Durfee’s Account of Rhode Island Campaign

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This is an account by an eyewitness, but Joseph Durfee is penning his reminiscences many years after the events. At the time of the Battle of Rhode Island, Durfee was a major in Col. Whitney’s Regiment. The last blog related Durfee’s account of the “Battle of Fall River” and this blog entry is a continuation of the account beginning with the Americans crossing to Aquidneck Island.

Preparation for invasion of Aquidneck

” During a considerable part of the month of August following (the Battle of Fall River – see the previous blog), we were busily engaged in procuring arms, ammunition, and provisions for the soldiers, and in building flat-bottomed boats and scows for the troops to cross over the river on to Rhode Island, with a view to dislodge the British army, who then had possession of the island. A barn, now standing near the Stone Bridge, was occupied for a commissary store, of which I had the charge until things were in readiness and the troops prepared to cross over to the island, when I left the store in charge of my friend and relative, Walter Chaloner.

The Expedition Begins

In the fore part of August 1798, the American troops embarked in the boats and scows prepared for them and landed on Rhode Island, where I joined them, having been appointed a Major in Colonel Whitney’s Regiment. Our troops were then marched to a spot but a short distance to the North of what is called Butts’ Hill; where they encamped for the night with nothing but the canopy of heaven for a covering and the ground for our beds. But we were animated with the hope of liberty–with a belief that we were engaged in a righteous cause—and that He, who sways the sceptre of the universe would prosper our undertaking.

Waiting on the French

At this time we were anxiously looking for the French fleet from which we hoped for assistance against the enemy, whose numerous bodies of troops were before us. Soon the French fleet bore in sight, when the British set fire to the shipping in the harbor and blew up most of the vessels within their reach. Not long after the French fleet came up, the British fleet appeared in the offing. Immediately the French fleet tacked about, went about and attacked the British squadron, when broadsides were exchanged and a bloody battle ensued.

The Storm

A tremendous storm came on long remembered as the Angust storm, in which the two fleets were separated, and many who had escaped the cannon’s mouth found a watery grave. The French feet, or so much of it as survived the storm, went into Boston to repair and the remnant of the British fleet went into New York.

Siege of Newport

Soon after this storm, our troops marched in three divisions towards Newport. One on the East road, so called one on the West road, and the Brigade, commanded by General Titcomb moved in the centre, until we came in sight of Newport–when orders were given to halt, erect a marque and pitch our tents. General orders were issued for a detachment from the army of three thousand men – our number being too small to risk a general engagement with the great body of British troops then quartered on the South end of the Island. Early on the next morning a detachment of troops, of which I was one, was ordered to proceed forthwith and take possession of what was called Hunneman’s Hill. The morning was foggy and enabled us to advance some distance unobserved by the enemy — but the fog clearing away before we reached the hill, we were discovered by the British and Tory troops, who commenced such a heavy cannonade upon us, that it was deemed expedient by the commanding officers, to prevent the destruction of many of our brave troops, that we should fall back and advance under the cover of night. Accordingly when night came, we marched to the hill undiscovered by the enemy. We immediately commenced throwing up a breast work and building a fort. When daylight appeared, we had two cannon mounted–one twenty-four pounder and one eighteen–and with our breast work we had completed a covered way to pass and repass without being seen by the enemy. The British had a small fort or redoubt directly under the muzzles of our cannon, with which we saluted them and poured in the slot so thick upon them that they were compelled to beat up a retreat. But they returned again at night to repair their fort, when they commenced throwing bomb shells into our fort, which however did but little damage. I saw several of them fiying over our heads and one bursting in the air, a fragment fell upon the shoulder of a soldier and killed him.


At this time, we were anxiously waiting the return of the French fleet from Boston, where they had gone to repair. But learning that they could not then return, and knowing the situation of the British troops, that they were enlarging and strengthening their furts and redoubts, and that they had reinforcements arriving daily from New York, it was deemed expedient by our commanding officers, Lafayette, Green and Sullivan, all experienced and brave Generals, that we should retreat to the North end of the Island. Accordingly, on the 29th day of August, early in the morning we struck our marque and tents and commenced a retreat. The British troops followed, and soon came up with our rear-guard and commenced firing upon them. The shots were briskly returned and continued at intervals, until our troops were joined by a part of our army a short distance to the South of Quaker Hill, so called, when a general engagement ensued, in which many lives were lost on both sides. At night, we retreated from the Island to Tiverton. On the following day we left ‘Tiverton, crossed over Slade’s ferry and marched through Pawtucket and Providence to Pawtucket where we remained until our service expired.”


“Plan of the works, which form the exterior line of defence, for the town of New-Port in Rhode Island : Also of the batteries and approaches made by the rebels on Honeymans Hill during their attack in August 1778 / This plan surveyed and drawn by Edward Fage, lieutt of artillery, November 1778.”. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wcl1ic/x-8373/wcl008443. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 21, 2022.

Reminiscences of Col. Joseph Durfee : relating to the early history of Fall River and of Revolutionary scenes. (1830s)

Prelude to Battle: Two Views of the “Battle of Fall River”

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In May of 1778, American forces were preparing the flatboats they would need to cross the Sakonnet River to drive the British out of Aquidneck Island in what would become known as the Rhode Island Campaign. The British were aware of these preparations and earlier in May they had successfully raided Warren and Bristol to destroy boat making facilities and saw mills. On May 31st the British turned their attention across to the mainland at Fall River. Fall River had a sawmill by the shore and nine longboats were being constructed for the Rebel invasion. At that time, Fall River was just a cluster of houses along the Taunton and Quequechan Rivers.

British soldier Frederick Mackenzie and American Colonel Joseph Durfee provide us with accounts of the May 1778 British raid on Fall River. Mackenzie’s diary entry was written at the time. Durfee’s remembrances were written much later. He incorrectly states that the raid was on Sunday, May 25th. The raid was actually on a Sunday, but it was May 31st instead. It is clear from both views that the raid was part of the prelude to the Rhode Island Campaign by the Americans.

Mackenzie’s View:

31st May…The General and the Commodore having determined to attempt destroying some Saw Mills, and a quantity of Plank for building boats, which they had upon Fall River; the Pigot Galley, A Gunboat, some Flat boats, and the boats of the Flora, Juno, Venus, Orpheus, & Kingfisher, under the direction of Captain Christian of The Kingfisher; with 100 men of the 54th Regiment under the Command of Major Eyre of that Regiment; were ordered for this service. At 12 oClock last night they passed through Bristol ferry, unperceived by the Rebels, and proceeded up Mount Hope Bay, except the Pigot, which unfortunately ran aground in the upper part of the Passage, which gave an alarm to The Rebels, who immediately communicated it by firing Signal Guns which were repeated on both sides of the Bay. The boats waited some time in hopes of being joined by the Pigot, but finding the Alarm was given, they moved on to their destination without her, and on approaching the shore near Fall River, they were fired on by a Guard of about 40 men; but pushing directly in, the Troops landed and dispersed the Enemy. They then proceeded to the First mills, where one Saw-Mill, a Corn Mill, 9 large boats and about 15000 feet of Plank were burnt. On advancing a small distance toward the other Mills, they found a considerable Number of the Enemy posted at, and above them, from whom they received a heavy fire by which 2 men were killed, and an Officer & 4 men wounded. It being then judged imprudent to attempt forcing the post, or to continue longer on shore, the troops returned to the boats, and re-embarked without molestation.

Durfee’s Remembrances

On the 25th May, 1778, early Sabbath morning, about one hundred and fifty British troops under the command of Major Ayers, landed at Fall River and commenced an attack upon the few people then residing here. The men rallied under the command of Col. (then Major) Joseph Durfee, and after a brave and spirited resistance, which took place near where Main street crosses the stream, repulsed the invaders, and compelled them to retreat. They left one man dead, who was killed directly opposite where the Pocasset House now stands, and about four rods from the front door; and another mortally wounded, and lying five or six rods further west, who soon died. When the enemy first landed, they set fire to the house of Thomas Borden, then nearly new, and standing at the head of the present Iron Works Co.’s Wharf, and also to his grist-mill and sawmill standing near the mouth of Fall River, which were consumed. When they were retreating they set fire to several other buildings, which were saved by the vigilance of the little Spartan band who had given them so warm a reception, and who closely pursued them in their retreat, killing one of the retreating party after they had entered their boats….. Much praise was due to the defenders of Fall River for their firmness and bravery, in resisting and repelling five times their number. But few, if any battles were fought, during the Revolution, in which so large a force was repulsed by so small a number. Through the interposing mercy of Divine Providence, not an individual of our defenders was either killed or wounded.

Keeping in mind the difference between an eyewitness account recorded at the time and one that is remembered later, can we compare the accounts.

Both agree that it was on a Sunday around midnight.

Both have the British commander being Major Ayers (Eyre).

Durfee said there were 150 British troops. Mackenzie writes of 100 of the 54th Regiment, but obviously there were other forces to operate the number of boats used in the attack.

Mackenzie said the British passed by Bristol Ferry without detection, but the Pigot ran aground and that set off Rebel signal guns which gave the alarm. The British were fired upon by a Guard of 40 men, but they overwhelmed the Rebels and advanced to burn a saw mill, a corn mill, 9 large boats and 15,000 ft. of plank. Advancing toward other mills they found Rebel resistance and they suffered two killed and 5 men wounded. At this point they went back to their boats.

Earlier in Durfee’s account he writes that by 1777 the citizens of Fall River proposed raising a guard to ward off the harassment from British troops. He sought the aid of General Sullivan and was given provisions for a guard of 20. They devised a warning system of night sentinels. In that early Sunday morning one of the guards discovered the British ship. He fired upon the boat and “this created an alarm and the whole neighborhood were soon in arms.” The British fired their cannons and fired grapeshot at the Americans. The enemy set fire to the Thomas Borden house and took Borden prisoner. They set fire to Borden’s gristmill and saw mill. The British set fire to some other buildings, but they retreated in a hurry and the citizens were able to save the buildings.

Both accounts are similar. Mackenzie mentions setting fire to boats and planks. In both cases the citizens of Fall River seem more on-guard than the communities of Bristol and Warren. The Fall River Rebels had a more organized guard system.

Note: If you want to learn more, you can visit Joseph Durfee’s house in Fall River. The Lafayette Durfee House is a house museum and is open to the public.

Durfee, Joseph, Reminiscences of Col. Joseph Durfee : relating to the early history of Fall River and of Revolutionary scenes.,
[Fall River, Mass.? :s.n.,1834?]
Public Domain, Google-digitized.
Permanent URL 

Diary of Frederick Mackenzie, Vol. I

“Plan of the adjacent coast to the northern part of Rhode Island, to express the route of a body of troops under the command of Lieut Colonel Campbell of the 22d: Regiment to destroy the enemies batteaux, vessels, galley &c &c &c which was accomplished May 25th 1778 / laid down and drawn by Edwd Fage, lieutt. of artillery.”. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wcl1ic/x-628/wcl000739. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 09, 2022.

Prelude to Battle: Campbell’s Raids in Warren and Bristol


As the American forces were preparing for an attack on Aquidneck Island in Spring of 1778, the British forces were active in trying to crush the Rebel capability to transport troop across the river from Tiverton. British soldier Frederick Mackenzie’s diary shows that they were well aware of the impending invasion.

May 19, “The intelligence received from all quarters agree in stating that an attack on this Island is intended, and will probably be soon attempted.”

May 22, “The Rebels are certainly preparing for an attack on this Island; and the General having intelligence of the situation of their boats, is making arrangement for the destruction of them.”

The Rebels would need to reach Rhode Island (Aquidneck) by boat and the British planned to attack shipyards, lumber mills and military stores. On May 25, 1778, Mackenzie records that the 22nd Regiment, Companies of the 54th, Notenius’s Company of Hessian Chasseurs, ..etc. (500 men in total) moved to Arnold’s Point in Portsmouth. They embarked in flatboats and landed at the mouth of the Warren River. Campbell’s men were divided into two columns. In the town of Warren itself they burned down the Baptist meeting house and other buildings, ransacked homes and property. The other group of Campbell’s men headed to the Kickemuit River. By the Kikemuit Bridge they found and burned 125 boats, large batteaux capable of carrying 40 soldiers. They found a sloop loaded with military stores, a store house, and a corn mill and they burned them. They also burned houses, a bridge and gun carriages. They spiked cannons and set fire to new Privateer Sloop as well as magazines of gun powder.

Campbells troops returned by way of Bristol. About 300 Rebels were assembled behind walls, trees and houses. They burned houses, a church, ammunition magazines and twenty of the principal houses. The British boats came round from Papasquash Point to the Bristol Ferry. The British ships Flora and Pigot covered the British troops as they crossed over from Bristol Ferry.

Mackenzie writes: “69 Rebel prisoners were brought over from Bristol to Windmill Hill” (Butts Hill Fort).

Having raided Warren and Bristol and destroying American flatboats, Campbell’s forces made their way back to Newport on their own flatboats.

The raids certainly delayed the American troops as they prepared for the Rhode Island Campaign.

The next blog will cover the British Raid at Fall River.


Diary of Frederick Mackenzie, Vol. 1

Map: “Plan of the adjacent coast to the northern part of Rhode Island, to express the route of a body of troops under the command of Lieut Colonel Campbell of the 22d: Regiment to destroy the enemies batteaux, vessels, galley &c &c &c which was accomplished May 25th 1778 / laid down and drawn by Edwd Fage, lieutt. of artillery.”. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/w/wcl1ic/x-628/wcl000739. University of Michigan Library Digital Collections. Accessed November 09, 2022.

Prelude to Battle: The Allied Troops Gather

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We often focus on the day of the Battle of Rhode Island, but the Rhode Island Campaign was more than just a day. It began with the cultivation of French help in the war and then the buildup of French and American forces in the Rhode Island area. This blog will focus on the American gathering of troops at Tiverton. The next blog will feature the amassing of flat bottom boats for the landing on Aquidneck Island.

7/22/1778 – Washington received word from Alexander Hamilton that the French were sailing for Rhode Island. Col. John Laurens was sent to Providence to be liaison officer with the French.

DuChesnoy Map

7/23/1778 – Varnum and Glover and Jackson marched toward Rhode Island. “The game for Rhode Island was on.”

7/27/1778 – Lafayette was ordered to surrender half his command to Major General Nathanael Greene.

7/29/1778 – The French fleet arrived off Point Judith. General Sullivan came aboard to tell French the Continentals and militia had not arrived. The Fleet had to wait.

7/31/1778 – General Nathanael Greene appeared in Rhode Island. He brought carpenters and boat builders under Major Benjamin Eyres. Greene devoted himself to supply and transportation issues. He wrote the Board of War. “It will be necessary for the board to order that one half of the militia fit for actual service be drafted and none others. If something of this sort don’t take place, there will be a great diminution of our expected force.” The Rhode Island Council of War waited until the French arrived to draft the militia and that call up was only for fifteen days so as not to delay the harvest. The militia were not due to arrive until August 6th.

Glover’s brigade arrived in Providence.

8/3/1778 – All the Continental forces had arrived in Rhode Island. Troops were camped in Swansea in Massachusetts and in Tiverton, Bristol and Providence.

8/4/1778 – Lafayette boarded the Languedoc – d’Estaing’s flagship.

A plan was agreed upon. The French were to block the entrance of the Newport harbor on August 8th. The next convenient day, after militia arrived, there were to be two simultaneous landings (1st – by Americans at Fogland Ferry. 2nd by French and some American reinforcements near Lawton’s Valley.). This would cut off Portsmouth and give Americans control of Northern forts.

The forces would unite and move against the works at Newport.

Sullivan’s address to his troops before moving onto Aquidneck Island: (quoted in Taylor’s Campaign on Rhode Island but I have not be able to find this in another source.)

“The commander in chief in Rhode Island takes this opportunity to return his cordial thanks to the brave officers and soldiers and volunteers who have with so much alacrity repaired to this place to give their assistance in extirpating the British tyrant from this country. The zeals which they have discovered are to him the most pleasing presages of VICTORY; and he is happy to find himself at the head of an army far superior in numbers to that of the enemy, animated by a sacred regard for the Liberties of their country and fired with a just resentment against the Barbarians who have deluged with innocent blood and spread desolation on every part of the continent where they have been suffered to march.

The prospect before you is exceeding promising. The several corps have now everything to animate them and to press them on to VICTORY. The tried bravery of the Continental officers and soldiers and the idea they must have of the dependence upon their valor of both the army and country stimulates them to support themselves in the character they most justly acquired. Independent corps and volunteers who have so cheerfully come to assist in the enterprise have every inducement to exert themselves to meet the expectations they have acquired by flying to the relief of their country. The state troops which the General has so long had the honor to command, he has the strongest reasons to believe will not suffer themselves to be outshined or excelled in bravery by any troops in the army. The militia composed of respectable freemen and citizens of America who have so ably fought and conquered the last year must now feel every inducement inspirit them on to Conquest and Glory.

The character of the several corps which compose the army; the expectations of their country; the safety of our land; the protection of our property; and, in short, everything which animates men to fight and conquer calls aloud upon us to act the part of freemen, becoming to the character of Americans.

The General, for his part, assures his brave army that he will with the utmost cheerfulness share with them in every danger and fatigue and is ready to venture his life in every instance where the good of his country calls for it – to them and to his country he stands ready to sacrifice his life if necessary – And from the brave officers and men which he has the honor to command, he expects to find the same disposition. Fired with the same sentiment and engaged in so just a cause, we must conquer. We must win the laurels which await us; and return into the arms of a grateful country.”

Major General John Sullivan.

Campaign on Rhode Island 1778 by Erich A. O’D. Taylor, 1928
The Rhode Island Campaign by Christian McBurney, 2011.

Map: Capitaine Du Chesnoy, Michel, and Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert Du Motier Lafayette. Carte des positions occupeés par les trouppes Américaines apres leur retraite de Rhode Island le 30 Aout. [1778] Map. https://www.loc.gov/item/00555648/.

Occupied Portsmouth: Fogland Ferry Fortifications

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Erich A. O’D. Taylor’s pamphlet “Campaign on Rhode Island 1778” is among the resources in Jim Garman’s collection. It is richly illustrated with woodcuts by noted artist John Norman Benson. We always have to doublecheck the information in older histories, but I found some interesting information in this source that I believe is worth sharing. Some of the information is based on the diary of a Hessian soldier (Johann Conrad Döhla).

On October 22, 1777 there were rumors of a landing on Fogland. American General Spencer did not try that, but British General Pigott strengthened the works at Butts Hill, Fogland Ferry and Lawton’s Valley in Portsmouth. He enclosed Newport with enceinte (encircling walls), cutting off even the main roads with gates that were locked at night. This line was first manned December 17, 1777. NOTE: This confirms what I read in a letter by Mrs. Bannister in Desrosiers, The Banisters of Rhode Island in the American Revolution: Liberty and the Costs of Loyalties.

Turning to the Fogland Ferry area off Glen Road:

Ferries had crossed between the Glen area and Fogland in Tiverton since the 1640s. This was another narrow spot on the Sakonnet shore and the British considered this a very vulnerable spot. Barracks and defensive fortifications were constructed there.

Taylor wrote:
“The commander at Fogland Ferry had no small task before him to safeguard the nearby farms. It is interesting to learn therefore that this important position was usually assigned to Hessian regiments and was so well defended and its duties so well executed that the inhabitants complimented the commanders when they were relieved and returned to town. Among those who returned thanks to Captain Baron de Malsburg of the regiment Ansbach-Bayreuth on his leaving this post are to be found – Mr. Bowler, Restcome Sanford, Elisha Coggeshall, George Martin, Jonathan Davenport, John Lawton, Giles Slocum, George Taber, Giles Lawton and John Sanford… The farmers thoroughly understood the Hessian soldiers who came of a range of agriculturalists like themselves. During the quiet summers of 77 and 79 when no ‘assault was intended on the city,’ many of these Hessians hired themselves out to farmers, working for the small wage of (about 51 cents ) a day.”

Metcalf Bowler, Giles Slocum, John Sanford and others did indeed have farms in that area. The idea that the Hessians helped out on the farms is something new to me. I will be able to read Dohla’s diary and I will look for sources to confirm this. Metcalf Bowler, we discovered later, was acting as a British spy. Taylor hints that there were Loyalists among the Portsmouth farmers, but with the severe damage done to the farms during the Occupation I doubt many Portsmouth farmers appreciated the British Occupation.

Portsmouth People: Louis Escobar

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I wrote this a few years back. Louis will always be remembered as a leading citizen of Portsmouth and a fine example of Portsmouth’s farm heritage.


Escobar’s Highland Farm

Portsmouth dairy farmer Louis Escobar rushed into action when he saw smoke coming from his barn. He and his grandson ran into the old barn to try to rescue some of the young cows close to the door. Then he heard the roof start to crumble. It was too dangerous to stay inside. When the firefighters arrived they could see the flames leaping along the roof. Firefighters from Portsmouth, Middletown, Tiverton and the Navy base endured heat and thick smoke to battle the flames to protect the animals. They cooled the cows by watering them down with their fire hoses. A back hoe pushed in the side of the burning barn so that the livestock would have a path out of danger. The animals were so fearful that at first they wouldn’t move at all. When they began to move, they charged out of the barn. Crowds…

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Rhode Island Military Units: Kingston Reds

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Like many of the ancient military units, the Kingston Reds were founded just before the start of the American Revolution. They were created by an act of the Rhode Island Assembly in October 1775. Kingston was a wealthy port town at the time and the Kingston Reds were outfitted with uniforms of red coats, white shirts, white waistcoats, white breeches, long stockings, tricorn hats and dark buckled shoes.

They were part of the 3rd Kings County Regiment of Militia during the War for Independence. With other coastal militia groups, they shared the task of guarding Rhode Island’s long coast. They were active in battle at Little Rest Hill and the Battle of Rhode Island.

Their charter had been vacated due to dwindling numbers, but the charter of the Kingston Reds was re-instated on February 19, 2019. Today the Kingston Reds serve as a unit of the Rhode Island Charter of Historic Militia. It operates out of the Nathanael Greene Homestead with the newly constructed Barn/Education Center as the armory. Today the purpose of the group is:

“To portray a historically accurate picture of the 18th century militia which military unit (Kingston Reds) was formed originally in 1775 to serve and protect our state during the Revolutionary War.

To keep alive the historic traditions and preserve the records of their military achievements.

To maintain and promote by example, respect for the flag, and constitutions both Federal and State.

To educate the public about the 18th century New England history.”

Members march in parades and serve as guards on ceremonial occasions.

The Kingston Reds support the Gen. Nathanael Greene Homestead for all events on site, participate in parades and ceremonies, educational programs and living history events.

Greene Homestead



Kingston Reds Facebook page.

Rhode Island Militias began in Portsmouth

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I have been researching the histories of some of the military units in the state today. In reading a history of the militias in Rhode Island, I found that it was little Portsmouth that started it all. This militia system would be an important force in the War for Independence and the Battle of Rhode Island.

At the first meeting of settlers at Portsmouth in 1638, it was ordered that every inhabitant of the town be equipped with certain arms and prepared to perform certain military duties. At a subsequent meeting a military company or “Train Band” was organized and William Baulston and Edward Hutchinson named as officers, the very first officers of Rhode Island’s military forces. In August 1638 a general muster of all male inhabitants capable of bearing arms was called. This was Rhode Island’s first militia mobilization. In 1639 a “Traine Band” formed in Providence and general training day was designated. In 1640 the Portsmouth Militia law was amended. The number of drills was fixed at eight per year with two Muster Days – one in Portsmouth and one at Newport.

By 1647, Newport, Portsmouth and Providence had militias. Various towns were authorized to organize militia companies, select officers, assemble for drill the first Monday of each month except May, August, January and Feb. They set aside public lands for an “Artillery Garden” or drill ground. This law was the basis for the militia system of Rhode Island. These “Trained Bands” were maybe a dozen men strong, poorly armed and poorly equipped. The Newport Trained Band divided into two in 1673.

A 1680 board of trade statement described the Colonial forces “ten companies of foote, being Trained Bands under one General Commander (John Albro), their arms are flintlocks.”
John Coggeshall was the major of Island troops and John Greene commanded those of the mainland.

By the 1690s there were trained bands in all towns, including Jamestown, Block Island and Kingstown.
In 1741 a charter was granted to the Artillery Company in the Town of Newport, Jaheel Brenton Commander. In 1757, Metcalf Bowler was an officer of the Newport Artillery. Much later Bowler was proved to be a British spy.

Newport Artillery drawing by Jay Killian

A major change was made in 1774. Provision was made in the militia law by which Rhode Island’s troops were empowered to march to the assistance of any of the other colonies ”when invaded or attacked.”
But with the fighting at Lexington, this was changed. The militias were recalled by the Colonial Assembly as they reached the Massachusetts border. On April 22, 1775, following the shots at Lexington, Massachusetts, the Rhode Island General Assembly created a 1,500 man “Army of Observation” under the command of Brigadier General Nathaniel Greene. Greene and others from the Kentish Guards were sent to Boston to serve in the new Continental Army under General George Washington. The Rhode Island force at Boston was around 1700 men. Augustus Mumford, a member of the Kentish Guards, was struck by a shot from a British cannon during the siege. He was the first Rhode Islander to be killed in the war.

During 1775 the Assembly granted charters to a number of units include the Kingstown Reds. In 1776 an additional militia regiment was organized in Newport with Col. George Irish as the commanding officer. Rhode Island militia now consisted of ten regiments of infantry and twelve chartered companies.

On December 2, 1776, the British occupied Newport. About six hundred local militiamen stationed on the island retreated to Portsmouth and crossed to the mainland without loss. The entire state militia force was mobilized. Militia units were assigned all along the shore from Point Judith to Providence. Fortifications were constantly occupied by a strong militia force during the period the British remained in Newport. The 2nd Newport Regiment under Col. John Cook occupied Tiverton, while General West, with a strong force, was at Bristol. The militia regiments and the chartered commands were constantly on duty along the shores of Narragansett Bay.

On October 25th 1779, the British evacuated Newport. The next day Gen. Stark crossed from Tiverton and occupied Newport. The militia that had patrolled the coast was dismissed after three years of service. Another militia regiment of 630 men was ordered on duty for three months. The French arrived in 1780 and with the departure of the French in 1781, twelve hundred militia men were ordered to serve one month.

During the War for Independence the militias served continually. Often there was a merging of the organizations, so it is difficult to say which units were fighting. They blended into a force under different commands and titles. The Rhode Island militias contributed greatly to the fight for Independence.


Much of this article is based on:

Rhode Island’s Early Defenders and their Successors – Brig. Gen. J.J. Richards, 1937, E.Greenwich, Rhode Island Pendulum, 1937 (Published by the Provisional Regiment of Chartered Commands Rhode Island Militia.

Rhode Island Military Units: Pawtuxet Rangers

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The Pawtuxet Rangers (Second Independent Company for the County of Kent) were chartered by the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations on October 29, 1774. There were two types of military units during the Revolutionary War – independent chartered commands (like the Rangers) and Continental Regulars. In the years before the beginning of the War for Independence, busy seaports like Pawtuxet were at the heart of the economy. Rhode Islanders began to resent British actions such as the Sugar Act (1764), the Stamp Act (1765) and the Townsend Acts (1767). These acts stifled the maritime trade of towns like Pawtuxet. Some Rhode Islanders reacted with acts of defiance like the burning of the Gaspee in Pawtuxet in 1772. The Rangers first duties were to defend the bustling town of Pawtuxet, but they were expanded to include the construction and manning of a fort and the protection of 400 miles of the Rhode Island coastline from the Royal Navy.

With the British Occupation of Aquidneck Island (Rhode Island), the Rangers were kept busy. Besides guarding Pawtuxet, they were on duty on Prudence Island, Newport, East Greenwich, Bristol and Warwick Neck.

One pension request from a veteran Ranger states: “It was the duty of said company always to be in readings to march to whatever station it was commanded either by the Governor or the General of the Army having the command in Rhode Island. It also had the principal charge of a fort built in said village of Pawtuxet to repel incursions of the enemy which were very frequent during the time the British were in possession of Newport. While Rhode Island was in the theater of War, frequent & daring incursions were made all along the shores of Narragansett Bay by the enemy for the purpose of plunder and this Corps never failed to be among the foremost to repel them.”

Members of the Rangers served in the Battle of Rhode Island, the Battle of Saratoga and the Siege of Boston.

During the War of 1812 the fort at Pawtuxet Neck was re-established and the Rangers were on duty again. Around this time the Company asked for a name change to the Pawtuxet Artillery Company. In 1841-42, the Pawtuxet Artillery was ordered to vigilantly guard the community during the Dorr Rebellion. They contended with incidents such as a barn being set on fire and the theft of muskets. The state appropriated money for an armory because there was an attempt to steal the cannons. The armory was built in 1843.

The unit was reactivated in 1972 when the Gaspee Days Committee wanted a local fife and drum corp to be hosts for celebrations. The Pawtuxet Rangers militia company was formed in 1974 and the charter was transferred to it. Today they still operate under the original charter of 1774. Even though It is now under the direct command of the Rhode Island National Guard, the Pawtuxet Rangers still retain their independent charter while they voluntarily assist State functions when requested.

The primary mission of the company today is to perpetuate history by participating in school programs, parades, battle reenactments, encampments, ceremonial programs and more.


The website of the Rangers has a thorough history https://www.pawtuxetrangers.com/history-genesis/

The history was compiled with the help of local historian Henry A.L. Brown.

Rhode Island Military Units: The Bristol Train of Artillery

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The Bristol Train of Artillery was organized in 1776. The organization historian wrote in 1916:

Bristol Train of Artillery image by Jay Killian

“The Train of Artillery, in the town and county of Bristol, known as the Bristol Train of Artillery, was instituted on February 12, 1776, at a town meeting of the Town of Bristol, called ‘In consequence of an Act or order of the General Assembly made and passed at Providence on the 13th day of January 1776 for raising an Artillery Company in this town.” The company chose officers, but those officers were replaced by the General Assembly. .'”

It was the early days of the War for Independence and coastal Bristol was vulnerable to attack by the British. Bristol was continually harassed by the British troops and ships so the company was kept “fully occupied during the years of the Revolutionary War.” With the British Occupation of Newport, the Bristol Train of Artillery found itself actively taking part in battles and skirmishes around Bristol and Newport. Some say that the company took part in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

In 1793 the General Assembly passed a new militia law. In June 1794 the Bristol Train of Artillery was chartered by the Assembly. In 1797 two brass field pieces were presented to the company by the General Assembly.

Members took part in the war of 1812 and some of them were taken prisoner and confined to Dartmoor prison in Devon, England. On June 24, 1842 a full company of 200 members reported to the Governor and served in the “Dorr Rebellion.” On June 5, 1861, the company was mustered into the 2nd Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers. Over 300 members of the company served in different regiments during the Civil War. Several members of the company served in the Spanish American War. Forty-six members went to France to fight in World War I.


“An Ancient Organization”, Bristol Phoenix, May 2, 1916.

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