives of Maryland Online, Vol. 45, 45, 46, 100, 211, 334, 514, 541, 617; Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1781-1784, Archives of Maryland Online, Vol. 48, 98.

[2] Francis Bernard Heitman, Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, April, 1775, to December, 1783 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1982), 248; John Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland from the Earliest Period Until the Present Day, Vol. II (Baltimore: John. B. Piet, 1879), 407-409.

[3] John Thomas Scharf, History of Maryland, 401.

[4] The Finding the Maryland 400 Project cites a letter from Major Edward Giles to Otho Holland Williams, 1 Jun 1781 within the Williams Papers, Maryland Historical Society which is quoted in Benjamin Quarles, The Negro in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press for the Institute of Early American History and Culture, 1961), 56-57.

[5] Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-2005: The Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States, from the First Through the One Hundred Eighth Congresses, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 2005, Inclusive (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2005), 35 or page 5 of this PDF.

[6] Scharf, History of Maryland, 436.

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