We think of the Black Regiment’s valor during the Battle of Rhode Island, but I am discovering more ties between the First Rhode Island Regiment (commanded by Col. Christopher Greene) and the construction of the fort at Butts Hill. This was a time of transition for the soldiers of the Black Regiment and it is not always easy to follow them as they were absorbed into other units and divided for assignments.

First, I need to provide some background. When the British voluntarily left Aquidneck Island in October of 1779, the Americans came back to find the Island decimated. The First Rhode Island Regiment joined the Second Rhode Island Regiment in Newport on November 3, 1779. After the British Occupation, supplies of food and wood were dangerously low in Newport. They were sent to winter in Providence and East Greenwich. In early February of 1780 one report had the regiment at about 143 privates. They had orders to march for New York, but the arrival of the French on Aquidneck Island changed the plans.

On July 10, 1780 the French fleet and army arrived in Newport. General Heath of the American Army acted as Washington’s liaison, but on July 25th he was joined by Major General Lafayette. Five thousand French soldiers set up camp in Newport. Although a small number of the Black Regiment soldiers were sent as guards to Providence, by the end of July the remainder of Col. Christopher Greene’s men and the Rhode Island Six Months Continental Battalion encamped in Portsmouth. They performed guard duty at Butts Hill, Howland’s Ferry, and Bristol Ferry.

The Massachusetts Militia Orderly books show that Greene’s men were transported to East Greenwich to prepare for a march west with the American Army. However, the activity of the Royal Navy caused alarm and American General Heath ordered Greene’s troop to return to the island. Greene was disappointed but made a request in a letter to George Washington. The letter, dated October 14, 1780, gives us a further link between the Black Regiment and Butts Hill Fort.

“When Gen. Heath left this post, the command of the American Troops devolved on me.  The difficulty of getting supplies of provisions has been such that we have been almost entirely without.  This has greatly retarded the completion of the very important work at Butt’s Hill, where the three militia from the Massachusetts State have been employed.  Their time of service expires the first of next month.  I am confident they will not be able to put the fort in a defendable state by that time.  Should your Excellency not call my Regiment to join the Army.  They will undoubtedly be very usefully employed making it so.  I wish to know your Excellency’s pleasure as to our staying here or joining the Army.  If we stay in this state which part of it to  La__ Winter Quarters – as the season is far advanced and the Times of the Six months Service expire the first of January.  Perhaps in the short time they have to serve may be useful here as with the Army, though for my own part I ever wish to be with the Army…”

Letter of Col. Christopher Greene to George Washington – 10/14/1780

According to pension petitions, they helped the French soldiers and masons complete the job of re-enforcing the fortifications at Butts Hill. Fifty of their soldiers were detached to help the French move their artillery. After two calls back to Aquidneck Island, they would later join the American Army on the march south and participated in the final battle at Yorktown.


“They fought bravely, but were unfortunate.” by Daniel Popek was a valuable resource. Its footnotes led me to many important documents.

Letter of Col. Christopher Greene to George Washington,  Oct. 14, 1780

Letter of Col. Christopher Greene to Governor William Greene, October 27, 1780