Smallwood State Park



William Smallwood, 1782

Smallwood State Park is a memorial to the life and public service of William Smallwood, a Revolutionary War officer, Governor of Maryland, and a member of the colonial tidewater aristrocracy. Smallwood's plantation house has been restored and furnished in the manner of the early Federal period of American history and is open to the public.

William Smallwood was born in 1732. His family was wealthy and active in the political affairs of colonial Maryland. Bayne Smallwood, his father, was a Charles County delegate to the Maryland Assembly and a justice of the Charles County Court. In private life Bayne was a merchant and tobacco planter. He owned a large tract of land on the Potomac River called Mattawoman Plantation.

His son William's public career began in the early 1760's upon his election to the Assembly. During the decade and a half that he sat in the Assembly, William Smallwood served on a number of important committees and gained a reputation for decisive leadership. As Bayne Smallwood grew older William took over management of the family estate. He built his own house in 1760. As with all planters in tidewater Maryland and Virginia, the Smallwoods' cash crop was tobacco. But they also raised other crops and livestock to feed their family, servants and slaves. 

Smallwood's Battalion

William Smallwood's tenure in the Assembly spanned the period of the growing colonial resistance to British imperial policy that led to the Revolution. The colonial assemblies were focal points of resistance, and Smallwood was an active advocate of the anti-British position. Upon the outbreak of hostilities (in the mid-1770's) Smallwood took command of the first full strength Maryland battalion to join the Continental Army.

Smallwood's battalion reached the theater of action in time to play a key role in the Battle of Long Island, August 26, 1776. Thanks to a valiant rear guard action by the Maryland and Delaware troops, Washington's routed army narrowly avoided destruction. Smallwood's troops continued in active service throughout the following autumn, as Washington was forced to retreat slowly from New York. At the Battle of White Plains Smallwood received a bad wound in action that gained him a promotion to Brigadier General.

From late 1776 through 1780 Smallwood alternated between field command of Maryland regulars with Washington's army and various tours of duty in his home state. He was particularly effective in putting down loyalist insurrections on Maryland's Eastern Shore.

In early 1780 Smallwood and the Maryland troops went to the Carolinas to help resist new British offensives in the south. He was present at the Battle of Camden, South Carolina, August 16, 1780, where the Americans were dealt a serious defeat. Although separated from his troops and not actually involved in the fighting, Smallwood was included in a blanket statement of thanks voted by Congress to the Maryland and Delaware lines because of the key role he played in keeping the American army together after the defeat. He was also promoted to Major General, the highest rank attained by a Marylander in Continental service. Unfortunately, Smallwood had difficulties getting along with his fellow officers. This resulted in his recall to Maryland to serve as a recruiting and supply officer.

Smallwood Retreat

Following the Revolution, Smallwood returned to his Charles County plantation. In 1785 the state legislature elected him Governor. He served in that office until 1788 and played an important role in Maryland's ratification of the Federal Constitution. In 1791 Smallwood was elected to the State Senate and the Senate promptly chose him its presiding officer.

Besides his duties as a public official Smallwood engaged in other important activities. He was a founder and first president of the Maryland chapter of the Sons of the Cincinnati, an organization of regular officer veterans. Smallwood was also a member of the Alexandria, Virginia, Masonic Lodge, a distinction he shared with George Washington, and was active in the affairs of Durham Parish Church, an Episcopal congregation still in existence. Smallwood died in 1792. A memorial to his service stands on the slope below his house.

William Smallwood's restored home reflects the lifestyle of an eighteenth century tidewater gentleman -- elegant and graceful, yet simple and functional. Though born into wealth and prestige, Smallwood and other men of his class led active and productive lives. The Smallwood Foundation, Inc., a non-profit educational groups, has contributed all the house's furnishings and helps with other educational efforts.