Primary sources are what I look for when I am researching topics. Primary sources are first hand accounts. Some examples are documents, letters, maps created at the time, newspaper accounts, photographs and diaries written at the time an event took place. We are fortunate to have some diaries which record what happened during the Battle of Rhode Island. This blog will focus on entries from the diary of Col. Israel Angell. With any primary source, a researcher should answer some basic questions to set the source in context.

Who wrote this diary?

Who might have been the intended reader?

Where and when was it written?

What does it tell me about the subject I am researching.

Who wrote this diary? What do we know about him? Israel Angell was a descendant of Thomas Angell, who came to Providence with Roger Williams. He was born in North Providence on August 24, 1740. Angell joined the rebel cause from the beginning. When an army was formed by the General Assembly of Rhode Island in 1775, he was commissioned as a Major. With the formation of the Second Rhode Island Regiment, Israel Angell was elected Lieutenant-Colonel. The regiment went to join the army under Washington. Command of the regiment was given to Angell, on Jan. 13, 1777 when the Colonel in charge died. His regiment was detached from the main army and sent to Rhode Island to fight with General Sullivan in the operations against the enemy on Aquidneck Island.

Who might have been the intended reader? A diary is a very personal document and may just have been a way for Angell to keep track of what he experienced. As an officer, it may also be a record that might be consulted if he was questioned later.

Where and when was it written? These three entries are in late August of 1778 at the time of what call the Battle of Rhode Island. It reflects what was going on in Portsmouth during the battle.

What does it tell me about the Battle of Rhode Island? As you read through the diary entries, do you find information that answers some of our questions – What were the movements of the Americans and of the British? What were some of the Portsmouth locations mentioned? What were the American casualties? What happened to Angell during the battle and afterwards? Why did the Americans retreat? How did the retreat proceed?

August 29th, 1778.
A Clear morning and Very Cool the ( ) Recd orders last evening to Strike their tents and march to the north end of the island; the advanced piquet was to come off at 12 oclock the enemy finding that we had left our ground pursued with all possible speed Come up with our piquet about sunrise and a smart firing begun, the piquet repulsed the Brittish troops 2 or 3 times but was finily obliged to retreat as the Enemy brought a number of field pieces against them the Enemy was soon check’t by our Cannon in coming up to our main body and they formed on Quaker Hill and we took possession of Buttses Hill the left wing of the brittish army was Compossed of the hessians who Attackt our right wing and a Sevear engagement Ensued in which the hessians was put to flight and beat of the ground with a Considerable loss our loss was not very great but I cannot assertain the number. I was ordered with my Regt to a Redoubt on a Small hill which the Enemy was a trying for and it was with Difficulty that we got there before the Enemy. I had 3 or 4 men kill’d and wounded to day at night I was ordered with my Reg to lie on the lines I had not Slept then in two nights more than two or three hours the Regt had eat nothing during the whole Day this was our sittuation to goe on guard, but we marched off Chearfully and took our post.

August 30th.
A Cloudy morning and the wind very high it rained a Considerable in the night the Enemy Remained on their Ground this morning two English friggats Came up yesterday to prevent our retreat but could do but little they Still Remained here. I was Relieved this morning and got Some provisions and being much worn out for the want of sleep went to a hous and took a good knap there was a Cannonade kept up to day and Some small arms from the Sentries at night we Recd orders to Retreat off the Island which we did without the loss of anything, this Retreat was in Consequence of an Express from Genl Washington informing Gen Sullivan that the Brittish Ships of war and transports had sailed from New York Some days before.

August 31st, 1778.
Our retreat off the Island was completed by three o’clock this morning it is Supos’d that the Enemy attempted a Retreat last Evening but after finding that we Had Retreated they Returned to their ground as it was late in the morning before they took possession of the forts we left …………..After we had Crost at howlands ferry we Encampt about a mile from Sd. ferry where we tarried this day at Night Rec’d orders to Strike our tents next morning and Embark on board our Boats and Land near Warren as Genl Varnums Brigade was to be stationed Between warren and Bristol. Genl Cornells at Rowlands ferry Genl Glovers at Providence Col. Comdt Green at warwick and Greenwich.

I will go through what information I gained from the diary in another blog as I compare this diary account with that of Samuel Ward from the First Rhode Island Regiment.


Angell, Israel. Diary of Colonel Israel Angell Commanding the Second Rhode Island Continental Regiment during the American Revolution 1778-1781. Edited by Edward Field. Providence; Preston and Rounds, 1899.

Online transcription:

Biographical information: Rhode Island Sons of the American Revolution

Image of Quaker Hill: Benson John Lossing, ed. Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (vol. 7) (New York, NY: Harper and Brothers, 1912)