Of the thousands of men and women who contributed to the Patriot cause during the American Revolution, James McCubbin Lingan (1751–1812) stands out with an important story to tell. A recent visit to Washington D.C. included a leisurely walk through Arlington National Cemetery. As one reads the many monuments honoring military personnel resting in Arlington’s historic Section One consisting of an assortment of American Patriots and their spouses, an inscription on one monument grabs the attention of students of the Revolution. Lingan’s distinctive monument reads in part, “A captive on the Prison Ship Jersey.”
Prison ships were notoriously brutal places of incarceration for Patriots captured by the British during the American Revolution and the Jersey has the reputation as one of the deadliest prison ships in American waters. Who was this man, a Patriot officer from Maryland, who survived a hellish ordeal on a prison ship? How did he end up in Arlington? What led to his death in 1812? These were all interesting questions one just needed to answer. After investigation, the answers were all quite surprising. It turns out the inscription on this monument is misleading and inaccurate, the man’s life and death tell an important American story. The price of liberty and freedom is high, and the threats to liberty and freedom often emanate from multiple sources as evidenced by James McCubbin Lingan’s life and death.
Details of James McCubbin Lingan’s Revolutionary War service are elusive given his impressive Arlington monument. He served in Stephenson’s Regiment, an unusual unit in that it consisted of companies from both Maryland and Virginia. This dual-state makeup linked directly to the authorization of the first ten companies of the Continental Army by the Continental Congress on June 14, 1775. Six of these original companies were from Pennsylvania, with two each from Maryland and Virginia.Authorized by the Continental Congress on June 17, 1776, Stephenson’s Regiment evolved from three of the four original Maryland and Virginia rifle companies, named for their initial company commanders: Michael Cresap, Thomas Price, Hugh Stephenson, and Daniel Morgan. Cresap’s, Price’s, and Stephenson’s companies served with Washington’s Army around Boston and New York during 1775 and 1776, while Daniel Morgan’s accompanied Benedict Arnold on the Quebec campaign. Morgan and much of his company were captured and imprisoned at Quebec. After his parole, Morgan took command of the 11th Virginia Regiment.
Cresap’s, Price’s, and Stephenson’s companies, with Stephenson advanced to regimental command, formed the nucleus of the new Stephenson’s Regiment, also known as the Maryland-Virginia Rifle Regiment. This reorganization led to the unique Maryland-Virginia structure. Stephenson was the senior surviving officer of these three original rifle companies, and respected by General Washington, resulting in his selection forcommand. The dual-state structure prompted Washington to dispatch Stephenson and several other officers to coordinate directly with the Continental Congress on officer seniority and appointments for the regiment. Two new Maryland companies and four from Virginia joined the three original companies to form the regiment with nine companies, composed of men enlisted for three years. The Maryland-Virginia Rifle Regiment served as an Extra Continental Regiment, not considered part of a state line, reporting directly to the Continental Congress.
James McCubbin Lingan’s service in the regiment commenced with his appointment as a lieutenant by the Frederick County, Maryland, Committee of Safety, on July 12, 1776. He likely commenced duty on September 17 with a date of rank of July 21. It is almost certain that Lingan never served under Stephenson’s direct command because Stephenson died in August or September 1776 while home in Virginia recruiting to fill the ranks of his new regiment. Command passed to Moses Rawlings of Maryland and the unit is often referred to as Rawlings Regiment. During his initial field service Lingan likely served in New Jersey performing light infantry duties including intelligence gathering and scouting. By late October the unit moved to Fort Washington but was still recruiting to fill the ranks to build combat capacity. Lingan’s service was short-lived; he became a prisoner, along with other members of his unit, with the capitulation of Fort Washington on November 16, 1776.
Lingan’s capture at Fort Washington resulted in his imprisonment. By early December 1776, General Howe held at least 4,430 American prisoners. Howe released 2,000 militia he hoped would return home and cease hostilities. Yet, he was left with over 2,000 prisoners to house and care for during the winter with few options for their confinement.
The British first resorted to confining Americans on prison ships in October 1776 with the use of the Whitby, a former transport converted for prison duties. The Whitby was quickly joined by several other unserviceable British logistics vessels that previously carried grain or cattle to America. Unprepared and with thousands of prisoners to care for, General Howe began to separate officers from their men. This served multiple purposes. It allowed the British to establish authority over the enlisted men, depriving them of the unit leadership. It also reduced the burden on the overtaxed facilities and allowed the officers better living conditions, providing an element of humanity to their imprisonment, setting a standard for the Americans to replicate when holding British officers. Many American officers received paroles, allowing them to reside with citizens on Manhattan and Long Island, with some degree of freedom. The experiences of the officers during the Winter of 1776-7 and beyond seems to be much different than the suffering and death associated with the enlisted men who spent any time on the prison ships. While Lingan likely received a parole ashore, his men likely suffered and died aboard prison ships like the Whitby. Lingan was a paroled prisoner on Long Island on August 15, 1778.
Lingan received his formal exchange on October 25, 1780 and served through January 1, 1783, when he retired from active service. His promotion to captain, effective December 10, 1778, may have occurred while he was a prisoner. Post-war land grant records indicate captain was the highest rank Lingan attained in Continental service. He is often referred to as a “general” based on his service in the Maryland Militia.
Post-War Life and Circumstances of Death
After retirement from active Continental service, Lingan returned to his home in Maryland in what is now the northwest portion of Washington, D.C. Lingan’s family owned land in this area and at one point he owned a home located near the intersection of Twentieth Street, I Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue, North West. This location was then a part of Georgetown, Maryland, first incorporated in 1789. A prominent citizen of Georgetown, he served as one of the first seven alderman and in 1790 was appointed collector of customs at the Port of Georgetown. Along with two other men he offered security for a $50,000 bond issued by the State of Maryland, in 1799, for construction of the U.S. Capitol. Lingan was an original member of the Order of the Cincinnati. His energy and passion for the new republic reflect a socially and financially sensible position in life in post-revolutionary America.
The first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, were important to those who understood the value of personal liberties that fueled the Revolution. Lingan and his associates suffered during the Revolution to advance the concepts embodied in the Bill of Rights. Lingan and other like-minded individuals challenged populist beliefs, prevalent in 1812, supporting war against Great Britain, in order to promote and protect individual liberties, specifically the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of the press. These men clearly understood the dangers of engaging in a second war with Great Britain during their lifetimes. Lingan’s fervent support of these liberties and opposition to war resulted in his untimely and violent death.
A like-minded associate of Lingan’s was Alexander Contee, the grandson of a former president of the Continental Congress and a journalist with the anti-war Baltimore Republican. On June 20, 1812, Contee recorded his thoughts on the declaration of war against the British by the United States that formally prompted the War of 1812. Contee wrote, “Thou hast done a deed whereat valor will weep.” A populist mob supporting the declaration of war sacked the offices of the Baltimore Republican and threw the press, type, and paper into the street, destroying the building that housed the press. However, not all American shared the views of the Baltimore mob.
Anti-war supporters included a number of men who served honorably to support American independence during the American Revolution. Among these were Gen. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee and James McCubbin Lingan. On the evening of July 27, 1812, Lee, Lingan, and others opposed to the war assembled in Baltimore in a house on South Charles Street to support freedom of the press and express their anti-war sentiments. Violence erupted, shots rang out, one man in the mob was killed and one wounded, and only with much difficulty did local authorities manage to reach the anti-war men and sequester them in the Baltimore jail for protection.
Civil authority deteriorated and the mob attacked the jail and violently beat the anti-war supporters, killing Lingan and seriously injuring Lee and others. Even though the working class of Baltimore suffered significantly as a result of British attempts to strangle American commerce, Lingan and the anti-war advocates lacked the support of the populace. The mob, fueled by the rhetoric of those supporting war, took out their frustrations on the anti-war supporters. James McCubbin Lingan’s life ended tragically in this new fervor for war at the hands of the countrymen he fought to protect only three decades prior. Many of those in the mob were likely too young to have personally experienced the trials of the Revolution.
Lingan’s initial interment occurred on the family estate in Georgetown following a formal funeral procession that included several men who survived the vengeance of the Baltimore mob, General Lee was not among them, his being so severe he never fully recovered. George Washington Parke Custis, of Arlington Virginia, headed the committee that organized the funeral and procession and provided the oratory. Two distinguished Revolutionary War veterans, identified as “Heroes of the Revolution,” also anti-war supporters, Col. Philip Stewart, “who led the forlorn hope of Washington’s Horse at Eutaw, and Major Stoddart,” attended the funeral. As evidenced by the individuals associated with his funeral, Lingan was obviously well respected by his Revolutionary War peers and community leaders.
DAR Association with Prison Ships and the Jersey
The linkage of Lingan’s imprisonment with the Jersey is associated with the renewed interest in recognizing the often-deplorable conditions associated with imprisonment on ships and the suffering and death that resulted. This is why the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) who placed the impressive marker on Lingan’s Arlington grave listed him as a survivor of imprisonment on the Jersey and boldly recorded this information for all future visitors to Arlington to witness. We now know his association with the infamous Jersey is unlikely; it is possibly linked directly to a handwritten note by his daughter, Mrs. Beverly Randolph, on a surviving parole document dated February 1778, indicating his prison was the Jersey. This note appears to be the justification used by the DAR to link Lingan’s incarceration to the Jersey and record this on his monument. Perhaps his daughter surmised that as a prisoner, he must have survived confinement there and penned the note referenced by others when Lingan was reinterred in Arlington. Those responsible for preparing his large monument and inscription were determined to bring to light the importance of surviving imprisonment on the Jersey because of the ship’s reputation and the fact the term “Jersey” became synonymous with prisons and prison ships.
As America entered the twentieth century, American Revolutionary prisoners and prison ships took center stage in attempts to document what can best be understood as “willful neglect” associated with prison ships. Lingan became part of this narrative. Lingan was exchanged during 1780, the year the Jersey began service as a prison ship. Further, the Jersey held prisoners taken at sea by the Royal Navy, not soldiers like Lingan. Lingan likely was confined only briefly on a prison ship in late 1776, if at all, well before the Jersey went into service.
In 1903, the Dolly Madison Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a bronze plaque over Lingan’s grave in Georgetown, Maryland, his original interment location. As Washington, D.C. grew, the city consumed the Lingan estate. Washington, D.C. annexed Georgetown in 1871, necessitating a more appropriate resting place for this veteran. In November 1908, the Daughters of the American Revolution transferred Lingan’s remains to Section 1, Grave 89A, Arlington National Cemetery. Upon his reinterment, Lingan received the “full military honors” due a general officer. November 1908 happens to coincide with the dedication of the impressive 114-foot granite column in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, commemorating a reported 11,500 prison ship deaths.
James McCubbin Lingan’s life and death exemplify the individual sacrifices required to build the United States of America and the tumultuous nature of that birth that did not end with the conclusion of the Revolution. If you visit Arlington National Cemetery, stop by Section 1, Grave 89A, and pay your respects. Regardless of his place of confinement, a prison, a prison ship, or parole before exchange, Lingan’s life and death are tied closely to the revolutionary ideals and the American experiment in democracy that continues to this day. One must overlook his tenuous association with the Jersey and focus on the true story behind the man and the monument. When you step in front of James McCubbin Lingan’s impressive stone monument you are witness to the grave of an American who was a passionate promoter of American freedoms we currently enjoy. He is truly an American Patriot who gave his life for those freedoms and liberties.
Selden Marvin Ely, “The District of Columbia in the American Revolution and Patriots of the Revolutionary Period Who Are Interred in the District or in Arlington,”Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, D.C. 21 (1918): 134-5, www.jstor.org/stable/40067102.
Ibid., 5: 452, 486; for more information on the original rifle companies see, Patrick H. Hannum, “America’s First Company Commanders,” Infantry, 102, 4, (Oct-Dec 2013), 12-19, www.benning.army.mil/infantry/magazine/issues/2013/Oct-Dec/pdfs/OCT-DEC13.pdf.
John Hancock to George Washington, June 29, 1776, in P. H. Smith, ed., Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774-1789 (Washington, D.C., Library of Congress, 1979), 4, 335-336, www.memory.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/r?ammem/hlaw:@field(DOCID+@lit(dg004262)); and Hentz, Unit History, 6.
Archives of Maryland,Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, 1775-1783 (Baltimore: State of Maryland & Maryland Historical Society, 1900), 12: 42 and 18: 52.
Ichabod Perry, Reminiscences of the Revolution(Lima, NY: Daughters of the American Revolution, 1915), 14-19, archive.org/details/reminiscencesofr00perr/page/18. Ichabod Perry, taken prisoner at Fort Washington, indicated he was held ashore for about two weeks, then imprisoned on a ship for about two months before being transfer ashore in February 1777. The first night, forced to stand upright because of the lack of deck space, about one third of the men imprisoned below decks suffocated. His first day on board was spent removing bodies from the hold and they had no food for the first four days of imprisonment. When finally paroled in February, Perry recalled only seventy-five men surviving the prison ship ordeal with men too weak to walk and suffering from small pox when finally released. Perry also mentioned 2,000 prisoners. This is likely the approximate number of Army and militia prisoners housed in both land-based facilities and aboard prison ships during late 1775 and early 1776. Individual comments like Perry’s are valuable. However, based on his comments it would be easy to suggest only 75 of 2,000 prisoners survived their two-month imprisonment. These types of inferences may result in inflated prisoner death numbers. At the time of Perry’s imprisonment, most of the men held on prison ships were soldiers not sailors. There were likely very few naval prisoners held aboard British prison ships in New York until later in 1777 when large numbers of privateers came into British hands and maritime prisoners came to make up the bulk of prison ship internees. See Larry G. Bowman, Captive Americans: Prisoners During the American Revolution (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1976), 12, 59.
A Return of American Officers and Other Prisoners on Long Island, August 15, 1778, Revolutionary War Rolls, 1775-1783, National Archives Microfilm Publication M246, 138 rolls; War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records, Record Group 93; National Archives, Washington. D.C., General and Staff, 1775-1783 (Folder 1) – Quartermaster General’s Department, 1779-1782 (Folder 5).
Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, 1775-1783, 365, 521, 616, search.ancestry.com/search/db.aspx?dbid=48594;Heitman, Historical Register, 352; and National Archives; Washington, D.C.;Compiled Service Records of Soldiers who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War; Record Group Title: War Department Collection of Revolutionary War Records; Record Group Number:93; Series Number:M881; NARA Roll Number: 156.
U.S. Revolutionary War Bounty Land Warrants Used in the U.S. Military District of Ohio and Relating Papers (Acts of 1788, 1803, and 1806), 1788-1806;Microfilm Publication M829, 16 rolls; ARC ID:635444. Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Record Group 49; National Archives at Washington, D.C. Warrant No. 1294.
A Contemporaneous Account of the Baltimore Riot of 1812, A Narrative of Mr. John Thompson, One of the Unfortunate Sufferers, September 1, 1812,penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Gazetteer/Topics/history/American_and_Military/1812_Baltimore_Riot/Sep1_1812_pamphlet/home.html; and Hall, Baltimore, 99-100.
Dorsey, “A Biographical Sketch,”46-47; Colonel Philip Stuart is identified by Heitman, Historical Register, 520, as Major Philip Stewart, 3rd Continental Dragoons, wounded at Eutaw Springs, September 1781; Baylor’s Dragoons, 1782-83; 2nd Artillerists & Engineers, 1798-1800; died 1830. Major Stoddart is not specifically identified; he is likely Benjamin Stoddard (Stoddert) of Maryland who served in Hartley’s Continental Regiment, 1777-79; wounded at Brandywine, September 1777; Secretary of the Board of War, 1779-81; First Secretary of the Navy, 1789-1801; died 1813, see Heitman, Historical Register, 522.
Ibid., 48-9;The popular historical narrative emphasizes systematic approach by the British to intentionally mistreat American prisoners. While there were clear cases of prisoner abuse, most of the suffering and death experienced by American prisoners resulted from a “breakdown of the apparatus which was supposed to cope with the needs of the prisoners of war,” rather than a “premeditated cruelty on the part of the British.” But the early twentieth century narrative interprets this treatment as a systematic approach to punish the rebel Americans and crush the revolutionary spirit of the population. This is largely based on the collection of published individual accounts of soldiers and sailors who survived imprisonment. The fact that human remains were so casually interred along the shoreline, in shallow graves that were quickly inundated by the rising tides, amplified the extent of the carnage for the next generation to witness and eventually address. Writers and survivors of the carnage took considerable liberty with the facts and numbers. The total number of land prisoners held by the British at any one time never exceeded 4,500 (late 1776). The total wartime number of maritime prisoners is estimated at 8,000. See Bowman, Captive Americans 31, 61, 123-33.
Prison Ship Martyr’s Monument, New York City, Department of Parks and Recreation, Fort Greene Park, www.nycgovparks.org/parks/fort-greene-park/monuments/1222.