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Drawn portrait of Thomas Carney

Thomas Carney

Served throughout the War of Independence with "the spirit of true patriotism."

A Brave and Faithful Soldier

"I do hereby Certify that Thomas Carney was Enlisted as a Soldier early in the Revolutionary War, and that he served in the capacity of a private Soldier to the end of the War in the 5th Maryland Regiment, as a brave and faithful Soldier to the end thereof."
Captain P. Benson, 1818

On July 22, 1828 Maryland's Daily National Intelligencer informed readers of the death a brave and honorable Revolutionary War veteran. The obituary for "Tom" told of his "privation and suffering," his exploits in battle, and his dedication to his fellow soldiers. "Near the village of Denton, in Maryland," it read, had died Thomas Carney, "a colored man, at the advanced age of 74."

An illustrated map showing an image of Carney in Maryland and a battle marker for Battle of Germantown

Serving for Maryland

Thomas Carney was born to free African American parents on Maryland’s eastern shore in 1752 or 1754. Before he enlisted in the 5th Maryland, he served with the Maryland militia, Sarer's Company, in the fall of 1777, in time to take part in the on October 4.

In May 1778, Thomas Carney enlisted in the 5th Maryland Regiment as a private. He was then transferred to the 7th Maryland and promoted to corporal, the lowest-ranking non-commissioned officer rank. While exact numbers are unknown, Carney was one of only a few African American soldiers to be promoted to this rank during the war. While records are unclear, Carney may have deserted the military or was discharged from the army in May 1780 but reenlisted on August 1, 1780.

According to legend—and his obituary—at the Siege of Ninety Six, Carney's then-commander Major General Perry Benson was severely wounded. Tasked with bringing Benson to get medical intervention, Carney hoisted the heavy-set general on his shoulders and ran him behind patriot lines to the medical tent. Upon arrival, Carney passed out from heat and exertion. When he awoke, he protected his captain from attack while the battle raged around them. Because of Carney, Benson lived to fight another day.

Intense fighting occurred at the British-built Star Fort that defended Ninety Six, South Carolina from attack depicting in this oil painting titled "The Struggle for the Star" by Robert Wilson in 1977.

Image Credit: National Park Service.

An illustrated map showing an image of Carney in Maryland

Coming Home

Carney was formally discharged from service on November 15, 1783. After the American Revolution, Carney returned to Maryland, where he lived with his wife Grace, and two daughters Alice and Rebecca.

An illustrated map showing battle markers for White Plains, Monmouth, Germantown, Brandywine, Guildford Court House, Siege of Ninety-Six, Camden, and Eutaw Springs.

In support of his pension application, Carney testified to a long service history during the American Revolution—certifying his participation not only at Germantown and , but also at , , , , , and

Seeing that he was in "reduced circumstances…in need of the assistance of his country," Carney's application was approved in 1818. Ten years later, his obituary testified that he withstood, "with his companions in arms, the hardships, misfortunes, and glories of the war," with "the spirit of true patriotism."

Themes of the period
Freedom and Slavery

While numbers are difficult to quantify, thousands of African American soldiers and sailors, free and enslaved, served in the American Revolution. Barring a few units, the Continental Army and states' militia were integrated forces. However, few African American soldiers were promoted from private, the lowest rank in the military, to corporal, the lowest ranking non-commissioned officer. None, however, were promoted to sergeant. Carney was most likely promoted due to his previous service in the Maryland militia in 1777 and participation in the Battle of Germantown.

Black Continental Soldier, T. Payton, 1997 Courtesy of National Park Service
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After the War

Thomas Carney is most often remembered for his valiant actions to save the life of Captain Perry Benson at the Siege of Ninety-Six in 1781. If Carney’s obituary is to be believed, Benson continued to remember Carney’s actions: "for his kindness and attention, Benson never forgot him, and, whenever he came to this county, invariably paid his first visit to Tom, and, while reviewing the militia, would always have him mounted on a horse, and at his side."