Adam Stephen – Continental Army Officer – Virginia


Adam Stephen (c. 1718 – July 16, 1791) was a Scottish-born doctor and military officer. He came to North America, where he served in the Virginia colonial militia under George Washington during the French and Indian War. He served under Washington again in the American Revolutionary War, rising to lead a division of the Continental Army. After a friendly fire incident in the 1777 Battle of Germantown, Stephen was found to have been drunk during the battle, and was cashiered out of the army. He later founded Martinsburg, West Virginia.


Adam Stephen was born in Scotland. He earned a degree at King’s College in Aberdeen, and studied medicine in Edinburgh. He then entered Royal Navy service on a hospital ship before emigrating to the British province of Virginia in the late 1730s or early 1740s. There he established a medical practice in Fredericksburg. He entered the provincial militia in 1754, and became lieutenant colonel of the Virginia Regiment under George Washington. That year he participated in Washington’s expedition that climaxed with the Battle of Jumonville Glen and the Battle of Fort Necessity, the opening battles of the French and Indian War. He continued to serve with the regiment and was involved in the disastrous Braddock Expedition of 1755 and other expeditions. When the war ended in 1763, he took over command of the regiment from Washington, and assisted in putting down Pontiac’s Rebellion.

When the American Revolutionary War broke out, he offered his services to the Continental Army, again serving under Washington. He was with the army during the New York and New Jersey campaigns of 1776 and early 1777, and, as a major general, was given command of a division in Washington’s army during the defense of Philadelphia. During the October 1777 Battle of Germantown he led his troops into a situation where they became engaged in friendly fire with those of Anthony Wayne. The ensuing court martial found that Stephen was drunk at the time of the battle; he was stripped of his command and cashiered out of the army.

He returned to his home in Virginia, and is said to have laid out the plan for Martinsburg in what is now West Virginia in 1778. He named it after a friend, Colonel Thomas Bryan Martin, and became the sheriff of Berkeley County, of which Martinsburg became the county seat. In later years he was joined there by Generals Horatio Gates and Charles Lee, who both purchased property in the county. In 1788 he was elected to the Virginia convention that ratified the Constitution of the United States.

Stephen was married and had one child, a daughter named Ann. He died in Martinsburg in 1791, and is buried beneath a monument erected in his honor there.


Stephen’s residence at Martinsburg, known as the Adam Stephen House, and at The Bower near Shepherdstown, West Virginia are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.