Home

Walking the Battlefield – September 24, 2022

Leave a comment

Heritage Park in Portsmouth: Off of Hedley Street in back of the transfer station.

First tour: 11 AM

2nd Tour: 11:45 AM

Bring comfortable shoes, but the walking is light and easy going.

“We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.”

Leave a comment

“Who won the Battle of Rhode Island?” someone asked me recently. I cautiously answered that I thought it was a draw. The Americans were able to get out of a tough situation with their men and equipment. They retreated from Aquidneck Island but lived to fight another day. They proved they could fight valiantly. The question of who won or lost has always been a sore point for me, especially when people dismiss the importance of the battle simply because it was not a Patriot victory.

Nathanael Greene
Nathanael Greene

I have been reading “Washington’s General: Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution” by Terry Golway. In battle after battle it seems that the Patriots had to retreat and retreat strategically. Golway quotes Greene writing to a French ally, “We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.” I found another similar quote in a letter about the Southern Campaign from Greene to Washington 1 May, 1781: “My public letters to Congress will inform your Excellency of our situation in this quarter. We fight, get beat and fight again.”

I understand a little more today than I did a week ago. Yes, we should celebrate the victories like Yorktown. But… we shouldn’t dismiss the retreats. They kept the Patriots going, wore down the British, and ultimately worked towards gaining Independence.

“We fight, get beat, rise and fight again.”

Resources:

Founders Early Access: https://rotunda.upress.virginia.edu/founders/default.xqy?keys=FOEA-print-01-01-02-5589

Golway, Terry. Washington’s General: n Nathanael Greene and the Triumph of the American Revolution. Holt, NY, 2006.

Revolutionary Rhode Island: General Nathanael Greene Homestead

Leave a comment

Nestled in a quiet residential area of Coventry is a gem from Rhode Island’s Revolutionary past. It is the home of General Nathanael Greene, one of Washington’s most trusted generals. It is a two and a half story colonial house with four rooms on each floor divided by a large hallway. Greene built this house in 1770 with the help of family. It was the same year that Nathanael was selected to be the resident manager of the Coventry Iron Works which was on the same property. Greene worked at the forge making large ship anchors and chains until his military enlistment. It remained in the Greene family (through his brother Jacob’s line) for many years and some of the furnishings and items you see would have been used in the homestead when Nathanael lived there.

The Greene Homestead has ties to many moments in the history of the War for Independence. On the night of April 19, 1775, Greene received news of the fighting at Lexington. Greene at once mounted his horse and rode to join his militia. Although he was raised a Quaker, Greene had joined the Kentish Guards in East Greenwich. He entered military service as a private, but three weeks later he received a commission from the Rhode Island State Legislature as a Brigadier General in the Army of Observation.

In the first year of the war the homestead served as a convalescent home for officers who had been vaccinated against small pox. George Washington had mandated that American soldiers be vaccinated, but the procedure was new and there were often severe reactions to the vaccine.

Lafayette is said to have visited the house on occasion. On July 24, 1778, Washington sent Greene to help in the effort to dislodge the British from Aquidneck Island. He left camp in New Jersey and rode 170 miles in three days, arrive at the homestead on July 30. For the first time in their lives, Greene, his wife Catherine and the Green children were together at the same place.

Greene left his family about a week later for Providence and on to Tiverton. The American Commanding Officer, John Sullivan, assigned Greene to the right wing and Lafayette to the left wing. This was to be the first joint effort of the Americans and French, but things did not go as planned and the French decided to leave for Boston when their ships were damaged in a storm. Greene and his friend Lafayette were given the diplomatic duty of smoothing relations between Admiral d’Estaing of the French and Sullivan who vocally expressed his anger.

When the French did indeed sail off, Greene commanded forces in the Battle of Rhode Island. Afterwards Greene returned to the homestead once again. He left for military supply business in Boston, but received word that his third child had been born. He hurried home to Coventry. From dates of letters to Washington from the homestead, Greene stayed in Coventry until at least early October of 1778 when he returned to service. He was back at Washington’s side managing the military supplies as quartermaster.

When the French army stayed in Newport in 1780, Mrs. Greene entertained the Commissary of the French Army, a Captain of the Royal Deux Ponts and a French hospital chaplain at the Homestead.

In 1783 Greene moved his family to property he had been given in Newport and he sold the Homestead to his brother Jacob. Nathanael would ultimately move his family to a plantation in Georgia where he met his death at a young age. Generations of Jacob’s descendants would live in the house until 1899. When the property came up for sale in 1919, the Kent County Sons of the American Revolution sought to buy the house in honor of Greene. A number of state and local organizations helped to buy and restore a home some consider “The Mount Vernon of Rhode Island.”

To Visit the Homestead.

50 Taft Street, Coventry, RI 02816

Open April through October – Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10AM to 5PM

Sources:

Golway, Terry. Washington’s General. New York, Holt, 2006.

Booklet from the Homestead: General Nathanael Greene and His Homestead.

Application to the National Registry of Historic Places.a

Revolutionary Rhode Island – Vernon House Newport

Leave a comment

Plaques on the side of Vernon House on Clarke Street feature images of Rochambeau and Lafayette. Why are these French military officers associated with the home?

Vintage postcard of Vernon House

The application for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places calls it one of Newport’s “most interesting buildings.” Peter Harrison, the designer of Redwood Library, is often mentioned as the architect of this colonial home. Re-modeling of the home in 1759 provided additions that give it an appearance of a Georgian mansion. Charles Bowler may have bought the property in 1753 when he became the Collector of Revenue. Bowler sold it to his son, Metcalf Bowler. Bowler was a noted merchant in the West Indies trade and he was active in local politics. He had a country home on Wapping Road in Portsmouth where Lafayette stayed during the Siege of Newport in 1778. Bowler fled to Providence and even held a state judgeship, but years later it was determined that he had acted as a British spy.

In 1773 Bowler sold the Newport home to William Vernon who was a successful merchant and ship builder. When the French arrived in Newport in 1780, Vernon offered the home as the quarters of Rochambeau. Rochambeau hosted both Lafayette and Washington while he resided at the home from 1780 to 1781.

The home is now in the hands of the Newport Restoration Foundation. The address is 46 Clarke Street.

Other homes associated with the French in Newport:

Hunter House: Headquarters of Charles Louis de Ternay before he died in December of 1780.

The Thomas Robinson House: Vicomte de Noailles of the Soissonain Regiment.

Buliod-Perry House occupied by Quartermaster Belville.

Sources: Application for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Place.

Lafayette’s Last Visit: 1824

Leave a comment

Lafayette’s last visit to Rhode Island was part of a grand tour as a guest of the government of the United States. It was an opportunity to refresh connections to the Revolutionary War generation and to highlight the progress the country had made as an independent state.

The Marquis de Lafayette came to Providence on August 23, 1824. The organizing committee was unsure which roads the Marquis would be traveling to Providence, so they posted messengers along various roads. He was met at Fisk’s Tavern in Scituate and escorted to the Providence town line where a delegation of the Town Council was waiting. He was transferred to a luxurious, open barouche carriage which was drawn by four white horses. He traveled along a predetermined line of march and was “welcomed by that most expressive token of affection interest, the waving of white handkerchiefs by the fair hands of the ladies.” (Providence Gazette, August 25, 1824)

Rhode Island American, Providence - August 24, 1824
Order of the Procession
Col Stephen Olney
Stephen Olney

There was a procession through High Street, down Westminister to Weybosset Bridge and up North Main Street and to the State House. As he reached the State House the United Train of Artillery fired a salute. As he arrived at the State House the streets were lined with women in white holding in their hands branches of flowers. As Lafayette walked up the State House steps they strew his path with flower petals. At the top of the stair landing he was greeted with affection by Col. Stephen Olney. Olney had served in the Rhode Island Regiment under the command of Lafayette at Yorktown as well as at the Battle of Rhode Island.

After being greeted by State and Town Officials in the Senate Chamber, Lafayette walked to his hotel (Horton’s). During a meal at the hotel dining room recollections of the War for Independence were shared. After the meal General Lafayette reviewed the troops and shook hands with all the “principal officers.” His carriage greeted him at the end of the line and brought him back to Sanford Horton’s Globe Tavern at 81 Benefit Street. This was also were Lafayette stayed in 1784 where he was entertained by Henry Rice when it was called the “Golden Ball.”

Hotel Lafayette stayed at on his 3rd and 4th visit to Rhode Island

Other houses connected to Lafayette by traditions are the Fenner Garrison House at Thornton and the house of William Field at Field’s Point.

By August 25th Lafayette was on to Boston and more celebrations.

_____________________

Resources:

Preston’s 1926 Article in the Rhode Island Historical Society Collections journal.

Rhode Island American, Providence, August 24, 1824.

Lafayette in Rhode Island: Second and Third Visits

Leave a comment

A Second Visit to Rhode Island

General Lafayette’s first visit to Rhode Island was during the perilous times of the Rhode Island Campaign in 1778. His second visit was in the summer of 1780. Washington sent Lafayette to carry his greetings to Rochambeau. Lafayette was in New Jersey when he received his orders from General Washington. His route led him through Peekskill, Danbury, Hartford, Lebanon and finally arriving in Newport on July 25th. Lafayette remained in Newport with Rochambeau at Vernon House (Rochabeau headquarters) until July 31, 1780. By August 7th Lafayette was back in Peekskill commanding his troops.

Vernon House in Newport where Lafayette stayed with Rochambeau

A Third Visit to Rhode Island

After the close of the Revolutionary War, Lafayette made a third trip to Rhode Island. In October of 1784 he arrived in Providence. The Providence Gazette of 1784 reported:

“Last Saturday Afternoon (October 23) the Honorable Marquis de la Fayette arrived here from Boston. He was met a few miles from hence by a Number of principal Inhabitants, and received at the Entrance of the Town and escorted in, by the United Company of the Train of Artillery under arms. On his Arrival he was welcomed by a Discharge of 13 Cannon at the State House Parade, the Bells were rung and at Sunset, the Salute was repeated by heavy Cannon on Beacon Hill.”

“The Marquis having visited Newport returned from thence on Monday Evening and on Tuesday partook of an Entertainment at Mr. Rice’s Tavern at which were present his Excellency the Governor, his Honor the Deputy-Governor, both Houses of Assembly, a Number of respectable Inhabitants, Officers of the late Army &c. After diner the Marquis set out for Boston and was again saluted with 13 Cannon.”

“On Monday last (October 25) the Society of Cincinnati of this State convened at Mr. Rice’s Tavern where an elegant Dinner was provided upon the Occasion; and having finished the Business of their Meeting they were honored with Company of his Excellency the Governor his Honor the Lieutenant Governor and the Honorable the Marquis de la Fayette accompanied by the Chevalier De L’Enfant.” Thirteen toasts were given.

References: Preston’s 1928 article in the Rhode Island Historical Society Collections.

Lafayette in Rhode Island – First Visit 1778

Leave a comment

Lafayette’s stay in Rhode Island during the Siege of Newport and the Battle of Rhode Island in August of 1778 was just the first time the General came to our state. The second visit was to Newport in 1781 when he came to confer with Rochambeau. In 1784 he came to Rhode Island on a tour after the War for Independence was over. His last visit came during a grand tour of America in 1824. This blog will focus on the first visit.

In the summer of 1778 Lafayette brought a detachment of troops from General Washington to assist General Sullivan in the Rhode Island Campaign, a joint French and American effort to free Rhode Island (Aquidneck Island) from the British Occupation.

A letter Washington wrote from White Plains, New York, on July 22, 1778 contained the orders:

“Sir, You are to have the immediate command of that detachment from this army which consists of Glover’s and Varnum’s brigades and the detachment under the command of Colonel Henry Jackson. You are to march them by the best routes to Providence in the State of Rhode Island. When there, you are to subject yourself to the order of Major General Sullivan, who will have command of the expedition against Newport and the British and other troops on the islands adjacent.”

Lafayette reached Providence with 2,000 men on August 3rd or (August 4th according to other accounts). On their way, Lafayette and his men stayed by “Angell’s Tavern” in Scituate. There his men had a chance to wash and refresh themselves with the spring that became known as Lafayette’s Spring. On August 5th, Lafayette was aboard the French flagship Le Languedoc to meet with French commander d’Estaing. The French fleet was waiting off of Point Judith and d’Estaing provided Lafayette with the ship Provence to bring him back to Providence.

There is some documentation for where Lafayette stayed in Rhode Island at that time, and there are other homes that have “Lafayette Stayed Here” legends that have come down through time.

The American forces gathered in Tiverton, close to the Howland Ferry. By August 6, 1778, Lafayette and his troops had moved to Tiverton where he is said to have stayed at the Abraham Brown House on Main Road close to Lafayette Street. He is said to have occupied the northwest chamber on the second floor. This may have been before the move to Aquidneck Island or it may be that he stayed there after the retreat.

"Lafayette House" in Tiverton
“Lafayette House in Tiverton”

With the arrival of the French fleet, operations were set in motion. The British abandoned Butts Hill Fort and other strategic locations in northern Aquidneck Island. On August 10, 1778 Sullivan began crossing to the island and he moved into Butts Hill Fort and made it his headquarters. The diary of Rev. Manasseh Cutler who served as chaplain for General Titcomb’s Brigade, provides a few glimpses of what Lafayette and others were doing on the island before the Battle of Rhode Island. His entry for Sunday, August 16th, gives us one location of Lafayette’s quarters in Portsmouth.

“Went in the afternoon with a number of officers to view a garden near our quarters, belonging to one Mr. Bowler, – the finest by far I ever saw….” Cutler goes on to describe the garden. The last line in the diary entry reads, “The Marquis de la Fayette took quarters at this house.”

Metcalf Bowler House (now torn down)
Metcalf Bowler House (now torn down)

Cutler’s entry for Monday the 17th also refers to the Marquis. The British had been firing since early in the morning and Cutler with General Titcomb had been observing the enemy lines from the top of a house. “stood by the Marquis when a cannon ball just passed us. Was pleased with his firmness.”

Metcalf Bowler’s estate has been torn down, but there are two homes in Portsmouth with “Lafayette” legends. One is the Dennis House on East Main Road and not far from Butts Hill Fort. The southeast room on the second floor has traditionally be associated with Lafayette. Lafayette has traditionally been associated with a house on Bristol Ferry Road (Bayles’ History of Newport County: p.665).

Dennis House, East Main Road, Portsmouth
Dennis House, Portsmouth

Although the American forces had moved onto Rhode Island (Aquidneck), the French forces were unable to move forward with their attack of Newport. Their ships were damaged in a storm and d’Estang decided to head to Boston for repairs on August 21st. The joint French and American plan was about to fail without the French aid. On August 28th, Lafayette made the six and a half hour trip to Boston to talk to d’Estaing. The mission was fruitless and on August 30th Lafayette rode back to Portsmouth in record time. He had missed the battle, but he took command of the rear guard to bring it safely across to Tiverton.

Israel Angell’s Diary notes that on September 1st General Varnum’s brigade in General Lafayette’s detachment passed by boat to Warren. The next day they were in Bristol where Lafayette made the Hope Street home of Joseph Reynolds his headquarters. A plaque on the house reads: This house built about the year 1698 by Joseph Reynolds was occupied by Lafayette as his headquarters September 1778 during the War of American Independence.” Lafayette’s room was the northwest chamber. The southwest room on the first floor was his dining room and office.

Reynold House today.
Reynolds House today

By September 18th Lafayette had moved on to Warren where the brigade encamped on Windmill Hill. Lafayette’s quarters were at Coles Tavern which has since burned down. On September 28th he was in Boston and on his way to Philadelphia on October 1st.

Lafayette would return to Rhode Island under more peaceful circumstances. More on those visits in our next blog.

References: This article was based on Preston’s 1926 article with added information from other sources.

Preston, Howard. “Lafayette’s Visits to Rhode Island.” Rhode Island Historical Society Collections. January 1, 1926.

Cutler’s Diary is found in Edwin Stone’s “Our French Allies.” This is an old book (1884, Providence) but it was a great help. It is available online through Google Books. https://www.google.com/books/edition/Our_French_Allies/YY8LAAAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1

Taylor, Erich A. O’D. Campaign on Rhode Island, 1930?

The Diary of Colonel Israel Angell Commanding Officer, 2nd Rhode Island Regiment, Continental Army
by Edward Field.

LaFayette Slept Here: Joseph Reynolds House in Bristol

1 Comment

After the Battle of Rhode Island in September of 1778, this stately home became the headquarters of the

Reynolds House – 956 Hope Street, Bristol, RI

Marquis de Lafayette. General Lafayette was in command of the ports around the Island of Rhode Island (Aquidneck Island). He was responsible for the ports at Warren, Bristol and the Eastern Shore of Narragansett Bay. His troops were stationed in Bristol from September 7 to September 23. Lafayette himself used the Reynold House, especially the north parlor, as central command. There is a legend that on September 7, 1778, Mrs. Reynolds was awaiting her distinguished guest. About an hour before he was expected, a young Frenchman rode to the house, dismounted and tied his horse to a tree in the yard. The gentleman asked Mrs. Reynolds for something to eat. Mrs. Reynolds obliged, but after a while told the guest that she had to prepare for Lafayette’s arrival. The guest replied, “Madam, I am Lafayette.” The general was only 21 at the time and it is reasonable that Mrs. Reynold would not have recognized the Frenchman.

The Reynolds House has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972. Built circa 1698-1700, the house is three stories high. It stayed in the Reynolds family until the 1920s. It has endured much remodeling

Resources:

Application for inclusion in National Register of Historic Places. https://preservation.ri.gov/sites/g/files/xkgbur406/files/pdfs_zips_downloads/national_pdfs/bristol/bris_hope-street-0956_joseph-reynolds-house.pdf

Early homes of Rhode Island. Architectural Treasures of Early America. Arno Press, Inc. 1977.

Flags of the 1st and 2nd Rhode Island Regiments

Leave a comment

As I was attending the Annual Commemoration Service of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, I noticed the insignia on buttons some of the guests were wearing. That insignia is also carved in stone on one of the early monuments at Patriots Park. I am gathering materials for a lesson plan on the Black Regiment, and I would like to have students work with the correct flag. I often see two similar flag designs depicted with images of the Black Regiment. It is certainly possible that they would have fought under different flags. In February of 1781 the 1st and 2nd Regiments were combined into the Rhode Island Regiment. The insignia at Patriots Park resembles one of the flags and it is logical that the monument designers would want to reflect the flag used by the 1st Rhode Island Regiment while they were a separate unit.

Emblem at Patriot’s Park

An online search was confusing, but I remembered a 1930 book on Rhode Island flags and symbols by Howard Chapin. There was a depiction of the regimental flag of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment that is kept at the State House. It is described as:

“The field was white, charged with a blue scroll being the inscription “R. Island Regt.” In the upper corner there is a blue canton charged with thirteen white stars.”

The Regimental flag of the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment is pictured as well. This flag is also listed as being at the State House. The description reads:

“The Second Rhode Island Regiment carried a somewhat similar flag, having a white field, charged with a blue foul anchor and the motto, “HOPE,” and having in the corner a blue canton charged with thirteen gold stars…After the passage of the regulation of February 23, 1780, the flag bearing the blue anchor doubtless qualified in a sense partially as a State flag.”

The anchor design is an ancient emblem in Rhode Island. Rhode Island was a seafaring colony. The seal of the colony drawn by William Dyer in 1647 has an anchor. The “foul anchor” described is the robes entwined in the anchor. One description notes that the white is the color of their uniforms and a symbol of the commonwealth. The 13 stars reflect the colonies and may be a reflection of the seals of Portsmouth and Providence.

In May of 1664, the General Assembly “Ordered, That the Seal, with the mottoe Rhod Iland and providence plantations, with the work Hope over the head of the Anker, is the present Seale of the Colony.”

Resources:

Chapin, Howard. Illustrations of the Seals, Arms and Flags of Rhode Island. Providence, RI, Rhode Island Historical Society, 1930.

The View from Butts Hill: Jim Garman’s 1978 images

1 Comment

There has been so much growth in vegetation that it is difficult to imagine the view that General Sullivan would have had from his command post at Butts Hill Fort. Jim Garman has loaned me his notebooks from the 1978 re-enactments of the Battle of Rhode Island. His images clarify things.

Older Entries