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

- Part 2 -

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Compiled by Robert A. Geake

1779

February

February 1

A fleet of British raiding vessels known as the Tory “Mosquito Fleet” had resumed raids on Rhode Island and Massachusetts’ shoreline communities. On this day a loyalist raiding party landed in Quidnesset without raising any alarm, and plundered the farm of Mr. Mathew Manchester, stealing180 sheep, 19 head of cattle, and 80 bushels of corn.92

February 4

Colonel Christopher Greene wrote to General John Sullivan requesting 100 additional soldiers from General Varnum’s Brigade to guard Point Judith where there remained a “considerable quantity of ranging cattle.”93

“…I am very apprehensive” Greene wrote, “ Should they make any descent it will be on Point Judith as that part is full of fine Stock the weather Moderate and no Troops in That Quarter-if one hundred men cou’d be Spared to take post there I think it might answer a very valuable purpose though that Number would be rather Small to guard properly-I have Directed Major Cogswell to Send a Small Guard on that part of Quidneset nearest him which he has Done. I send a Small night Guard from here to that part nearest me-these can do little more than give Alarm, and the Center of this neck is nearly five miles from either the Body of the Majors’ or my troops. As he has the whole of Boston Neck to guard I cant think he can spare any more Southward without weakening this Post very much…”94

February 24

General Sullivan travelled to the posts in East Greenwich to review the situation in person. While there, a large contingent of men from Glover’s Continental Brigade participated in a “sham fight” against members of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment and Sullivan’s Life Guards.95

March

March 5

The Continental Congress approved the resignation of Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum from his Continental Commission.

March 11

From the Council of War: “Resolved, that any of the Inhabitants of this State may turn in to the Collector of Taxes any number of Good Blankets, Suitable for Soldiers, and that the said Collectors be directed to Receive them in pay for each person’s tax, as far as the amount of Such blanket so received Valuing each blanket of the best sort not exceeding Seven ponds, ten shillings…”96

March 27

General Sullivan’s Return of Strength and Posts records the 1st Rhode Island Regiment at their post in East Greenwich having 140 men, 14 cannon, and 669 rounds of ammunition. His report also mentions fixing out three vessels for “defence of this Harbor”, among them which

“Col. Green is fixing a large Boat to row with 12 oars, to have proper Sails and to carry 6 Swivels…”97

March 29

General John Sullivan was given a hero’s sendoff in Providence, with a military band and a thirteen cannon salute. Before leaving, he was feted at a formal dinner in Johnston, accompanied by Generals Glover and Varnum, along with several other officers.98

From The Military Service and Public Life of Major-General John Sullivan:

“When he was called to a more active field of service, “a meeting was held in Providence to express the feeling of respect entertained for this favorite general, and addresses were also presented to him from the officers in the state military, medical and staff, and also from the order of Freemasons. A voluntary escort attended his departure as far as Johnston, where a public dinner was given him by his late companions-in-arms.”99

Sullivan left to take command of the expedition against the Iroquois aligned with Great Britain on the young nation’s western frontier. An offer that had first been turned down by the officer who would succeed him in Rhode Island, Major General Horatio Gates.

April

April 3

Major General Horatio Gates arrived in Providence to a display of much pomp and fanfare.100

That same day, loyalist attacks launched from Newport against Falmouth, and Woods Hole, Massachusetts were successfully repelled by local militia, but were able to capture livestock on the undefended island of Martha’s Vineyard.

April 5

From the Council of War: “Resolved that the Honorable Major General Horatio Gates be and is hereby requested by Appointment to take the Command of all the military forces now within this State or that may hereafter come into the same to Do Duty as [?] as Regulars as Militia, that he Make the Necessary Disposition of the troops for the Defense of the United States in General and of this State in Particular.”101

That same day, a loyalist fleet of nine vessels from Newport landed some 200 men on Nantucket Island leading to the plunder of warehouses and private homes; with the loss of 260 barrels of whale oil, as well as coffee, sugar, molasses, and marine supplies.102

May

May 7

After months of the captain’s absence in recovery, Colonel Christopher Greene is compelled to write to the Commander-in-Chief concerning the future of Captain Thomas Arnold:

“…Captain Arnold of my Regiment had the misfortune to lose a leg in the action at Monmouth, which has rendered him unfit for duty in the Regiment. If it should be your Excellency’s pleasure, and other ways consistent, I wish he might be permitted to fall into such business as may offer, and be considered as not belonging to the Regiment, with pay, rations, and other advantages the same as if in the Regiment. He has been an excellent good officer…”103

May 8

On this day a Loyalist party landed on Point Judith and plundered several farms of livestock. The 1st Rhode Island Regiment was placed on alert and readied to march, but the raiders withdrew quickly with but a few sheep and cattle and returned to Newport.104

May 21

On this day a Sergeants guard from Capt. Elija Lewis’ company of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, was surprised and captured105 at Quidnesset. The following day’s Providence Gazette provided a detailed account to readers:

“Early last Friday morning a small fleet of enemy’s shipping…and 4 other armed vessels came up the bay, and about day-break landed a party of 150 men at Quidnesset, on the Narragansett shore, where they surprised an advanced guard of two non-commissioned officers and 11 privates, then burned a house, and began plundering the inhabitants; but a small party of Col. Greene’s regiment, under the command of Capt. Lewis attacking them, they immediately retreated…After they had all embarked, the fleet made sail, but one of the sloops getting aground, a field piece was ordered down to the shore, which was fired upon them with such success that the other 8 made off as fast as possible; and a party of our troops were sent to secure the sloop.”106

May 22

From a letter written by Col. Christopher Greene to Gen. Horatio Gates:

“Yesterday was captured the Armed sloop George, near the shore of North Kingsto(w)n, by Continental, States, and Militia troops107, she is said to be between Twenty and Thirty tons – mounts two Three pounders and four swivels – (?) for four carriages, and ten swivel guns. The papers found in her I enclose…..”108

Disciplinary problems in the East Greenwich camp resulted in general orders being issued for two of the “camp women” to be flogged, and the contingent of other women to “be drummed out of camp for the distance of a mile.”109

June

June 6

As feared by Colonel Greene, Point Judith was raided by the enemy who succeeded in taking eight civilian prisoners as well as capturing a number of sheep and cattle before being repelled by men from Colonel Henry Jackson’s Regiment, and a party of local militia.110

June 7

An attack from raiders on Quidnesset resulted in the torching of two houses before the Loyalists were driven back to their boats by a detachment from the 1st Rhode island Regiment.

In response to the increasing threat, the Rhode Island General Assembly ordered that the troops in Rhode Island be consolidated and reorganized for the defense of the shoreline. The two State Regiments were consolidated into one Regiment under command of Colonel John Topham.111 General Horatio Gates ordered Colonel Henry Jackson’s Regiment to Warren and the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment to replace Jackson’s at Barber Heights in North Kingstown.112 Colonel William Barton also raised a “Corps of Light Infantry”.113

June 11

After consultation with Colonel Samuel Ward concerning the low recruiting numbers for the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, Colonel Christopher Greene wrote to General Horatio Gates of the idea promoted by Ward of transferring all soldiers of color then in the theatre of Rhode Island military operations into the “Black Regiment” to bolster their numbers.114

In addition to recruitment problems, some less than honorable noncommissioned officers were punished for their misconduct:

June 21

Sergeant William Kipp of Captain John S. Dexter’s Company was tried by a Regiment Court-Martial for playing cards with privates of the Regiment. He was given a guilty verdict and his rank reduced to a private.115

July

July 7

Another party of loyalists from Newport conducted a raid on the town of Fall River, Massachusetts. The following night, another raiding party under command of Col. George Wightman landed three boats at Quidnesset and surrounded the house of an inhabitant.116 He managed to escape and the raiders proceeded to plunder the home

“but on the approach of a party of Col. Greene’s Regiment, retreated hastily to their boats; two of them were taken, and a third ran into a swamp…”117

From the Diary of Col. Israel Angell:

“This morning I got up very Early in order to set off on my journey for the Camp but my horse had run away and took me all the forenoon to look for him[.] in the afternoon I sett off for Camp[,] went to Greenwich [.] there[,] Col. Greene Desired me to tarry with him until next day and he and Major Flagg would go with me. I tarried between two and three o’clock in the morning we were alarmed by the firing of small arms below towards New Town on which the Allarm Guns were fired at New Town and warwick…”118

Immediately on the alarm sett off for Camp[.] arrived at New Town before Sunrise[.] on my way there mett some Militia who informed me that there were three Boats with about one Hundred men landed at Quonset above new town and Plundered John Dyer’s House of Some Small matter of goods…”119

July 14

From the Council of War:

“Resolved that Ebenezer Slocum, a drummer in Col. Greene’s Regt. be paid the sum of twenty-four pounds ten shillings Lawful Money from the General Treasury for 3 1/5 months sustenance money due to him from the 20th of Sept. 1778 thru January 2, 1779.”120

July 20

Private Benjamin Twitchell of the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment is arrested, court-martialed, and sentenced to death in the course of a day after presenting a list of grievances from the soldiers of the regiment to a defiant Lieutenant Colonel Israel Angel.121

July 29

The 2nd Rhode Island Regiment mutinied at their encampment on Barber’s Heights in North Kingstown. The majority of the enlisted men believed that Angell, as with other “pampered” officers, used the sentence as justification for shooting an innocent messenger as an example of discipline to the enlisted men.

The mutineers were led by Private George Milliman of the recently organized Light Infantry Company. The nineteen year old while charismatic, was also reckless and potentially dangerous; cocking his musket and leveling it at Lt. Colonel Jeremiah Olney who had ridden on his horse into Camp and driven the drummers sounding the call to arms back to their tents. The lieutenant colonel wounded one man with a gash on the forehead when he slashed at the drums with his sword.122

When Private Milliman ordered the mutineers on the march to East Greenwich to free Benjamin Twitchell, Major Simeon Thayer rode quickly ahead to alert the 1st Rhode Regiment at the encampment of the situation at hand. On hearing word of the mutiny, Col. Christopher Greene immediately ordered the 1st Rhode Island Regiment to arms. He then rode with Thayer, Lt. Colonel Samuel Ward, and Lieutenant Dutee Jerauld south along the Post Road until they met a body of eleven armed men about three miles from the East Greenwich encampment.

Colonel Greene sent Lt. Col Ward ahead to negotiate, but the officer’s orders to stop were ignored. He returned to Col. Greene who then asked Ward to inform the mutineers that he would listen to their grievances, but if they refused, the Black Regiment at East Greenwich was prepared to counter the mutiny with arms. Private Milliman reportedly retorted that the body of men would easily “charge through” the Colonel’s Regiment. When he grew impatient with the pause created by Greene’s attempt to diffuse the situation, Milliman ordered the mutineers to march again.

They were met again by a party on horseback consisting of Governor William Greene and Brigadier General John Stark. As Lieutenant Dutee Jerauld rode ahead to inform the mutineers of the Brigadier General’s wish to talk, Major Simeon Thayer joined the Governor’s party, and on arrival, demanded immediately that the mutineers lay down their arms. When half the men complied, Private Milliman demanded his men to shoulder their pieces. Major Thayer then cocked his pistol and leveled it at Milliman’s head while the mutineer’s leader leveled his own weapon at the Major. This standoff was only ended when the Governor demanded that Thayer stand down and lower his weapon.

After both Governor Greene and Brigadier General Stark agreed to listen to the men’s grievances in a meeting with eight of the privates, including Milliman; order was restored.

July 31

Four privates of the 1st Rhode Island regiment were given regimental court-martials for their involvement in the theft of sheep from Mr. Spencer’s pasture with the “encouragement” of their Guard leader Sergeant John Dunbar while patrolling Spink’s Neck in North Kingstown. Dunbar’s punishment was decidedly, and rightly severe. The Sergeant’s immediate punishment was 100 lashes. In addition, his rank was reduced to private, and his wages were withheld until the damages had been repaid. The four privates of color were also given guilty verdicts, but were pardoned by Lt. Colonel Samuel Ward.

September

September 3

In a further attempt to receive compensation for the expenses in forming the 1st Rhode Island Regiment with the payment to enslaved owners of the state for those who had enlisted, Governor William Greene wrote to the Rhode Island delegates of the Continental Congress and echoing the complaint of the leaders in the General Assembly that the state receive its fair dues considering

“…the slaves that now belong to Col. Greene’s regiment, none of whom are appraised at more than four hundred dollars, a consideration by no means adequate to the benefit they are to the United states, as they are good soldiers and serve during the war without any other allowance than what is paid them by the Continent, when the others, doing the same duty as them, are allowed what is called subsistence money, the amount of which has been more in one year than any of them were valued at. And as Congress recommends to the southern states to raise a number of blacks in the same way, for which the owners of them were allowed one thousand dollars, there appears to be the same reason that the owners of those raised by this State should be allowed the same price.”123

September 6

Inspector General Baron Von Steuben’s report on General Starks Brigade of Rhode Island troops reveals the ongoing recruitment and retainment of troops for the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. Col. Christopher Greene’s Regiment returned 18 Sergeants, 7 musicians, and 158 rank and file. Von Steuben would note

“This from its numbers can hardly be called a Regiment., consisting only of 147 Negroes in very bad Order. The Non Commissioned Officers are very bad which must always be the case as they being white Men cannot be reduced or their places supplied from the Ranks…”

The General suggested that the regiment be replaced in the Continental Line with the state regiment then under Colonel John Topham. There is no record I can find, that this was even considered.

October

Executing a daring escape from Martha’s Vineyard, five of the soldiers of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment taken prisoner in Quidnesset, the previous May, “stole a boat and made their escape to New Bedford and joined the army again at East Greenwich.”124

The men reached camp during the week of October 2, 1779.

American intelligence informed General Washington that the British were taking steps to evacuate Rhode Island.125 News soon reached the men in the field.

October 21

From Sgt Jeremiah Greenman’s Diary:

“this morn went to Camp/ are informed that the enemy is about leaving Newport & have burnt the Lighthouse, a No. of Ship that lay up the River have fell down to the Southward of the fleet.”126

Anticipating that the British will soon leave Rhode Island, General Washington approved General Horatio Gates plan to march to Hartford as soon as the British had left the island. This stirred the fear of inhabitants on the mainland of a return of the British marauders, as expressed in a letter to General Nathanael Greene in November. The British would eventually evacuate on 25 October 1779.

November

From the Council of War: “Whereas Mr. David Gifford hath represented unto this Council that at present there is no Ferry House at Bristol Ferry to accommodate Travellers passing the same. It is therefore Resolved that it be and is hereby recommended to Gen. Cornell to Deliver to the said David Gifford such Barrack or Barracks upon the Island of Rhode Island, as can be best spared, to be appropriated for the purpose aforesaid, he to be accountable for the same.

Resolved that….Gen. Cornell Deliver to Mrs. Mary Franklin in the Barracks on Prospect Hill to be made us of as a Ferry House on the West Side of Conanicut, and that she be accountable for the same.”127

“… Whereas it has been represented to this Council that there is a considerable quantity of stores and other valuable materials may be taken from the British Vessels heretofore sunk by the Enemy within any port of the State, and Whereas the same doth of right belong to this State: Wherefore Resolved that it may be recommended to General Cornell to prevent said Goods or Articles from being taken and disposed of by private persons, and to apprehend and confine all such persons as may be detected offending herein…”128

The Council resolved that Gen. Cornell employ “Capt. Clark and other proper persons belonging to the Army in taking and securing such Articles as may be taken out of said Vessels for the use of this State.”129

Heading into winter, the State received multiple petitions from officers for clothing. In this session the Council

“Resolved that the subject matter of the Petition from Colonels Greene and Angell respecting Cloathing for their Regiments to be referred to the next session of the General Assembly.”130

Winter also meant an increase in illness and hospitalizations. The rather forthright “recommendation” to General Cornell seems to indicate that the General Hospital in Providence was already at capacity:

“Resolved that it be recommended to Brigadier General Cornell to order such repairs on the College Edifice now used for a general Hospital, as may prevent any further damage to the Buildings by storms & c.

It is further Resolved that it be recommended to Brigadier General Cornell to provide a proper place for a General Hospital, and that in future he does not permit any more Sick Soldiers to be put into the College, as the Officers of said College are desirous of opening the same as soon as may be for the instruction of youth…”131

November 3

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment joined Colonel Israel Angell’s regiment at Goat Island. After the town of Newport was secured, the troops were ordered by Washington to march to New York to join the Grand Army.

November 14

From a letter written by Gov. William Greene to Gen. Nathanael Greene:

“Sir,

I had the Pleasure of receiving your agreeable favours of the 29th October and 2nd Instant following, and am much obliged for the information of the success of our arms in the Jerseys, as well as that of the Enemys having evacuated Ver Planks and Stony Point. And I most sincerely rejoice with you that they have done the like at Rhode Island…”

Still, as the state began confiscating the Estates left by Loyalists, the Governor worried that

“there is a great Probability of the Enemy’s returning , should not the French Fleet Prevent by coming this way, by which means the Inhabitants of that Town who are well enclin’d might suffer greatly…”

The Governor provided Gen. Greene with a list of 48 men, women, and children (including three enslaved men) who “have left Newport and gone with the enemy”, reporting then, that

“There is about 1400 tons of Hay left by the Enemy which appears to be very good and in Excellent Order , as also about 400 coards of wood which is now in the hands of the Contenant, a very agreeable affair this, can we but continue to hold the Island but should those articles be a means of drawing the Enemy to their former Station on Rhode Island…and by Intelligence from Govr [Jonathan] Trumball, that may very Probably be the case132…we seem to be in a disagreeable Situation, the whole of the Continental Troops being Now gone out of this State into that of Connecticut, but as they are to take up their Quarters at Hartford it is very wisely order’d that they remain there in readiness to return again in case the Enemy should do the like.”133

On reaching Hartford, Gen. Horatio Gates received a letter from General Washington ordering Col. Christopher Greene’s regiment back to Rhode Island.

November 15-16

From Sgt Jeremiah Greenman’s Diary:

“this morn set out for Newport where I arrived about 5. oClock, the Commanding officer their ordered all the forage & C moved off as their was an Expectation of the Enemies coming back…”134

Greenman’s company would take the ferry to Conanicut Island [Jamestown] the following day, march across the island and take the South ferry to the mainland in North Kingstown. The following day the company marched to East Greenwich where they spent the night.

November 19

“this morning set out from East Greenwich / came to West Greenwich where I dined, then pushed on to Vollington [Voluntown] where put up/ hear meet Colo. Greens Regt. On the Return back to Newport.”135

Resources:

(92) Popek, p. 267

(93) Hammond, Letters and Papers of Major-General John Sullivan Vol. 2, pp. 504-505

(94) Ibid.

(95) Popek, p. 267. A “sham fight” involved using powder charges in the soldiers muskets for a more realistic effect, much as re-enactors do today.

(96) Council of War Records Vol. 3, p. 194

(97) Hammond, Letters and Papers of Sullivan, Vol. 2, p. 556

(98) Popek, p. 267

(99) Armory, Thomas C. The  Military Services and Public Life  of Major-General John Sullivan

(100) Ibid. The Providence Gazette would include an article about the reception on April 19th, reporting that the General was escorted into the city by Glovers Brigade, dressed in their “new uniforms”.

(101) Council of War Records, Vol. 3, p. 202

(102) RIHS Microfilm Providence Gazzette, April 17, 1779 p. 4. See also Popek, p. 268

(103) Letter from Colonel Christopher Greene to General George Washington, May 7, 1779 Library of Congress Manuscript Division see http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/gwhtml/gwhome.html

(104) Popek, p. 285

(105) Those captured were Sergeants Nicholas Spink and Christopher Crandal, and Privates Wally Allen, Prince Bent, York Champlin, Baccus Hazzard, Philo Phillips, Toney Rose, Isaac Rodman, Mingo Reynolds, Cesar Shelding, Quam Tanner, and Jack Watson. (Popek, p. 285) May 1779 Muster Rolls NARA Microfilm M246 Revolutionary War Rolls, Roll 85

(106) Providence Gazette, June 2, 1779 RIHS Microfilm

(107) These included the 1st Rhode Island encamped at Barber’s Heights, as well as Col. Henry Jackson’s Continental Regiment. The State militia included members of the Wickford Rangers.

(108) RIHS MSS 455 Col. Christopher Green Misc. Papers, 1776-1781

(109) Ibid.

(110) Popek, p. 289

(111) Ibid.

(112) Popek, p. 289

(113) Bartlett, Colonial Records of the State of Rhode Island Vol. 8, pp 561-562

(114) Letter from Colonel Christopher Greene to General Horatio Gates, June 11, 1779 Horatio Gates Papers 1726-1828 Microfilm, reel 9.

(115) Popek, p. 290

(116) Ibid.

(117)Providence Gazette, July 10, 1779 p. 3 RIHS Microfilm

(118) Field, ed. Diary of Colonel Israel Angell, Commanding the Second Rhode Island Continental Regiment during the American Revolution 1778-1781 Providence, Preston and Rounds Co. 1899 p. 61-62

(119) Ibid, p. 62

(120)Council of War Records, Vol. 3, p. 225

(121) The original petition delivered by Twitchell may be found in Horatio Gates Papers Microfilm, reel 10. The Court-Martial and death sentence in General Orders, Rhode Island, NARA Microfilm M853, Numbered Record Books, Roll 5, Orderly Book July

(122) For the most detailed account of this affair, see Popek, pp.291-292.

(123) Letter of Gov. William Greene

(124) Pension file of Prince Bent, NARA . Bent recalled in his pension how the captured men had first been taken to Newport, then transferred to “Hell’s Hole” on the vineyard.

(125) Greene’s deputy on Rhode Island informed him of British activities, including their evacuation, of which Bowen wrote Greene in a letter written the following day and dispatched with instructions to the carrier to ride “night and day” The letter arrived in Greene’s camp on October 30th. See Showman, ed. PNG Vol. V, pp. 64-67

(126) Greenman, p. 142

(127) RI Archives Council of War, Unbound Records 1779-1781 p. 5

(128) RI Archives, Council of War Records, Unbound Records 1779-1781 p. 4

(129) Ibid.

(130) Ibid., p.16

(131) The College edifice was that of “University Hall” at present day Brown University. During the Revolutionary War, it was known as Rhode Island College. The Hall was used as a hospital until the French departure in June 1781. RI Archives, Council of War Records, Unbound Records, p. 17

(132) Both Connecticut and Rhode Island expressed concerns to Washington about their vulnerability to attack from the British fleet. In response, Washington detached a Brigade from New Hampshire and two regiments of Continental dragoons to defend southwestern Connecticut from an invasion across Long Island Sound, and ultimately appeased Governor Greene by ordering the return of the 1st Rhode Island regiment to their home state.

(133)  PNG Vol. 5, pp. 66-67

(134) Greenman, p. 143

(135) Greenman, p. 144

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