Wednesday, May 30, 2012

William Alexander :: Revolutionary War Soldier... died August 27th 1777

Very little is known about William Alexander, my 4th Great Grandfather.
  • 1745 - Estimated. Possibly born in Maryland. Names of parents are not known. There were several Alexander families in the "New Munster" area of Cecil County, Maryland but he has not been able to be placed within any of them - yet!
  • Married Elizabeth Carruthers, daughter of Francis and Ann (Carr) Carruthers
  • 1776 - December 10th. Commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in Capt. Johnson's Company, 5th Maryland Regiment
  • 1777 - February 24th. Son, William Washington Alexander, born in Cecil County, Maryland
  • 1777 - August 27th. Died.
At the age of 80, while living in Marysville, Union County, Ohio, his son William W. Alexander submitted an application on August 11, 1857 for a pension stating that:
"he is the Lawful son of William Alexander and Elizabeth Alexander and that the said William Alexander volunteered his services in the revolutionary war in behalf of the United States and that he entered said servase [sic] on the tenth day of December 1776 in the 5th regiment as a Lieutenant and in the Company Commanded by Captain Johnson of the Maryland malitia [sic] and was in actual service in said Company until the 27 day of August AD 1777 when he died in said service from wounds recd in his Line of duty and that he never recd his pay or any part of his pay for said services and that said services has not been paid for by the United States to his widow or any of his heirs and that the same remains due and unpaid at this time"
The affidavit continues with:
"he also further swears that said Elizabeth Alexander maiden name was Elizabeth Cruthirs and that she was married to the said William Alexander on the ___ day of ___ in the County of Cissel [sic] in the state of Mary Land [sic] and that she survived her husband until about the 11th day of August AD 1813, when she started to the south and has not been heard from since and that she was entitled to a pension and that as the Lawful heir of said William Alexander decd and Elizabeth Alexander deceased [word written above deceased but can't figure out what it is] makes this affidavit for the purpose of obtaining the pension and other pay that is due to him by reason of said services. [signed] Wm W Alexander"

William Alexander Pension File R45. Images downloaded from on May 4, 2012. As always, double-click on the images to view a larger version.

William Alexander Pension File R45.

William Alexander Pension File R45.

Since William W. Alexander was only 6 months old when his father died, it is not known how much he knew about his father's service during the Revolutionary War. There was a letter from the Land Office of Maryland that provided evidence of the service of William Sr.
"Land Office of Maryland
"I certify that it appears by the muster Roles remaining in this office that William Alexander of "Johnsons" Compy 5th Regt Lieutenant entered the service on the 10th December 1776 & is listed as having died on the 27th August 1777.
"In testimony whereof I hereto subscribe my name & affix the seal of the Land Office of Maryland this 20th July 1857. [signature is illegible as is the writing below his name.]"

William Alexander Pension File R45.

It didn't take long for the pension commission to respond. Their letter dated August 25, 1857 simply stated:
"The application of William W. Alexander for pension arrears, as the son of Elizabeth Alexander, deceased, widow of William, has been filed under the act of July 4, 1836.

"William Alexander died in 1777. His widow, Elizabeth "Started to the South" in 1813, "and has not been heard from since". As the legal presumption of her death ensued long before the passage of any act granting pensions to widows of Revolutionary officers or soldiers, no arrears can be due her children; and the present claim is rejected.

"There is no law in existence authorising [sic] payment of wages to those who served in the war of the Revolution."

William Alexander Pension File R45.

The above image, from "Archives of Maryland. Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution 1775-1783" (Maryland Historical Society, Baltimore 1900. page 182) confirms the information in the previous documents.

The marriage of William Alexander and Elizabeth Caruthers is confirmed in the will of her father, Francis Caruthers, dated December 14, 1801. (Cecil County Wills, Book 6, pages 397-400)

"I give and bequeath to my beloved daughters Elizabeth Ann Rachel & Leah each the sum of five pounds, and it is further my will that if my said daughter Elizabeth, should be dead or not claim the above legacy in five years - in that case that the same should go and be paid to her son William Washington Alexander -"

Bottom of page 397 of will of Francis Caruthers. Family History Library Microfilm 13868. Scanned February 13, 2012.

Top of page 398 of the will of Francis Caruthers.

We know that William Alexander died on August 27, 1777 apparently (according to his son's affidavit) "from wounds recd in his Line of duty." What was happening at that time?

In 2000, Lynda Alexander Fonde and Marsha Alexander Groff published "American Patriot.... The New Frontier: Alexander, Sprague & Related Families Volume II" which chronicles the descendants of William Alexander and his son William Washington Alexander. On page 13, after some discussion, the authors state "It was during this battle of Head of Elk on 27 August 1777, that William Alexander lost his life."

After a bit of searching on the Internet I found several sites that include a more comprehensive listing of Revolutionary War battles and skirmishes than most other sites.

This Timeline is from US and shows that the only thing "happening" around August 27, 1777 was the landing of General Howe at Head of Elk, Maryland.

Above is a small section of Dennis Griffith's wall map of Maryland, published in 1795, from the website of the Historical Society of Cecil County.

On Monday August 25th, after a 30+ day voyage, General Howe landed his fleet of ships (numbering 260-300 depending upon the source) that were carrying 17,000 British soldiers and sailors at Elk Neck. Located in the upper Chesapeake Bay near the Head of the Elk River (the town located near there is now known as Elkton).

From "the History of Cecil County, Maryland" by George Johnston, 1881, page 329
The two days after the British landed were stormy, but on the morning of the 27th of August, two brigades of light infantry under Howe marched by the old road that led from Elk Ferry to the Head of Elk, leaving a large division of the heavier troops with instructions to cross the Elk River to Bohemia Manor. The British did not confine themselves to the road after crossing Little Elk Creek, but spread over the fields on each side of it, their pioneers or vanguard tearing down the fences and other obstructions to make way for the others.

It was said to have been a beautiful sight to see them as they came in sight on the level slope west of the town, their scarlet coats and bright guns and bayonets gleaming in the rays of an early August sun. After reaching the Head of Elk (now Elkton) the British encamped on the plain, northwest of the town, where they remained for several days.
The British sent out troops to forage for food and supplies. And there were some light skirmishes between the militia and the British but there appears to have been no actual battle at Head of Elk. Washington's army had not made it far enough south and the local militia were far too few to go up against the full force of Howe's British troops. After an American defeat at Brandywine, the British would continue on and by the end of September they would occupy the city of Philadelphia.

There is no doubt that William Alexander lost his life on August 27, 1777 but whether it was in one of the skirmishes with the British troops or for some other reason we'll likely never know for sure. What is for certain is that William Alexander was a Patriot who gave his life for his country. He left behind a young wife and an infant son. And thanks to him, I, and many other descendants are here today to remember him and to tell what little is known of his life. He has not been forgotten.

Published under a Creative Commons License.
Becky Wiseman, "William Alexander :: Revolutionary War Soldier... died August 27th 1777," Kinexxions, posted May 30, 2012 ( : accessed [access date])


Carol said...

Great research Becky. I doubt I have that much on any of my Revolutionary soldiers. Well done!

Shelley Bishop said...

Becky, you've done an amazing job piecing together the story of William's life, war service, and untimely death from a number of sources. And you've told it so well! It's sad that he died so young. But kudos for preserving his story and honoring his memory.

Ron Glynn said...

Great Job! I am his descendant through my mother Sally Alexander.

Becky Wiseman said...

Thanks for commenting "cousin" Ron, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I just looked you up in the book by Lynda and Marsha and see that you provided quite a bit of information on your line. They did a great job putting everything together.