Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Levin Winder (1757-1819)
MSA SC 3520-1396

Biography:

Born in 1757 to wealthy planter William Winder and his first wife, Esther, Levin Winder grew up near Rewastico Creek in Somerset County (now Wicomico County). Although his mother died prior to 1770 when his father married his second wife, Mary, Levin Winder lived a normal life with his many siblings: John, William, Jane, Lean, Esther, and Priscilla. His father served in a variety of public positions, including serving as a justice of the Somerset County Court. Winder's older brother, John, already held public office as a delegate from Somerset County to the Annapolis Convention in 1774. The Annapolis Convention bypassed the authority of Maryland's colonial Governor, Sir Robert Eden, discussing how to react to the Boston Tea Party while organizing the state militia. Although little is known of his early life, Levin Winder studied law prior to the Revolutionary War, displaying the same ambitions as his family. [1]

Levin Winder's life changed around the time he turned eighteen. On January 2, 1776, Maryland Revolutionary officials appointed him as a first lieutenant, placing him in the Fifth Company of the First Maryland Regiment. Winder became well-acquainted with guard duty and managing his subordinates during this time. As a first lieutenant, he also needed to take over in case the captain of his company fell in battle. Winder performed such supervisory duties while still in Maryland during the first half of 1776. In July, however, the entire First Maryland Regiment received orders to travel to New York. George Washington feared an imminent British attack and desperately needed reinforcements. [2]

Winder’s regiment participated in the Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776. The Fifth Company helped in an effort to save the rest of the Continental Army, standing “coolly and resolutely” during their retreat. When the men of the Fifth Company finally retreated themselves, a British officer tricked the soldiers by pretending to surrender. Although Captain Nathaniel Ramsey and Lieutenant David Plunket had been "within forty yards of the enemy's muzzles," the entire company mostly survived the barrage of musket balls which "blazed in [their] faces." The Fifth Company pushed through enemy lines toward the Gowanus Creek, wading through the swampy area to rejoin the American forces with minimal losses. [3]

Having survived the Battle of Brooklyn, Winder’s company later fought at the Battle of White Plains in October 1776. Winder survived the Battle of White Plains, despite heavy American losses. One Hessian volley alone wounded and killed ninety-two soldiers during the battle, and forty soldiers of the Maryland Line were killed, captured, or wounded in total. The Fifth Company suffered very few deaths in battle during 1776 but often faced sickness. Winder himself fell ill in late September, but recovered by mid-October. Morale also dropped, resulting in desertions. Winder's company lost nearly thirty soldiers between July and December 1776 because of illness, desertion, and death. Despite a string of defeats in 1776, American victories at Trenton and Princeton revitalized the morale of soldiers like Winder. Winder had already decided to remain in the army, and was promoted to captain in the First Regiment in December 1776. [4]

While still performing his new duties as a young captain within the First Regiment, Winder led troops at locations including Staten Island, Brandywine, and Germantown. Winder sought further methods of advancement during this time. He took issue with other officers, arguing that he outranked them. At some point in October of 1778, Winder found himself arrested due to an argument with “Major [Peter] Adams.” George Washington recommended that “Winder should be released from arrest,” but Winder’s brush with discipline did little to deter his ambitions. [5]

Winder and several other Maryland officers continued to press Washington on their ranks through 1779. Washington convened a special meeting of the Board of General Officers in April of 1779 with “the purpose of arranging, settling the Rank, and dating the Commissions of the Officers of the Maryland Line.” The Board noted that “the claims of Captain Windor [sic] and others…are totally inadmissible [as they had] given him the highest Rank in [his] grade.” His promotion denied, Winder remained a captain until May 30, 1779, when he was promoted to the rank of major. [6]

Winder’s military career continued without any major events until the summer of 1780. The Maryland Line traveled to South Carolina under Baron Johann De Kalb. Joining Horatio Gates’ army, the Marylanders faced a harsh march south with limited rations and rough terrain. The march towards the south culminated in the Battle of Camden on August 16, 1780. The Maryland Line suffered greatly in the battle, losing about a third of its number, including many American soldiers who were captured or went missing in the battle’s chaotic aftermath. The British captured Winder during the battle. [7]

The exact date of Winder’s release is unclear, but he received a commission as the First Regiment’s lieutenant colonel on June 3, 1781. Winder remained in captivity at least until the middle of 1782. Regardless of when Winder gained his freedom, he continued to be a member of the First Regiment until the war’s end in 1783. [8]

Following the war, Winder returned to Somerset County to manage his growing estate. After marrying Mary Stoughton Sloss in 1790, Winder and his wife had three children with her during the 1790s: William Sydney, Edward Stoughton, and Mary Ann. With the death of Mary’s father, Thomas Sloss, Winder received “half of [Sloss’s] Land with the Dwelling house,” and three enslaved people, a man named Davy, a woman named Fanney, and Fanney’s son. Winder owned 40 enslaved people by 1800 and 53 enslaved people by 1810. Winder’s plantation grew from 1,404 acres in 1798 to 1,915 acres in 1808, further reflecting his status in Somerset County. Winder owned one of the larger plantations at the time. [9]

Winder also held a variety of public service positions between 1790 and 1810. His first foray into politics involved becoming a Federalist member of the Maryland House of Delegates in 1789, a position he held until 1793 and returned to between 1806 and 1809. He also served as Speaker of the House for five different years during his tenure there. He later became a presidential elector in 1792, and served as a Senate elector for Somerset between 1796 and 1811. In 1794, Winder became a major general in the Maryland Militia’s Second Division. Winder became a champion for the militia, later supporting “a bill to regulate and discipline the militia.” Winder also supported Maryland’s education system, serving as a “director of several [Somerset County] schools” in 1796 and acting as a trustee of the county’s Washington Academy between 1797 and 1819. [10]

Although the Federalist Party proved popular among the planter class in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore partially because of the party’s nativist sentiments, the Democratic-Republican Party controlled the Maryland state government starting in 1801. Baltimore emerged as a Republican stronghold due to the party’s emphasis on anti-monarchical rhetoric and its conciliatory views of immigrants. On June 22, 1807, the British warship HMS Leopold attacked the USS Chesapeake, killing four seamen and wounding seventeen others. The British also took four seamen aboard the Chesapeake and tried them as deserters, executing one of them. This incident reflected broader concerns regarding the British impressment of American sailors and outraged American citizens. The Republican administration of President Thomas Jefferson pushed for an embargo instead of war with the British, which resulted in the Embargo Act of 1807. The act hurt American businesses that focused on maritime transport and left sailors unemployed, leading to an economic downturn. The Embargo Act thus led to Federalist backlash in areas like Maryland where businesses heavily relied on maritime trade now banned by the act. [11] 

Alexander Contee Hanson, a member of this Federalist resurgence, founded a provocative newspaper called the Federal Republican in 1808. When the United States declared war on Britain in 1812, the Federal Republican’s anti-Republican rhetoric intensified, leading to violent riots in Baltimore. One rioter died in the struggle that followed, which caused the Republican rioters to kill Revolutionary War hero James Lingan. The rioters also wounded several other defenders of the Federal Republican, including Hanson and war hero Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee. Public opinion in the rest of Maryland quickly turned on the Republicans, condemning the actions of the rioters and nicknaming Baltimore “Mobtown.” As a direct result, the Federalist Party gained control of the state government. In November of 1812, the Maryland legislature elected Levin Winder as the state’s fourteenth Governor. [12]

Winder, like other Federalists, supported maritime defense but opposed the war overall. As the British invaded Maryland in 1813 and 1814, Winder requested aid from the Federal government for help with “the unprotected and defenceless state [of] many parts of Maryland.” The Federal government provided little aid, forcing Winder to rely on state militia forces. Although he delayed aiding Baltimore until the British first blockaded the city in 1813, Winder sided with noted Republican U.S. Senator and militia general Samuel Smith over Federalist generals, including his nephew, militia general William Winder. Smith had previously served alongside Winder in the Revolutionary War and acted as the commander of all Baltimore area troops. Smith later proved instrumental in defending Baltimore from the British in 1814, preparing the city well in advance for the crisis. [13]

Although Republican newspapers constantly criticized Winder, going so far as to refer to him as a “tory” and “demon,” Winder remained popular enough to stay in office through the end of 1815. Using his popularity and status as a grand master of the Freemasons, Winder laid the cornerstone of Baltimore’s Washington Monument in 1815. Winder’s role in the defense of Maryland and lingering tensions over Republican actions allowed Charles Ridgely, “a strong and decided Federalist,” to immediately succeed him as governor. Winder reached the term-limit, serving three one-year terms, and thus could not run for Governor again. A Republican-controlled state legislature, however, forced Winder to pay $1,643 back to the state, revealing lingering tensions between the two parties. Winder received the money for acting as “commander in chief of the militia” despite never leading the militia during the war. [14]

After retiring to his home in Somerset County, Winder’s ambitions apparently cooled, living a quiet life until he fell ill in June of 1819. After traveling to Baltimore for medical treatment, Levin Winder died on July 1, 1819. Originally buried in Baltimore, Winder’s family moved his remains to a private cemetery near Princess Anne in Somerset County. Winder left all of his property to his wife Mary. Mary Winder later died on May 5, 1822. She divided the property left by Levin Winder into three parts for each of their children. [15]

The exact location of Winder’s grave remains unknown. The private graveyard’s location may have been on an individual’s private property in the late nineteenth century, attracting unwanted guests and visitors. Local stories suggest that the property owner removed the graveyard’s headstones to prevent further interest in his property. Alternative theories suggest that the grave has become submerged in the nearby creek or that grave robbers may have looted and destroyed it. Although several researchers attempted to locate the grave near Winder’s former property in the late twentieth century based on rumors surrounding Winder's lead casket, nothing has been found. [16]

-James Schmitt, Maryland Society Sons of the American Revolution Research Fellow, 2019

Notes:

[1] Edward C. Papenfuse, et al., eds, A Biographical Dictionary of the Maryland Legislature, 1635-1789 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), vol. 2, pp. 902-904; “Obituary,” Baltimore Patriot, 3 July 1819; Morris L. Radoff, "An Elusive Manuscript: The Proceedings of the Maryland Convention of 1774," American Archivist, vol 30, no. 1 (January 1967), p. 59.

[2] Proceedings of the Conventions of the Province of Maryland, 1774-1776, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 78, p. 68; Muster Rolls and Other Records of Service of Maryland Troops in the American Revolution, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 13; Friedrich von Steuben, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, Part I (Philadelphia: Styner and Cist, 1792), pp. 132-133; Mark Andrew Tacyn, “‘To the End:’ The First Maryland Regiment and the American Revolution” (PhD diss., University of Maryland College Park, 1999), pp. 44-45.

[3] Extract of a letter from New-York: Account of the battle on Long-Island, 1 September 1776, American Archives Online, series 5, vol. 2, p. 107; Tacyn, pp. 56-60; Return of officers & soldiers, etc. of Smallwood’s Regiment, 20 July 1776, Maryland Historical Society, Smallwood Papers, MS 1875; Return of the Maryland troops, 13 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 85, from Fold3.com; Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, pp. 93-94, from Fold3.com; Return of the Maryland troops, 11 October 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, 92, from Fold3.com;  Return of the Six Independent Companies and First Regiment of Maryland Regulars, 1 December 1776, American Archives, series 5, vol. 3, pp. 1081-1082.

[4] David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 111; Tacyn, pp. 98-104; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, p. 172; Return of the Maryland troops, 27 September 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, pp. 93-94, from Fold3.com; Return of the Maryland troops, 11 October 1776, Revolutionary War Rolls, NARA M246, folder 35, p. 92, from Fold3.com.

[5] George Washington to Major General Johann Kalb, 18 October 1778, Founders Online, National Archives.

[6] Board of General Officers to George Washington, 13 April 1779, Founders Online, National Archives; Christopher Richmond, “List of Pay Disbursements to Troops,” May 1779, Maryland State Papers, Series A [MSA S1004-27-4145, 1/7/3/37]; Compiled Service Record of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, National Archives, NARA M881, from Fold3.com; Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1 April 1777 to 26 October 1779, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 21, p. 470. Although most secondary sources claim that Winder received a commission for the rank of major on April 17, 1777, primary source evidence indicates otherwise. It seems that the date of commission may have been applied retroactively, lining up with the Board of General Officers’ mission of “dating the Commissions of Officers.”

[7] Tacyn, 217-218, 220-225; Richard John Batt, “The Maryland Continentals, 1780-1781” (PhD diss., Tulane University, 1974), 21-26; Horatio Gates to George Washington, 30 August 1780, Founders Online, National Archives.

[8] Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1780 to 1781, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 45, pp. 364, 375; Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 18, pp. 476, 522; Journal and Correspondence of the Council of Maryland, 1781 to 1784, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 48, p. 188; “List of Officers captured in the Southern Department who have not been Exchanged,” 26 November 1782, Maryland State Papers, Red Books, vol. 9, no. 90-1 [MSA S989-12, 1/6/3/45].

[9] Federal Direct Tax, 1798, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 729, pp. 4150, 4283; Papenfuse et. al, 902-904; Will of Thomas Sloss, Somerset County Register of Wills, Wills, 1797, Liber EB 17, 1788-1799, pp. 616-618 [MSA T2538-1, 1/50/4/52].

[10] Adjutant General, Militia Appointments, 1794-1804, vol. 1, p. 4 [S348, 2/8/3/13]; Republican Star (Easton, MD), 15 December 1807, p. 1; Proceedings and Acts of the General Assembly, 1796, Archives of Maryland Online, vol. 105, p. 327; Papenfuse et. al, pp. 902-904; Maryland Inventory of Historic Properties, "Old Washington Academy," Somerset County, S-412, p. 7.

[11] Frank A. Cassell,  “The Great Baltimore Riot of 1812,” Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 70, no. 3 (1975), pp. 242-244; Robert E. Cray, Jr., “Remembering the USS Chesapeake: The Politics of Maritime Death and Impressment,” Journal of the Early Republic, vol. 25, no. 3  (Fall 2005), pp. 445-448, 467.

[12] Cassell, “The Great Baltimore Riot of 1812,” pp. 243, 250-256, 258-259; Paul A. Gilje, “The Baltimore Riots of 1812 and the Breakdown of the Anglo-American Mob Tradition,” Journal of Social History, vol. 13, no. 4 (1980), pp. 548, 554-558; Alexandria (Virginia) Gazette, 12 November 1812.

[13] Donald R. Hickey, “Federalist Party Unity and the War of 1812,” Journal of American Studies, vol. 12, no. 1 (April 1978), p. 30; Levin Winder to James Madison, 26 April 1813, Founders Online, National Archives (see also Governor and Council, Letterbook, Gov. Winder to Pres. Madison, 26 April 1813, pp. 241-242, MdHR 1885 [MSA S1075-11, 2/26/2/26]); Frank A. Cassell, “Baltimore in 1813: A Study of Urban Defense in the War of 1812,” Military Affairs, vol. 33, no. 3 (December 1969), pp. 351, 360.

[14] Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 16 December 1813; “To his Excellency Levin Winder, Esq. Governor of Maryland,” Republican Star, 14 September 1813; “The Russian Celebration, or Modern Toryism in Maryland exposed,” Maryland Republican (Baltimore), 10 February 1814; Rhode Island American (Providence, RI), 19 December 1815; “Illegal Waste of Public Money by the Federal Governor and Council of Maryland,” Baltimore Patriot, 2 September 1815; “Extract of a Letter,” Baltimore Patriot, 20 August 1816.

[15] “Obituary,” Baltimore Patriot, 3 July 1819; Papenfuse et. al, pp. 902-904; “Died,” Baltimore Patriot, 15 May 1822; Somerset County Register of Wills, Wills, Will of Levin Winder, 1819, Liber JP 4, p. 61, MdHR 20,067 [MSA C1815-7, 1/50/4/6]; Will of Mary Winder, 1822, Somerset County Register of Wills, Wills, Liber JP no. 4, pp. 40-41 [MSA C1815-7, 1/50/4/6].

[16] Stump, Brice, "Mystery surrounds lost grave of Gov. Winder," The (Salisbury) Daily Times, 9 June 1991; Stump, Brice, "Dashiell spent decades in search of Winder grave," The (Salisbury) Daily Times, 23 June 1991; Stump, Brice, "Investigators face possibility the mystery may be solved," The (Salisbury) Daily Times, 14 July 1991.

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