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William Smallwood portrait by Charles Willson Peale, 1823. The portrait is featured in the Maryland State House Old Senate Chamber.[1]

William Smallwood (1732 – February 14, 1792) was an American planter, soldier and politician from Charles County, Maryland.[2] He served in the American Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of major general. He was serving as the fourth Governor of Maryland when the state adopted the United States Constitution.

Early life

William was born in 1732 to planter Bayne Smallwood and Priscilla Heaberd Smallwood.[3] He had a sister Eleanor and a brother Hebard, who served with him later in the Revolutionary War.[4] His parents sent the boys to England, for their education at Eton. His grandfather was James Smallwood, who immigrated in 1681 and became a member of the Maryland Assembly in 1696. James' son Bayne followed him later in the Assembly.[5] Bayne and his sister Hester were the great-grandchildren of Maryland Governor William Stone; Hester {Smallwood} Smith's daughter-in-law Sarah {Butler} Stone was the grandmother of James Butler Bonham and Milledge Luke Bonham. A first cousin of James and Milledge Bonham was Senator Matthew Butler

Smallwood served as an officer during the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War). He was elected to the Maryland provincial assembly.

American Revolution

When the American Revolutionary War began, he was appointed a colonel of the 1st Maryland Regiment in 1776. He led the regiment in the New York and New Jersey campaign, where the regiment served with distinction. On December 21, 1777, he commanded 1,500 Delaware and Maryland troops at the Continental Army Encampment Site to prevent occupation of Wilmington by the British and to protect the flour mills on the Brandywine.[6] For his role at the Battle of White Plains, in which he was twice wounded, Smallwood was promoted to brigadier general. He continued to serve under George Washington in the Philadelphia campaign, where his regiment again distinguished itself at Germantown. Thereafter, he quartered at the Foulke house, also occupied by the family of Sally Wister.[7]

General George Washington Resigning His Commission by John Trumbull, Capitol Rotunda (commissioned 1817) in the Maryland State House in Annapolis. The portrait features William Smallwood as the third person behind Washington.[8]

Letter from George Washington to Gen. Smallwood asking for an update on recruiting troops. July 1782.

In 1780 he was a part of General Horatio Gates' army that was routed at Camden, South Carolina; his brigade was among the formations that held their ground, garnering Smallwood a promotion to major general. Smallwood's accounts of the battle and criticisms of Gates' behavior before and during the battle may have contributed to the Congressional inquiries into the debacle. Opposed to the hiring and promotion of foreigners, Smallwood objected to working under Baron von Steuben. He spent the remainder of the war in Maryland. He served as the first President-General of the Maryland Society of the Cincinnati in 1783.


Smallwood was elected to Congress in 1785. He was elected Governor of Maryland before he could take up the Congressional seat and chose the governorship. In 1787 he convened the state's convention that in 1788 adopted the United States Constitution.

Late years

Smallwood never married. The 1790 census shows that he held 56 slaves and a yearly tobacco crop of 3000 pounds.[9] When he died in 1792 his estate, known as Mattawoman, including his home the Retreat, passed to his sister Eleanor. By one account she had married into the Stoddard family, which was related to the Smallwoods. (e.g. Smallwood's nephew William Trueman Stoddard was orphaned at age 9 and raised by his maternal grandfather, Bayne Smallwood).[4][9] In another account, Eleanor married Col. William Grayson of Virginia, and in 1827 the Mattawoman estate passed to Grayson's son William.[3][10]

Gravestone of Gen William Smallwood at his home, Smallwood's Retreat, near Marbury, Maryland.


Local historical signs in Calvert, Maryland, note that General Smallwood occupied the "East Nottingham Friends House" at the intersections of Calvert Road and Brick Meetinghouse Road (near the intersection of 272 and 273) about 6 miles east of Rising Sun, Maryland.[11] During his occupation of the building in 1778, Gen. Smallwood used the building as a hospital. Some of the soldiers who died in the building were buried in the graveyard directly outside.[12] General Smallwood frequented the "Cross Keys Inn" (built in 1774), at the time a several-room inn and bar. This building stands as a private residence at the intersection of Calvert Road and Cross Keys Road directly down the hill. His restored plantation home, Smallwood's Retreat, is located at Smallwood State Park. Smallwood Church Road leads from the State Park toward Old Durham Church, where he was a vestryman.

Several paintings still exist of Smallwood. One hangs in the Old Senate Chamber in the Maryland State House in Annapolis, Maryland.[13] The portrait of George Washington resigning within the Maryland State House, which hangs in the US Capitol Rotanda, features Smallwood.

Featured in the Maryland Historical Society is The William Smallwood Collection, 1776–1791, MS. 1875.[14]

Smallwood's name was honored in places and organizations.


  1. Maryland State Archives Online. William Smallwood by Charles Willson Peale
  2. "Inventory of Maryland Monuments by County". 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Warfield, J.D., The Founders of Anne Arundel and Howard County Maryland, Kohn And Pollock, p. 237 ff. (1905).
  4. 4.0 4.1 Wister, Sarah, The journal and occasional writings of Sarah Wister, Derounian-Stodola, K.Z., ed., Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press (1987)
  5. Wilstach, Paul, Potomac Landings, Doubleday, Garden City, NJ, p.106 (1920).
  6. Joan M. Norton (January 1972). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Continental Army Encampment Site". 
  7. Sally Wister, ‘‘Sally Wister's Journal: A True Narrative: Being a Quaker Maiden's Account of Her Experiences with Officers of the Continental Army, 1777-1779’’. Applewood Books, Bedford, Massachusetts, 1994. Entry for Oct. 19, 1777.
  8. Seattle Art Museum, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, Interactive Portrait, number 7
  9. 9.0 9.1 Klapthor, M., and P. Brown, The history of Charles County, Maryland: written in its tercentenary year of 1958 LaPlata, MD, Charles County Tercentenary, Inc., p. 89 (1958).
  10. Morgan, George, The Life of James Monroe, Small, Maynard and Company, Boston, p. 13 (1921).
  11. "Revolutionary War Pension Application of William Beckwith". 
  12. "Maryland Historical Trust". National Register of Historic Places: East Nottingham Meetinghouse. Maryland Historical Trust. 2008-10-05. 
  13. Maryland State Archives Online. William Smallwood Portrait
  14. Maryland Historical Society. William Smallwood Collection
  15. Fort Smallwood Park website

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
William Paca
Governor of Maryland
1785 –1788
Succeeded by
John E. Howard
Preceded by
George Plater
President of the Maryland State Senate
Succeeded by
George Dent

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