Timeline of the Formation and Service of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment

-Part 1-
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Compiled by Robert A. Geake

1777

October

October 7

Commander of the Grand Army of America, General George Washington issued orders to Rhode Island commander Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum to detach Colonel Christopher Greene’s regiment of some 250 men to defend Fort Mercer at Red Bank, on the Jersey side of the Delaware. He was instructed to coordinate defenses with the Navy and the New Jersey militia if needed to protect Fort Mifflin, located on a small island mid-river northwest of Fort Mercer. After inspecting the breastworks on arrival at Red Bank, Greene determined that more troops would be needed to defend the Fort Mercer. With him were at least thirteen enlistees of color.1

Greene sent a dispatch to Washington asking that the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, under Colonel Israel Angell be sent to bolster the troops and waited anxiously until October 18 when the veteran soldiers of the battalion arrived.2

The troops quickly took steps to reinforce the inner redoubt of the fort, closest to the riverbank, moving artillery into position and building breastworks along the outer fortifications protected by brush and timbers. Within only a few days on October 21st, 1,200 Hessian soldiers under Count Emil Ulrich von Dunop had crossed the river from Philadelphia and taken up positions just ten miles from the fort.

October 22

Shortly after noon, Hessian infantry launched an attack by land on Fort Mercer, marching through the outer fortifications in two columns with little difficulty, only to be shattered by fire from the well-fortified inner redoubt where Colonel Greene and his men were waiting. As the stunned Hessian troops fell back, the Americans continued the assault with a brisk firing of cannon and musketry. Within minutes over eighty Hessians were killed. Their leader, Col. Count von Dunop was wounded and captured during the fight.3

November

November 15

After withstanding bombardment for weeks from British warships, brigadier general Varnum determined that his men must evacuate the remains of Fort Mercer. He penned a quick missive to General Washington, lamenting the losses the Rhode Islanders had taken:

"We have lost a great many men today, a great many officers were killed or wounded. My fine company of artillery is almost destroyed. We shall be obliged to evacuate the fort this night"4

December

December 7

Varnum’s soldiers were building huts at Valley Forge by early December. The commander of Rhode Island’s brigade took residence in the home of David Stevens, roughly one and a half miles from Washington’s headquarters. The Brigade was encamped some three hundred yards beyond the house in the ruins of a star- shaped redoubt, that remained one of the strongest works at Valley Forge, at a height that “commanded the road and river for miles”.5

In the low ceilinged “great room” of the stone house with its massive fireplace, the officers of the Rhode Island regiments and likely a few guests from neighboring states; gathered and debated the legitimacy of creating a black regiment to serve in the Continental Line. Col. Christopher Greene and Major Samuel Ward advocated for the forming of such a regiment, having experienced firsthand the capabilities of the soldiers of color in the field.

1778

January

January 2

Varnum wrote to Washington of the proposal under discussion:

“Sir-The two battalions from the State of Rhode Island being small, and there being a necessity of the State’s furnishing an additional number to make up their proportion in the Continental Army, the field-officers have represented to me the propriety of making one temporary battalion from the two; so that one entire corps of officers may repair to Rhode Island, in order to receive and prepare the recruits for the field. It is imagined that a battalion of negroes can be easily raised there. Should that measure be adopted, or recruits obtained upon any other principal, the service will be advanced…”6

Washington agreed and forwarded the letter to Rhode Island governor John Cooke with an added note urging him to act

“upon the means which might be adapted for completing the Rhode Island troops to their full proportion in the Continental Army. I…desire that you will give the officers employed in this business all the assistance in your power.”7

January 6-9

Acting on Washington’s approval, General Varnum dispatched Colonel Christopher Greene and Major Samuel Ward to Rhode Island for recruiting. These men were followed by Captain Thomas Arnold on January 8th, and Sergeant Jeremiah Greenman with John Smith of Arnold’s company a day later.

From Greenman’s diary, we know that it took he and Smith the remainder of the month to reach Rhode Island. Riding from Voluntown, Connecticut through “very muddy and raining wether” on the morning of January 31, they entered Coventry, and were in Providence by late afternoon.

Recruitment began auspiciously with the recruiters arrival in Rhode Island. Col. Greene and Major Ward enlisted two of Stephen Champlin’s enslaved men in South Kingstown, and in Providence enlisted Cuff Greene, the enslaved servant of James Greene.8

February

February 14

Governor Cooke placed the measure before the General Assembly in the February session, weathering the opposition from the land owners in what was then Kings County, the southern region of the state which held the largest population of enslaved workers. With Washington’s letter expressing his wishes propelling the Assembly to act in his favor, compromise with the plantation owners was reached, if not begrudgingly; allowing their enslaved men to enlist.

The Assembly’s Act reads in part:

“It is Voted and Resolved, That every able-bodied negro, mulatto, or Indian man slave, in this State, may inlist in either of the said two battalions to serve during the continuance of the present war with Great Britain: that every slave so inlisting shall be entitled to and receive all the bounties, wages, and encouragements allowed by the Continental Congress to any soldier inlisting into their service.

It is further Voted and Resolved, That every slave enlisting shall, upon his passing muster before Col. Christopher Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely FREE, as though he had never been incumbered with any kind of servitude or slavery.”9

Such language in the bill however, would not have been passable without the additional clauses that mollified the plantation masters:

so inlisting, a Sum according to his Worth; at a Price not exceeding one Hundred and twenty Pounds for the most valuable Slave; and in Proportion for a Save of less value…

“…And in case such slave shall, by sickness or otherwise, be rendered unable to maintain himself, he shall not be chargeable to his master or mistress, but shall be supported at the expense of the State.”10

A commission was established – some of the men chosen to serve had been part of the protesting parties that would determine the monetary value of each formerly enslaved man. The State would then pay the former owners the value the commission had determined.

February 14

The Assembly noted that:” WHEREAS a very considerable number of Small-Arms belonging to the Continent, were by General Spencer, delivered out to the Generals and Colonels, commanding Brigades for the Use of the Troops who were destined for the Attack of Rhode Island; who delivered out many of them to the Officers commanding the Militia, and other Officers in the fifteen Months Brigade, within this State: And wheras the said Guns have never been returned; and the said Officers are now out of Service, and neglect to collect the same…

It is therefore Voted and Resolved, That Brigadier-General Ezekial Cornell be, and he is hereby, fully empowered , authorized and directed, to collect the said Guns…”11

February 19-23

Sgt. Jeremiah Greenman would record that Smith and he had received word that “our rigement to the westward [Valley Forge] is very sickly”12 and that the two men “beet thro the town for vollingteers”13

February 20

From the Council of War: Resolved that John Reynolds, Esq., Agent Clothier of this State be and he is hereby directed to deliver to Col. Christopher Greene Ten Coats, Ten Waistcoats, Ten pair of breetches, Ten Shirts, Ten pair of Stockings, ten pair of Shoes, and ten Hatts for the use of the Soldiers in his Battalion.14

February 23

Former Prussian officer Baron Freidrich von Steuben arrived at Valley Forge. The Baron would be named the Temporary Inspector of the Grand American Army and set about a rigorous training program that would bring some much needed military discipline  to the troops. Among those trained were 52 members of Captain Thomas Arnold’s regiment of soldiers of color who would become part of the 1st Rhode Island, or “Black Regiment” of the Continental Line.15

February 25-28

Sergeant Greenman reported from the house of “Widdow Olney” in Providence that he and Smith were “implying (employing) our Selves in Recruting as fast as posable.”16

As might be expected, the largest resistance to the recruitment of enslaved blacks came from Kings County. In one example, when Captain Elijah Lewis attempted to recruit from a large group of men of color who had gathered in South Kingstown, they were harangued by Hazard Potter, who told the would-be enlistees that they would be given the worst duties that the Army could find, and would in effect, be worked to death.17

February 26

From the Council of War: “Resolved that the General Treasury pay to Maj. Samuel Ward Six Hundred Pounds to be delivered to Col. Christopher Greene and applied to the Payment…of the Bounties to the soldiers entering into the two Continental Battalions raised by this State.”18

February 28

From the Council of War: “Whereas Henry Randall of Cranston hath brought an Action of Trespass vs Alexander Stewart, a Recruiting Ser(geant)& Prince Randall, a Black Man who hath inlisted into the Continental Service, and they are committed to the State’s Jail in Providence. And as it may be very detrimental to the Recruiting Service unless they are Bailed and Set at Liberty, It is Resolved that Lieutenant Jeremiah Olney be and he is hereby directed and requested to Bail Stewart & Said Black Man Prince, & then State will indemnify him (Olney)from any damages attending the farm…”19

March

March 2

From the Council of War: “Resolved that John Reynolds Esq., Agent Clothier of this State deliver unto the Colonels & other Field Officers Commanding either of the two Continental Battalions within this State such Quantities of Cloathing as they shall from time to time want for the cloathing of said Battalions, the officers not drawing any one order for more than Fifty or less than Twenty suits at one time…”20

The state added a provision that the officers must pay and be accountable for payments for such clothing.

March 6

From the Council of War: “Whereas it hath been represented unto this Council that at there is at present Great Danger of a Scarcity of Provisions within this State for the Subsistence of the Troops within the Same…it be recommended to General Spencer that the Troops doing duty on the West Side of the Narragansett Bay in the future be supplied with Bread made one half of Flour, and the other half of Indian Meal, and that the whole of the Troops within this State, in lieu of one Pound and a half of Beef which they now receive, they receive but one Pound of Beef, and a half Pound of Rice each day for their rations…”21

March 9

John Reynolds, the Agent Clothier  of Providence is authorized to purchase silk “sufficient to make two Standards for the Regiments now raising in this State…”22

March 20

From the Council of War: “Colo. Christopher Greene is empowered to take for the use of the Inoculating Hospital, one Barrel of Sugar from the Sugars belonging to the State at William Greene’s estate…”23

March 21

From the Council of War: “Resolved that whenever John Reynolds Esq., Agent Clothier of this State shall supply any Officers of the Continental Battalions with cloathing who are destitute of Money to pay for such cloathing that he take on Order for the same on the Paymaster of the Battalion in which they respectfully belong…”24

March 27

Sergeant Greenman recorded that “this morn we pereded our Slaves for to march to Grinage (Greenwich).”

Training began immediately25 with daily marching and patrolling along the shoreline between East Greenwich, Warwick, and North Kingstown, Rhode Island. Only two weeks later, Sgt. Greenman would record that the officers were

“…Continuing in Grinage exersis[ing] our Recruits…In ye after part of the day turn’d out our black (troops)/rec’d sum orders picked out a guard of 20 men & a sub. Then marched to (Quidnessett)26 ware we made a guard house (out) of a dwelling house half a mile from ye shore.”27

March 28

Colonel Christopher Greene posted an order in the Providence Gazette for officers of the 1st and 2nd Rhode Island regiments to meet the following week at Major William Arnold’s house in East Greenwich in order to produce returns of their recruits and account for the monies received for their services.28

April

April 13

From the Council of War: Resolved that Col. Christopher Greene be and he is hereby empowered to draw the Sum of One Thousand Pounds Lawful Money out of the General Treasury to pay the Bounties of the Men he may inlist into the Continental Battalions, and that he be accountable to the State for the same.29

April 15

The recruits were paraded on alarm in East Greenwich after receiving word from their guard in Quidnesset that an enemy raiding party had landed a boat on Quidnesset Point. Officers from the 1st Rhode Island Regiment marched a detachment in support of the guard at Quidnesset and the raiding party retreated without an exchange of gunfire. The men remained on alert for the next two days.30

April 18

The Rhode Island General Election on this date expelled thirty-nine of the incumbents of the General Assembly, a number that was 62% of its membership, and replaced them with more conservative representatives. William Greene was also elected governor.31

From the Council of War: “Resolved that the Honorable Major General John Sullivan be and is hereby requested and appointed to take the Command of all the military forces now within this State, or that may at any time thereafter come into the same to do duty, as well (as) regular and Militia: that he make the necessary Disposition of the Troops for the defense of the United States, and this State in particular.”32

April 20

The recruits of the 1st Rhode Island regiment were paraded under arms along with the Independent Company of Kentish Guards33 in East Greenwich to honor the arrival of Major General John Sullivan who was given command of Rhode Island forces.34

April 21

From the Council of War: “Resolved that John Reynolds Esq., Agent Clothier in this State…is hereby directed to immediately send forward to the Continental Army for use of the two Battalions raised by this State the following Articles of Cloathing, viz: One Hundred and Twenty five Coats, Two Hundred and Twenty five Waistcoats, Four Hundred pair of overalls, Four Hundred Hunting Shirts, Two Hundred and Fifty pair of Shoes, Four Hundred Hatts, and Five Hundred Shirts.”35

May

May 8

From the Council of War: “Whereas the Board of War has requested the State to procure a Quantity of Tin Cartridge boxes to be made with all possible dispatch for the use of the Continental Army, It is therefore voted and Resolved that Mr. James Burrill be and he is hereby directed and employed to make said cartridge boxes…”36

May

Bowing to pressure from opposition37, the new Assembly modified the original Act allowing black and indigenous enslaved to enlist that the body had passed in February. While acknowledging that

“It is necessary for answering the purposes intended by the said act that the same should be temporary; it is therefore voted and resolved, that no negro, mulatto, or Indian slave be permitted to enlist into the said battalions from and after the tenth day of June next, and that the said act expire and be no longer in force.”38

The Assembly allowed for the continuation of the enlistment of free blacks in the Rhode Island Regiment as well as the state militia.

That month the First Rhode Island Regiment was formed at Valley Forge, comprised of sixty privates of color and twelve white officers, as well as six white musicians under command of Captain Thomas Arnold.39

John Reynolds presented an account charged by the State for “Two Yoke of Oxen., Two Ox Yokes, and Two chains, which were taken by Virtue of a Warrant from Col. Christopher Greene, to transport Stores to the Army…”40

Reynolds was authorized in the same session to withdraw 16, 250 pounds from the General Treasury and another 4,000.00 pounds from the General Assembly for “discharging such Debts as have been contracted by him in his Office, and to enable him to obtain further Supplies of Clothing and Blankets, as may be necessary for the Use of Officers in the Continental Battalions raised by the State, and the Soldiers in the Service of this State.”41

May 30

General John Sullivan formed his available troops into two brigades. One brigade under command of Colonel Ezekial Cornell was assigned to the eastern shore of Narragansett Bay at Warwick Neck, with the other under command of Colonel Christopher Greene where the recruits of the “Black Regiment” and several militia units were stationed at Quidnessett; just south of East Greenwich on the western shore. Lieutenant John Holden of the regiment was appointed Brigade Major, a much needed assignment as all the recruiting officers but Greene had been recalled to Valley Forge.42

June

June 8

From the Council of War: “Capt. Ebenezer Flagg of Col. Greene’s Regiment having represented to this Council that He hath a Mother and Sister whom he is obliged to Assist in Supporting, and Desired this Council to make him some allowance of one Quarter Part of his Wages in Articles at the State Price as if he had a wife. Resolved that the consideration thereof be referred to the General Assembly.”43

June 28

Captain Thomas Arnold and the men of his “black regiment” fought alongside Colonel Israel Angell’s 2nd Rhode island Regiment with great distinction from just after noon through dusk at the Battle of Monmouth, notwithstanding the loss of their commander in the field. Capt. Arnold was wounded by a musket ball to his right leg, which resulted in him being carried from the battle to the shade of a nearby tree.44 A number of the regiment were wounded as well, including African born Richard Rhodes, who would make note in his pension application that he had “served in the army of the revolution for five years”, and that “in the battle of Monmouth I received a severe wound in my arm from a musket ball.”45

July

July 17

From the Council of War: “Resolved that…

Sam Babcock Esq. having Exhibited to this Council his account for Valueing Negroes of his Expenses amounting to the Sum of Twenty five Pounds & 7/9 Lawful Money…

Josiah Humprey Esq. having Exhibited to this Council his account for Valueing Negroes with his expenses amounting to the Sum of Twenty Pounds, nineteen shillings…”46

Both men who had served on the Committee established by the previous State Assembly for establishing the worth of enslaved men given up by their masters for service in the Continental Regiments were duly paid with funds from the General Treasury.

July 18

General Sullivan wrote to General William Heath from Providence on the condition supplies and the shortage of men:

“Dear Sir, This Department is almost Destitute of Slow match47. The Commissary of Military Stores has wrote Major Flagg to procure Some which beg you to order to be furnished as soon as possible- the Enemy have received a Large Reinforcement…They are now near Six Thousand Strong to oppose which I have near 1500 troops Scattered along a Shore of a hundred & 20 miles in Extent…”48

General Heath replied two days later, empathizing with Sullivan’s plight which was much like his own:

July 20

“…I am exceedingly sorry to hear that you have so few men to Guard so many important posts. I am laboring under the same difficulty, and our Stores & prisoners at this time almost without Guards. Major Flagg has not yet applied for the match, when he does you may be assured that every assistance in my power shall be afforded not only in that but in any other instances…”49

July 21

Encamped near Croton River in New York, Washington regrouped the Continental Army and placed a large Continental detachment that included Varnum’s Brigade under command of the young General Lafayette. Major General Nathanael Greene was ordered to Rhode Island to assist with preparations for the siege of Newport.

July 22

Col. Israel Angell’s 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, and the men of color of the Black Regiment, now under command of Capt. Jonathan Wallen began their march to Rhode Island that morning. Sergeant Jeremiah Greenman recorded

“this morn about 5 oClock the G beet / we struck our tents / march about 16 miles ware we pitched our tents again in an orchard in Salem about 12 miles from Danbury.”50

July 28

Col. Christopher Greene ordered Major Samuel Ward and all but fifteen of the recruits to Warwick to engage in making fascines to be used in the upcoming siege.51

From the Council of War: “Resolved the Director General of the Hospital within this State in case of necessity for use of the Army forming within this State and in Command of the Honorable General Sullivan be and is hereby Impowered to impress or cause to be impressed such quantities of linen cloth and other articles for Dressing Wounds as he Shall judge sufficient…”52

July 29th, 1778

The arrival of the French fleet53 under the command of Vice Admiral Charles Henry Théodat, Comte d’Estaing marked the first joint operation of the Revolutionary War since the alliance of France with the American cause of independence. By nightfall the fleet had anchored in key positions at the east in the Sakonnet channel, and effectively blocked the middle, and west passage approaches to the island.54

August

August 2

On arrival in Rhode Island Capt. Jonathan Wallen and his detachment were dispatched to Warwick to assist with the making of fascines.

August 4

From the Council of War: “It is Voted and Resolved that John Reynolds Esq., Agent Clothier in this State deliver to Jonathan Arnold Esq., Director of the General Hospital in this State, Ten Pieces of Baize to be used in the present Expedition for blankets as occasion may require, agreeable to the Order of Major General Sullivan of this State for that Purpose.

It is Voted and Resolved that the General Director of Hospitals within this State be and is hereby empowered to give Warrants to so many surgeons and mates as shall be necessary to attend the Several Militia and Independent Companies and Train of Artillery now ordered on Duty for the present Expedition…”55

August 4

After landing forces on Conanicut Island (Jamestown) D’Estaing ordered two men of war up the Middle Passage and two frigates to enter the Sakonnet River under Admiral Pierre Andre de Suffren de Saint Tropez. The British fleet reacted with swift defensive maneuvers, running six ships aground to avoid their capture56, including the 32-gun frigate Cerebus which ran aground en route to Newport Harbor. She was set afire by her crew and soon exploded.57

August 6

A letter from General Sullivan to Henry Laurens, President of the Continental Congress, reports on the activities of the previous day, but also reiterates his concerns about the gathering of troops for the coming expedition:

“…I am sorry to inform your excellency that the motions of the militia are exceedingly tardy; I have been but inconsiderably reinforced by the militia of Connecticut, nor do I expect much from them. Those of New Hampshire and Massachusetts are, I am told, on their march, and have reason to expect them by Saturday next. Your excellency may rest assured that I shall make every previously necessary preparation for their reception, so that no time be lost between their arrival and the immediate execution of our intended invasion…”58

August 8

The French fleet regrouped as planned and sailed into Newport Harbor to prepare for the Battle of Rhode Island. The dozen ships under D’Estaing’s command carried 834 heavy caliber guns with which to pound the British fortifications.

August 9

The full contingent of the Rhode Island Regiment is mustered at Tiverton with 181 privates.59

Early that morning, Col. John Topham60led the men of the 1st Rhode Island State Regiment across the Sakonnet Channel and ashore to Aquidneck Island where they found the earthworks and wooden barracks atop Butts Hill vacated, but for a few red-coated straw filled dummy soldiers meant to fool the viewer from a telescope or spyglass. General John Sullivan then ordered the remainder of his Army to be ferried from the mainland. This was done through the afternoon, and by evening the troops had encamped around the abandoned Butts Hill redoubt.

That same morning, as the Americans were ferried to the north end of Aquidneck Island, and the French were disembarking on the western side, a French sailor aloft in the rigging of the convoy spied a contingent of white sails on the horizon. To Sullivan’s disbelief, the fleet signaled the arrival of Lord William Howe and his squadron of ships of the line. As one British historian has noted, “he could not have timed his entrance better.”61 D’Estaing immediately ordered his troops back to the boats.

August 10

Catching a favorable northeasterly wind early in the morning, the French fleet sailed from Newport harbor to avoid the risk of battle in Narragansett Bay. The British fleet followed as was Howe’s intent, luring them away from Newport for a confrontation on the open sea. By the following morning, D’Estaing’s squadron that was meant to be offshore in support of Sullivan’s troops were eighty miles from the island.62

August 11

In preparation for the planned march and siege, Sullivan paraded and reorganized his varied array of troops.63 A light infantry was formed to mask the main army’s maneuvers, and an advance company of “pioneers”  were chosen, including “one lieutenant, one sergeant, and 4 privates”64 from the 1st Rhode Island and other regiments to clear obstacles in front of the American advance. The assembled troops were “order’d to cook three days provision and hold our Selvs in ready to march in the morn att 6 oClock toward town.”65

August 12

A light rain having begun the night before became a steady gale by dawn. After inspection by the field officers, the march to begin the siege of Newport was called off. By nightfall winds had reached hurricane strength, clearing encampments of tents, and forcing soldiers to find what shelter they could.

August 13

Sergeant Jeremiah Greenman would record the damage from the gale:

“Continuing wraining & blowing very hard indeed all day/ this Night we was alarmed, but prov’d to be a false one / we continued on perade drawing Cartirages & fixing our guns for thay was in very bad order by the storm blo(w)ing down almost all our tents.”66

The gale had scattered the opposing forces from Narragansett Bay and caused great damage to topmasts and rigging67, forcing wounded ships from both sides to engage in desperate and fleeting combat. On this day, the French flagship Languedoc engaged the HMS Renown with little effect. The Marseillais exchanged cannon fire with the HMS Preston until darkness fell and brought an end to the contest.

August 15

With the weather finally cleared, the troops of the American Army along with horses and carriages with heavy guns were marched down Aquidneck Island towards Newport, Major General Nathanael Greene lead columns down West Main Road in Middletown while General Marquis de Lafayette headed the New Hampshire Volunteers and Col. Green’s 1st Rhode Island Regiment down East Main Street.68 The grand parade had but few spectators among the largely Quaker community.

August 16

Frustration at the lack of response from neighboring states to assist with the Rhode Island Campaign is evident in the records from this days meeting of the Council of War:

“…the General [Sullivan]…hath been disappointed in his Expectations of a Considerable Body of Troops from the Neighboring States, whereby he is under the necessity of applying to the State of all the Assistance we can afford to render the Expedition successful. And as there Appears a most happy Prospect with the blessing of Divine Providence, of recovering that part of the State now in [possession] of the Enemy…It is therefore Voted and Resolved, that all remaining part of the Militia[,] Independent[,] and Alarm Companies in this State as well as Officers and Privates, Except those who were [drafted] for the Present Expedition against Rhode Island…”69

The lack of boats with which to transport troops and baggage is also addressed as well as the exorbitant prices some Ferrymen were charging:

“The Council Being Informed that several ferry men of several ferries from Providence to Rhode Island by demanding Exorbitant prices occasion Great Delays which proves very detrimental to the present Expedition. It is voted and Resolved that the following prices shall be taken at Fullers, Smiths, Kelly’s, & Martin ferries to wit five pence for a Man and six pence for a Horse , and at Bristol Ferry six pence for a man and one shilling for a horse; and that in case the ferry man at Bristol Ferry shall make any unnecessary Delay or refuse to Carry at said prices, Mr. James Lovett be empowered either by himself or a Proper Person by him to be appointed to take the Ferry boats into his possession and employ suitable persons to tend them and to carry at sd prices.”

The Council imposed the same pricing and threat of possessing the ferry boats at Fullers, Smiths, Kelly’s and Martin’s crossings as well. Though in a compromise to keepers

“It is voted and Resolved that this state will make reasonable allowances to the Keepers of Ferries for the Transportation of Soldiers and Baggage: and that the Resolution continue in force during the present Expedition and no longer.”70

August 18

A letter from Major Samuel Ward described the army’s position as encamped in Middletown under a steady bombardment of cannon fire, and frequently exchanging gunfire with the well-fortified British position. Ward wrote that the American troops were occupied with “throwing up intrenchments, expecting to return the enemy’s cannonade the following day.”71

The infantrymen had dug one entrenchment along the ridge of Honeyman Hill and carpenters had built wooden platforms for the four cannons that made up the battery. The men now dug another, 600 yards south of the first, on the south side of Green End Road where four more of the 18 and 12 pounder cannon would be stationed.72

August 20

When the morning fog had burned off, troops on shore could discern the French flag flying from the crippled flagship Languedoc and two other ships outside the harbor. The flagship had been stripped of her masts and the black hull riddled with cannonballs. The ships finally dropped anchor off Breton Point around 6:00 p.m.

August 21

An aide was sent ashore to bring the message from French Admiral Count d’Estaing that he would bring his ships no closer, but instead retire to Boston for repairs. The decision placed the American troops on shore in a vulnerable position. A last minute dinner aboard the Languedoc attended by Greene and Lafayette failed to persuade the Admiral and his naval officers to stay and assist the Americans in their attack on the British garrison.73

August 22

Sullivan called forward a council of war in which a strongly written protest outlining nine reasons the French fleet should be obliged to stay is drafted and sent to Admiral d’Estaing. It was signed by all in the American command but Lafayette.74

General Nathanael Greene would write dejectedly to Quartermaster General Charles Petit The Devil has got into the fleet…They are about to desert us, and go round to Boston… I am afraid our expedition is now at an end…Never was I in a more perplexing situation. To evacuate the island is death, to stay may be ruin.75

The General’s mood would alternate between enthusiasm and resolve for the expedition to succeed, and uncertainty and resignation that the hoped for recovery of Aquidneck Island had become insurmountable.

The muster roll of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment that day showed that only 36 veterans of Capt. Thomas Arnold’s company of 62 were fit for service, leaving the remainder of the Regiment filled with men who were mostly new recruits with only six months of training.

August 23

In response to General John Sullivan’s request for council, Gen. Nathanael Greene responded with a highly detailed plan to engage the enemy. While acknowledging that with the French departed “it will be a folly to continue the siege by regular approaches”, Greene’s stratagem involved an amphibious landing of 5,000 men on Easton’s Beach, and sham attacks from Militia to hold as much of the enemy force upon the outlines of the main attack, allowing the Americans to gain the foothold needed to gain the redoubt at the head of the beach. Generals Glover, Tyler and Varnum favored Greene’s proposal. Gen. Ezekial Cornell, and Colonels Shepard and Livingston voted to evacuate the island immediately. In the end Greene’s ambitious plan was abandoned for a lack of seasoned troops.76

August 25

An anonymous artist sketched the scene of “The Siege of Rhode Island from Mr. Brindley’s House” showing the view to the south from Newport and the British front lines, for an engraving that would be published Gentleman’s Magazine, London, 1779. It remains one of the most widely published scenes of Rhode Island history.

August 28

Following a Council of War, General Sullivan ordered the troops on the established line to retreat to Butts Hill Fort. A detachment was formed from Colonel Nathaniel Wade’s regiment to act as defensive picket as the Army retreated.77

August 29

By 8:30 in the morning, the bulk of Turkey Hill just a mile distant, was taken by a large force of Hessians and artillery, who then moved on toward the redoubt.

“On both sides of the island the British drove American troops back toward their entrenched position in Portsmouth…Hessians attacked Greene’s command, the American right flank where the Black or First Rhode Island Regiment was posted. This was a key posting, for if the British could overrun the flank they could press in on the sides and rear of the American line, cutting off their retreat.”78

On first encounter, the troops of the 1st Rhode Island fell back. Seeing the flood of Hessians coming toward the redoubt, Varnum and Greene ordered the two veteran regiments to support the outnumbered troops.

From Col. Israel Angell’s diary:

"I was ordered with my regiment to a redoubt on a small hill, which the enemy was trying for, and it was with Difficulty that we got there before the Enemy. I had 3 or 4 men kill’d and wounded today…"79

The Hessian troops charged twice and were fought back in fierce hand to hand combat. Frustrated, the British sent a frigate into position where it could barrage the flank with cannon fire. Greene quickly ordered two cannons from the Artillery to be placed into position and fire back. This effort, along with cannon fire from an American redoubt on Bristol point, drove the frigate from the scene. 

Once reinforced, the Americans put up an “obstinate resistance” as the Hessians advanced toward the hill, finding “bodies of troops behind the works [redoubt] and at its sides, chiefly wild looking men in their shirtsleeves, and among them, many negroes.”

After taking heavy casualties, the Hessians fell back to take reinforcements. Watching the Hessians regroup before Turkey Hill, Greene ordered the remainder of Varnum’s Brigade into the fray, and other reinforcements from Cornell and Lovell’s brigades to flank the redoubt.

Twice more, the Hessians tried to overrun Greene’s troops but failed. “The third time” Sullivan would recall, “the enemy attacked with greater numbers. Again, aid was sent forward. There was a short conflict for an hour. Cannon fired on both sides from the hills. The enemy fled to Turkey Hill, leaving his dead and wounded.”

After fighting since early morning, the battle was finally finished by four in the afternoon. Greene and other officers attempted to persuade Sullivan to launch an attack on the enemy positions that same afternoon. Assessing that some 5,000 British forces had deployed on the hills, the General deferred , and through the night of August 29th the two sides exchanged long range artillery fire.

From the Diary of Col. Israel Angell: “I was ordered with my Regiment to lie on the lines. I had not Slept then in two nights more than two or three hours (,) the Regiment had nothing to eat during the whole Day this was our situation to goe on guard, but we marched off Cheerfully and took our post.”80 From a letter written by General Sullivan to Gov. William Greene: “…The Enemy then advanced…and Endeavored to Carry a Redoubt a Little in Front of our Right Major General Green who Commanded the Right wing advanced upon them with two or three Regiments & being Soon Reinforced Drove them Back in great confusion. The Enemy Repeated the attempt three times & were as often Repulsed with great Bravery our officers and Soldiers behaving with uncommon Fortitude & not giving up an Inch of Ground through the whole Day…”81 Shortly after the Battle of Rhode Island General Nathanael Greene wrote to Rev. John Murray of Coventry that “…the occurrences of this campaign should be delineated to the honor of America. The Monmouth battle, and the action upon Rhode Island, were no small triumphs to us who had so often been necessitated to turn our backs. To behold our fellows, chasing the British off the field of battle, afforded a pleasure which you can better conceive than I describe…”82

August 31

General Sullivan dismissed the militia units that had imbedded into the Continental Army for the Siege of Rhode Island. The remaining brigades and regiments are ordered to defensive positions along the coastline. Colonel Christopher Greene’s Regiment was assigned to the redoubts around East Greenwich.83

Col. Greene’s Regiment was joined by those under command of Colonel Nathaniel Wade. The two Regiments repaired and manned the redoubts along that section of coastline. Colonel Greene ordered the regiments to maintain a disciplined training. Guards were posted at Quidnesset Neck, and a row guard between Pojack Point and Quonset Neck in North Kingstown.84

September

September 9

Colonel Greene wrote to General John Sullivan to express his concern about the poor state of artillery and ammunition for the troops stationed in East Greenwich:

“Dear General, I sent my Brigade Quarter Master to Providence The Day before yesterday after the Necessary Ammunition for the Cannon and Musquetry, for this post [.] he Return’d last evening with the Musquet Cartridges[.] we are Deficient 522 Cartridges for four pounders which could not be had. I have one good Nine pounder mounted on field Carriage without one single Appurtence for her. There is neither Spung, Ladle or wirm belonging to any of the Cannon here. The QM Says he could not get any at Providence neither have we either Slow Match [,] Quick Match[,] or Port fire. This will Show that we can make no use of the Cannon we have Should they be ever so Necessary.

I had Determined to Defend this Town at all events Should it be Attacked. Should it be soon our Small arms must be all the Defence we can make. I thought it my Duty to let you know the Situation here…Gen. Greene Informed me Several Days past that There wou’d be Immediately Sent here four field pieces properly Officer’d and Man’d which I have expect until now…we have not a Single Artillery man at this post. I earnestly wish if any can be spared as it may be Soon-It gives me concern to have charge of a post in So Defenseless a Situation.”85

October

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment continued on guard and garrison duty with five companies. The veteran company of enlistees once under command of Captain Thomas Arnold was now given to Captain Thomas Cole, while Arnold took command of Cole’s old company. The captain was still recovering after his leg was amputated from wounds suffered at Monmouth, and was often on sick leave during this period.

October 19

In a letter to General John Stark in Albany, General George Washington ordered the general to Rhode Island to join Gen. John Sullivan’s forces in guarding the Rhode Island shoreline. General Stark replied to Washington and departed New York the morning of October 27th.86

October 26

In the months after the Battle of Rhode Island, the masters and mistresses of those enslaved who had enlisted, were still petitioning the State for payment….

“WHEREAS Fisherman, a Negro Man Slave, the property of William Allen, was inlisted by Capt. Elijah Lewis into the Regiment under Command of Col. Greene agreeable to a Resolution of this Assembly, and the said Fisherman before he was mustered and valued, deserted to the Enemy on Rhode Island whereby the said William hath been prevented from obtaining a Certificate of the Value of said Slave, and a note for the payment thereof…”

The Assembly voted to award William Allen the full one hundred and twenty pounds, and

“That the said Negro Man, if he should again come into the Possession of the State, be at the Disposal of this Assembly”.

“WHEREAS Dr. Thomas Eyres preferred a Petition and represented unto this Assembly , That his Mulatto Slave, aged about Twenty-three years, inlisted into the Continental Battalion raised by this State, under the Command of Col. Greene by the name of Frank Gould, alias Eyres, about Eighteen months since, to serve during the War: That during that Time and Act of this State was in Force; …was on duty in the Westward; so that it was not in his Power, for Want of the necessary Certificates, to apply for Payment for the said Frank: That the said Frank being esteemed by his Officers as an excellent Soldier, the Petitioner foes not object to his remaining in the Service on the Terms of the Act, but humbly prays this Assembly that he may be allowed a reasonable Sum for the Servant, and that the said Frank may be entitled to the Benefit of the said Act”87

November

While meat from local cattle seems to have been readily available, the shortage of flour for the troops guarding Rhode Island is raised repeatedly in letters from General Ezekiel Cornell and General Stark, whose men were without bread when they arrived in Rhode Island. These concerns, as well as an impending reduction of troops from the expiration of two companies of six-month enlistees were relayed in letters to Washington by General John Sullivan.88

December

December 3

It is Resolved That the Committee appointed to appraise Negroes inlisting into Col. Greeene’s regiment, appraise a Negro Man belonging to Mrs. Lydia Latham, of Groton, who hath inlisted into the said Regiment, and give a Certificate of their Appraisement to John Updike, Esq. ; who is empowered to draw the Money he shall be appraised at, for the said Lydia Latham, upon his giving Security to refund the same, in case it shall hereafter appear that the said Negro was not a Slave at the time of his Inlistment”89

December 5

From the Council of War: “WHEREAS Major-General Sullivan hath represented unto this Council, that several of the inhabitants of this State have been detected in fraudulently taking, and carrying away from the Redoubts, several Articles of warlike Stores, and also in buying and receiving from the Soldiery under his Command, Powder, Lead, and many Articles of Cloathing & e, .and requested the Advice of this Council with Respect to the Mode of trying those Offenders…”

The Council of War determined that the offenders be tried before the Superior Court, or before the Court of General Sessions of the Peace” to be held in Providence. And authorized the sheriff of the County to

“,,,keep in safe Custody all such Offenders as aforesaid, who shall be delivered to him by Major-General Sullivan, and also to apprehend all such Persons as shall be pointed out to him as guilty of any of the aforementioned Offences…”90

“Resolved, that the Agent Clothier supply fifty shirts and one hundred prs of shoes for the use of soldiers in the Rhode Island Brigade under partial command of General Cornell, to be delivered to the Pay Master of the regiment who will distribute them by the Direction of said Brigadier General Cornell…”91

Resources:

(1) Among them, as best we can discern, were  Privates Francis Baptist, John Daniels, Quash Carr, James Carpenter, Prince Limas, Pomp Davenport, Henry Hazard, and Prosper Gorton; just to name a few of what is believed to have been more than a dozen patriots of color. Black patriots made up an estimated 15% of the RI Continental Line at Valley Forge

(2) Anthony Walker So Few the Brave Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the American Revolution 1981 40

(3) He was mortally wounded and died two days after the battle. He was buried at Red Bank.

(4) James Mitchell Varnum, “A Sketch of the Life and Public Services of James Mitchell Varnum of Rhode Island” Boston, Clapp and Sons Printers, 1906 15

(5) Ibid, 17

(6) Livermore, 118

(7) Ibid.

(8) Geake/Spears, “From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution” Westholme 2016 p.139

(9) Acts and Resolves of the Rhode Island General Assembly 1778  pp. 15 – 18

(10) Ibid.

(11) Ibid., p. 23

(12) Between January and April 1778, the two Rhode Island regiments under Col. Israel Angell at Valley Forge lost a total of 86 men to disease, thirty-three from the 1st RI regiment, forty from the 2nd RI regiment, including their  Lieutenant William Jennings. Another twelve men died in Thomas Arnold’s company, a company of men of color that would be the first recruits for the “black regiment”.(Popek, Daniel “They.. fought bravely, but were unfortunate: The True Story of Rhode Island’s “Black Regiment” and the Failure of Segregation in Rhode Island’s Continental Line 1777-1783”Authorhouse 2015)  pp. 88-97

(13) Greenman, p. 111 The term “beet through the town” 110-11meant literally to beat a drum and draw attention for recruitment.

(14) Council of War Records, Vol. 3 p. 13 These uniforms were likely for the white officers of the regiment.

(15) Kapp, Friederich The Life of Frederick William von Steuben, Major General in the Revolutionary Army (New York, Mason Brothers, 1859) pp. 51-66

(16) Greenman, Jeremiah Diary of a Common Soldier in the American Revolution 1775-1783 Northern Illinois University Press 1978 pp. 110-111

(17) Popek, 83

(18) Council of War Records, Vol. 3, p. 19

(19) Council of War Records, Vol. 3, p. 22

(20) Council of War Records, Vol. 3., p. 19

(21) Ibid. p. 27

(22) Acts & Resolves March 1778, p. 15

(23) Council of War Records, Vol. 3, p. 36

(24) Ibid. p. 24

(25) Daily marching no doubt increased stamina, but much more training would be needed for those formerly enslaved men among the regiment. As enslaved men, they would never have handled a fowling piece, no less a musket. Now, those soldiers needed to learn to load and fire their muskets, not only for skirmishes in the woods where trees gave them cover, but also in the field. Making a stand in the open field meant that troops carried on the battle in a carefully choreographed sequence of ranks of men firing, kneeling, reloading, and standing to fire again. Training to load, fire, and reload as quickly as possible would have been a considerable part of the training received as well as learning to move in formation, and other fighting maneuvers as well as the code of drum rolls in the field.

(26) A redoubt or shore battery was located here, likely at Pojack point, but possibly at Potowomut. See https://www.northamericanforts.com/East/ri.html#daniel

(27) Greenman, 114

(28) Popek, p. 84

(29) Council of War Records, Vol. 3, p. 54

(30) Greenman, pp. 114-115

(31) But not without dissent. The following month, a statement of dissent regarding the election of Gov. Greene was signed by Thomas Anthony, William Hall, Robert Potter, William Bradford, Daniel Bradford, David Anthony, J.G. Wanton, James Barker, Jr., John Jepson, Oliver Williams, Thomas Potter, Jr., and John Waterman. (RIHS Mss 468, Folder 2)

(32) Council of War Records, Vol. 3, p. 54

(33) This famous unit would contribute General Nathanial Greene, Col. Christopher Greene, Major Samuel Ward, and a host of other officers and men to the Continental Army. Formed in 1774 at Arnold’s tavern in the town, the unit constructed a nine-gun fort and outlook post on a northern bluff overlooking the mouth of Greenwich cove the following year and named it Fort Daniel. See https://www.northamericanforts.com/East/ri.html#daniel

(34) Ibid.

(35) Council of War Records Vol. 3, p. 67 The coats ordered were upon delivery found to be of little use. Some were modified and used, but others were so small that the Council resolved to give them to “poor prisoners” who lacked such clothing. This may be one explanation for the notation of the 1st Rhode Island in battle being “chiefly wild looking men in their shirtsleeves” during the Hessian assault.

(36) Ibid. p. 75

(37) As Popek points out, had a letter written from Rhode Island congressman William Ellery reached the governor’s hand sooner, it might well have delayed  if not derailed the Act from passing the Assembly. While acknowledging the necessity of filling the Continental battalions as soon as possible, he expressed reservations about recruiting so raw a regiment; writing to Governor Cooke: I am informed that Col. Greene is gone to our State to raise a regiment of blacks. I wish that he may not be encouraged to recruit until our Continental Battalion and State battalion shall be completed, and the enemy be removed from the State…” Popek. P. 83

(38) Acts & Resolves, May 1778, p. 15 see also Geake, p. 42

(39) Popek, p. 178. Arnold’s detachment would be aligned with Col. Israel Angell and the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment. These men of color with the other Rhode Islanders would fight with great distinction at the Battle of Monmouth.

(40) Acts & Resolves, May 1778, p. 12

(41) Ibid., p. 16

(42) Ibid. p. 104

(43) From the Council of War: “Capt. Ebenezer Flagg of Col. Greene’s Regiment having represented to this Council that He hath a Mother and Sister whom he is obliged to Assist in Supporting, and Desired this Council to make him some allowance of one Quarter Part of his Wages in Articles at the State Price as if he had a wife. Resolved that the consideration thereof be referred to the General Assembly.”

(44) The wounded Captain remained for hours beneath the tree. In the initial fight in which he was wounded, the men retreated and he was left behind, poked and prodded by British troops who stole all his possessions, and then as the Americans regrouped and pressed the British back again, finally expelling them with a long cannonade. Only then, was Captain Arnold and doubtless others wounded around him, get retrieved from the field.

(45) NARA M804, Pension file W. 22060

(46) Council of War Records Vol. 3. Pp. 106-7

(47) Literally, the slow burning cord or twined fuse used for cannon and other early artillery. So called because the tip of the fuse burned very, very slowly and without a flame which would burn quickly.

(48)  Hammond, ed.  Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan Concord, New Hampshire Historical Society 1931 Vol. 2., p. 92

(49) Ibid., p. 94

(50) Greenman, p. 124

(51) Letter from Col. Christopher Greene to General Sullivan, July 25, 1778 from Hammond, Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan Vol 2: 136-137 Fascines were mats woven from grass to be used as pathways in bogs and marshy areas for both movement of troops and supplies.

(52) Council of War Records Vol. 3, pp. 110-111

(53) D’Estaing’s Squadron included the 90-gun flagship Languedoc, the 74-gun Guerrier, as well as veteran armed vessels the Protecteur, the Vaillant, the Tonnant, and two 26-gun frigates, the Aimable and Alcene. The squadron was followed by the brig HMS Stanley, a vessel captured in Sandy Hook just days before their arrival in Newport.

(54) McBurney, p. 82

(55) Council of War Records, Vol. 3., p. 121

(56) Desmariais, Norman America’s first Ally: France in the Revolutionary War Philadelphia, Casemate 2019 p. 193

(57) Ibid.

(58) Hammond, Letters and Papers of Sullivan. Vol. 2., p. 182

(59) RIHS Revolutionary War Military Records, Mss 673 sg 2 Series 1, Subseries A: The First Rhode Island Regiment, Boxes 1, 2.

(60) Col. John Topham was first given command as Lt. Colonel of the 1st Battalion of Infantry after its reorganization in December1777. Two months later, he was named in command of the Second Regiment of Infantry with a promotion to Colonel in February 1778. The two regiments would later be combined under his command in 1779.

(61) Showman, ed. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene Rhode Island Historical Society, University of North Carolina Press 1982  Vol. II, p. 484

(62) Ibid.

(63) Included were Two small Continental Battalions, Col. Henry Jackson’s Additional Continental Regiment, several independent militia companies from Rhode Island communities, and two Boston Independent companies. Popek, p. 219

(64) Brown, Capt. Simeon Orderly Book of Capt. Simeon Brown, Col. Wade’s Regiment, Rhode Island Campaign 1778 Essex Institute Historical Collections 58 (1922) p. 246

(65) Greenman, p. 127

(66) Ibid.

(67) The HM Frigate Apollo and the 80-gun Tonant both lost their masts. (see Desmarais, p. 194)

(68) Carbone, Gerald Nathanael Greene: A Biography of the American Revolution Palgrave, 2008 p. 106

(69) Council of War Records, Vol. 3., pp. 129-30

(70) Council of War Records Vol. 3, p. 129

(71) Ward, John A Memoir of Lieutenant-Colonel Samuel Ward, First Rhode Island Regiment, Army of the Revolution New York, privately printed 1875 p. 13

(72) McBurney, Christian The Rhode Island Campaign: The First French and American Operation in the Revolutionary War Yardley, Westholme Publishing 2011 p. 144

(73) Greene had penned an appeal to the French Admiral, part of which reads: The expedition against Rhode Island was undertaken upon no other consideration than that of the French fleet and troops acting in concert with the American troops. There has been great expense and much distress brought upon the country in calling the Militia together at this busy season. A force nearly sufficient for the reduction of this place is now collected and all the necessary apparatus provided for subduing the Garrison. If the expedition fails for want of the countenance of the Fleet and the Troops on board, It will produce a great discontent and murmuring among the people. The Garrison is important. the reduction almost certain. The influence it would have upon the British Politicks will be very considerable. I think it highly worth running some risqué to accomplish. (PNG Vol. 2, pp. 480-481)

(74) Papers of Nathanael Greene, Vol. 2, pp. 480-82

(75) Ibid. pp. 491-92

(76) Ibid. pp. 493-96 As he wrote later to Washington, We had a respectable force as to numbers between Eight and nine thousand rank and file upon the ground. Out of these we attempted to select a particular Corps to possess ourselves of the Enemies Line partly by force and partly by stratagem…the body was to consist of men that had been in actual service before, not less than nine months. However, the men were not to be had…(PNG Vol. 2, p. 499)

(77) Popek, p. 224

(78) Geake/Spears, “From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution” Westholme Publishing 2016, p. 62

(79) Field, Edward ed. The Diary of Col. Israel Angell Providence, Preston & Rounds Co. 1899 p. 9

(80) Diary of Colonel Israel Angell, p. 9

(81) Hammond, ed. Letters and Papers of Sullivan Vol. 2, p. 274

(82) PNG Vol. II, p. 506

(83) Orders of August 31, 1778 from Adjutant John Holden’s Orderly Book RIHS Manuscripts, Revolutionary War Records, MSS 673, SG2, Series 1, Sub-series A, Box 1, Folder 52.

(84) Popek, p. 236

(85) Hammond, Letters and Papers of Sullivan Vol. 2., pp. 324-325

(86) Fitzpatrick, The Writings of George Washington, Vol. 13, p. 112

(87) Acts & Resolves, October 26, 1778 p. 23

(88) Hammond, Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan, Vol. 2, pp. 420-421, 446. Popek, p. 266

(89) RI Archives Council of War Records, Vol. 3, November 11, 1778 p. 9

(90) Ibid., December 7, 1778 p. 14

(91) Council of War Records Vol. 3, p.158

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