- 1st Rhode Island Regiment
Infobox Military Unit
unit_name=Varnum's Regiment 9th Continental Regiment 1st Rhode Island Regiment Rhode Island Regiment Rhode Island Battalion First Regiment Rhode Island Infantry
caption=This 1780 drawing of American soldiers from the Yorktown campaign shows ("far left") a black infantryman from the Rhode Island Regiment.
Rhode Island Line
nickname=Varnum's Continentals (1775–76) Black Regiment (1778–80)
Siege of Boston, New York campaign, Battle of Red Bank, Battle of Rhode Island, Siege of Yorktown
James Mitchell Varnum, Christopher Greene, Jeremiah Olney
The 1st Rhode Island Regiment was a
Continental Army regimentfrom Rhode Islandduring the American Revolutionary War(1775–1783). Like most regiments of the Continental Army, the unit went through several incarnations and name changes. It became well-known as the "Black Regiment" because, for a time, it had several companies of African Americansoldiers.
Like many Continental Army regiments, the 1st Rhode Island was initially formed by a colonial or state government before being taken into the national (or "Continental") army. The revolutionary
Rhode Island Assemblyauthorized the regiment on 6 May 1775 as part of the Rhode Island Army of Observation. The regiment was organized on 8 May 1775 under Colonel James Mitchell Varnum, and was therefore often known as "Varnum's Regiment". It consisted of eight companies of volunteers from Kent and King Counties.
Varnum marched the regiment to
Roxbury, Massachusetts, in June 1775, where it took part in the siege of Boston. The regiment was adopted into the Continental Armyon 14 June 1775. On 28 June it was reorganized into ten companies. On 28 July 1775, it was assigned to General Nathanael Greene's Brigade in General George Washington's Main Army.
9th Continental Regiment
In 1776, the Continental Army was completely reorganized, with many regiments receiving new names. On 1 January 1776, Varnum's Regiment was reorganized with eight companies and redesignated as the 9th Continental Regiment. Under Colonel Varnum the regiment took part in the disastrous 1776 campaign, retreating from New York with the Main Army.
1st Rhode Island Regiment
In 1777, the Continental Army was reorganized once again, and on 1 January 1777 the 9th Continental Regiment was redesignated as the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. Varnum no longer commanded the regiment, having been made a brigadier general; his eventual successor was Colonel
Christopher Greene, a distant cousin of General Nathanael Greene. Under Colonel Greene the regiment successfully defended Fort Mercerat the Battle of Red Bankon 22 October 1777 against an assault by 2,000 Hessians.
In 1778, when Rhode Island was having difficulties recruiting enough white men to meet the troop quotas set by the
Continental Congress, the Rhode Island Assembly decided to pursue a suggestion made by General Varnum and enlist slaves in 1st Rhode Island Regiment. Varnum had raised the idea in a letter to George Washington, who forwarded the letter to the governor of Rhode Island without explicitly approving or disapproving of the plan. [Lengel, "General George Washington", 314.] On 14 February 1778, the Rhode Island Assembly voted to allow the enlistment of "every able-bodied negro, mulatto, or Indian man slave" that chose to do so, and that "every slave so enlisting shall, upon his passing muster before Colonel Christopher Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely free...." [Lanning, "African Americans in the Revolutionary War", 205.] The owners of slaves who enlisted were to be compensated by the Assembly in an amount equal to the market value of the slave.
A total of 88 slaves enlisted in the regiment over the next four months, as well as some free blacks. The regiment eventually totaled about 225 men; probably fewer than 140 of these were African Americans. [Lanning, "African Americans in the Revolutionary War", 75–76.] The 1st Rhode Island Regiment became the only regiment of the Continental Army to have segregated companies of black soldiers. (Other regiments that allowed blacks to enlist were integrated.) The enlistment of slaves had been controversial, and after June 1778, no more non-whites were enlisted. The unit continued to be known as the "Black Regiment" even though only whites were thereafter recruited into the regiment to replace losses, a process which eventually made the regiment an integrated unit. [Lanning, "African Americans in the Revolutionary War", 78.]
Under Colonel Greene, the regiment fought in the
Battle of Rhode Islandin August 1778. The regiment played a fairly minor—but praised—role in the battle, suffering three killed, nine wounded, and eleven missing. [Lanning, "African Americans in the Revolutionary War", 76–77.]
Like most of the Main Army, the regiment saw little action over the next few years, since the focus of the war had shifted to the south. In 1781, Greene and several of his black soldiers were killed in a skirmish with Loyalists. Greene's body was mutilated by the Loyalists, apparently as punishment for having led black soldiers against them. [Lanning, "African Americans in the Revolutionary War", 79.]
Rhode Island Regiment
On 1 January 1781, the regiment was consolidated with the
2nd Rhode Island Regimentand redesignated as the Rhode Island Regiment. It took part in the siege of Yorktown.
On June 15 1783, the veteran "during the war" enlisted men of the Rhode Island Regiment were discharged at Saratoga, New York. The remaining soldiers of the Regiment who were enlisted for "three years" were organized into a small Battalion of two companies known as the "Rhode Island Battalion". This unit was disbanded on 25 December 1783 at
Saratoga, New York.
*Lanning, Michael Lee. "African Americans in the Revolutionary War". New York: Citadel Press, 2005.
*Lengel, Edward G. "General George Washington: A Military Life." New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 1400060818.
*Wright, Robert K. "The Continental Army". Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1983. Available, in part, [http://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/books/revwar/contarmy/ca-fm.htm online] from the U.S. Army website.
*State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. "Rhode Island in the War with Spain". E.L. Freean and Sons, Providence, 1900.
*"Death Seem'd to Stare": The New Hampshire And Rhode Island Regiments at Valley Forge" by Joseph Lee Boyle, Clearfield Co, 1995 ISBN 0806352671
* [http://ancientgreece-earlyamerica.com/html/the_first_rhode_island.htm First Rhode Island information]
* [http://revolution.h-net.msu.edu/essays/adams2.html First Rhode Island Regiment]
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