The Newport Artillery Company is the oldest military unit in the United States that still operates under its original charter. Chartered in 1741 by the Rhode Island General Assembly, it was the first chartered independent unit in the Rhode Island Militia. Unlike other militia units, the artillery was granted the right to elect its own officers. It was subject only to the orders of the governor rather than the appointed colonial militia officers. The officers that were elected by the militia included the elite of Newport colonial society.

Newport Artillery image by Jay Killian

About a quarter of the members of the Artillery Company (11 members) served in the French and Indian War, but the Company became divided after that war. The Newport Artillery Company, like the town of Newport, became divided over British attempts to assess taxes and garrison men in the colonies. Prominent landowners like the Brentons remained loyal to the King. Merchants and small farmers were in opposition to those British moves. The Company was caught in the middle of the conflict. In 1775 it dismissed its clerk and discontinued meeting.

Although some say the Newport Artillery Company escorted George Washington in his 1790 visit to Newport, the next recorded meeting of the Company was in 1792. To resolve issues of their charter, they asked the State Legislature to ratify their old charter.

During the War of 1812 members of the Company volunteered to contribute to Oliver Hazard Perry’s expedition to gain control of Lake Erie. In 1842 the Company was called into action when the incumbent Governor called up the militia to respond to Dorr’s Rebellion. During the Civil War they became part of the First Rhode Island Regiment commanded by Ambrose Burnside. The Company was mobilized and sent to Fort Adams at the time of the Spanish American War. The Spanish Fleet, however, never arrived. Members of the Company joined the services during World War I, but after the war the Newport Artillery Company was not included in the National Guard.

The Company is active with ceremonial activities, and it operates a military museum in its Armory, located at 23 Clarke Street Newport, R.I. The Museum houses one of the country’s most extensive collections of military uniforms and memorabilia.


White, Ensign Donald G. “THE NEWPORT ARTILLERY COMPANY.” Naval War College Review 22, no. 9 (1970): 71–74. – Website of the Newport Artillery.e