This American Revolutionary War commission document at the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum was presented to James Mitchell Varnum of East Greenwich, RI (Varnum House Museum) on May 10, 1779, naming him Major General of all Rhode Island Militia forces opposing the Crown troops of Britain. It is now properly framed and on display for the first time thanks to the generous donations made by our Facebook followers. Thank you!
[FEATURED EXHIBIT] Revolutionary War-period letter written by African American Veteran Thomas Nichols
At the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum, we have discovered an American Revolutionary War-period letter written (dictated) by African American Thomas Nichols and signed with “his mark”. Freed from enslavement to serve in the First Rhode Island Regiment, Thomas writes to his former “master and mistress” asking for help in getting a discharge since the Revolutionary War had been “very disagreeable to my mind as well as destructive to my health.”
Thomas fought at the Battle of Rhode Island 2 years earlier and was wounded while helping to repel three Hessian charges. The letter is powerful … you can’t help but feel bad for Thomas’s plight and his desperate wish to go home. He appears to be suffering from PTSD. This is an astoundingly rare artifact from the beginnings of our nation. It also reminds us that many of the men serving and fighting for their freedom and country were people of color.
This is an astoundingly rare artifact. To our knowledge, only one other war-time letter from an African American in the American Revolutionary War exists. And, this may be the only one written by a former slave. This letter is a State and National treasure. However, it requires professional conservation work that will cost approximately $990. This work will stabilize the document physically, make it more readable, and most importantly, will make it possible to safely put it on long term display in our climate-controlled, secure museum. Framing and matting with archival grade materials and the highest quality museum glass will likely cost an additional $500 for an estimated total of $1490.
To that end, we staged a successful online fundraiser that surpassed our goal of $1,500 ($1,720 raised!) to preserve the letter.
We also experienced a fantastic moment of serendipity regarding this particular letter. On the exact day that we met our fundraising goal, we were recently joined by two U.S. Army veterans and their daughter. They were moved by many exhibits in our collection, but this letter proved to be the focal point of their tour. Moments like this is why we work so hard to preserve our local and national U.S. history!
Letter transcription (preserving the original spelling and punctuation):
“Windham January 18th 1781
Onered Master & Mistress I take this opportunity to inform you of my citiation att this time & desire your ade = after I drove 3 waggons as far as Windham I hade waggoner tookaway my bath[?] of driving & ordered me to gard ye waggons which I refused & turned back to colonel green att Covintree & ye wagoner sent back two men after me Ye Colonal did not blame me but told ye men and me to go on again & that I should take my waggon again but being over worried with this tramp I got but 3 miles further than where I left ye waggons in So. Windham att ye house of one Dan Murdock where I have been confined with my old fits But have good care taken of me But I have a desire to Return to you Not having any money Nor Clows fit to wair & all strangers to me makes it something difficult for me I have had a Doctor and a Surgans mate to me which advize me to go to xxx corps of invalids at Boston where I may be under half pay During Life Remaining in this poor State of Body But I ante able to go thether Neither do I incline to with out advice from you But I have a desire that Master or Mistress would go to Colonel Green & see if you cant git me Discharged from ye War it being very Disagreabell to my mind as well as Destructive to my helth I suppose I could ride on a horse or att least in a Slay if you could obtain a Discharge for me So that I may Return to my Master and his family again baring[?] the will of god & your pleasure So No more att this time But I Remain your humble & dutiful Thomas “N” His mark
December 31 1780 These lines I recv’d from ye Surgeon’s mate where as Thomas Nickols a soldier belonging to ye first Regiment in Rhode Island State hath been for some time attended with fits in this place & still likely to Remain unfit for military life”
Endnote on Thomas
Sadly, Thomas didn’t get to go home then. He was transferred to the Invalid Corps in February 1781 to serve in whatever capacity his illness allowed (at half pay). More research is needed to determine what his ultimate fate was during and after the War.
[FEATURED EXHIBIT] American Revolutionary War Pay Voucher signed by Hopkins, Greene, and Ward
At the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum, we have an interesting American Revolutionary War period document featuring the autographs of three prominent Rhode Islanders including Esek Hopkins (first Commander in Chief of the US Navy), Governor William Greene Jr., and Samuel Ward Jr. (bios below).
Here’s a transcript:
State Rhode Island &c
The General Assembly at August Session 1782 orderd the sum of sixty pounds to be paid William Greene out of the General Treasury
£60..0 witness Sam Ward Dy Secy
[endorsement by Greene:] January 6th 1783 / Received the contents / ? W. Greene
[endorsement by Hopkins:] His Excelly Wm Greene / £60 / G 19 / audt febr 6, 1783 E. Hopkins
[docketing:] William Greene / Govr ordr £60.0.0
— Esek Hopkins (1718-1802) was born in the colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations into a prominent family. He went to sea at age twenty and became an accomplished sailor and trader. He commanded a privateer during the French and Indian War and served as a deputy in the Rhode Island General Assembly. His brother Stephen Hopkins served as colonial governor for nine years in four terms between 1755 and 1768 and signed the Declaration of Independence. In October 1775, Esek Hopkins received an appointment as brigadier general to command all Rhode Island military forces. In December 1775, the Continental Congress appointed him the only Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy. His duty was to protect American commerce. In March 1776, he raided Providence (Nassau) in the Bahamas and captured munitions and three ships from the British. As the war began, Hopkins found it difficult to compete with privateers for sailors, and the Continental Congress censured Hopkins in August 1776. His fleet remained blockaded in Narragansett Bay by a superior British fleet until Congress relieved him of command in January 1778. Hopkins served in the Rhode Island General Assembly through 1786, then retired to his farm.
— William Greene Jr. (1731-1809) was born in Rhode Island into a prominent family. His father served eleven terms as colonial governor of Rhode Island. William Greene Jr. served as deputy to the General Assembly (1773-1777), as justice (1774-1777) and chief justice (1777-1778) of the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and as the second governor of the state of Rhode Island (1778-1786).
— Samuel Ward Jr. (1756-1832) was born in Rhode Island and graduated from Brown University in 1771. He was the son of Samuel Ward, twice colonial governor of Rhode Island in the 1760s. In 1775, he received a commission as captain of a company in the 12th Regiment. He rose in rank to the command of lieutenant colonel before retiring in January 1781. After the war, he became a merchant and served as a delegate to the Annapolis Convention of 1786.
No photo description available.
Who Carried the British Grenadier Sergeant’s Carbine in our Varnum Armory Collection?
There’s nothing like a good detective story. When coupled with the history of an American Revolutionary War weapon, it gets even more interesting.
In a rack atop the 19th-century glass-front bookcase in the Varnum Commander’s Office is a rare English Carbine, a scaled-down version of the British Land Pattern Musket, commonly known as the “Brown Bess”. From 1722 to 1838, the British Army used the Land Pattern worldwide and some were used by colonists as well.
In the colonies, if you needed a musket, you were pretty much on your own. Fortunately, there were upwards of 3,000 gunsmiths scattered about the colonies and a number were here in Rhode Island. Many guns were made from parts of other weapons or from castings based on (or “patterned after”) earlier weapons. In fact, hanging on the wall just above the English Carbine is a pre-Revolutionary war era fowler (a musket used primarily for hunting) owned by Thomas Gould of Quidnessett. It is a perfect example of a gun made from various parts of different weapons. However, the story of the Gould fowler is for another time.
Smooth-bore flintlock muskets in this period were not particularly accurate over distance. At a range of up to 50 yards, they could hit a man-sized target (weapons with rifled barrels had a much longer range and greater accuracy). Muskets were relatively easy to load and could be fired up to four times a minute by a skilled foot soldier. Many variations were produced, including lighter-weight models called carbines, many of which were carried by non-commissioned officers.
Prior to the introduction of these weapons, up through the 17th century, a non-commissioned officer (NCO) in a European army would usually carry a weapon called a halberd or pike, a two-handed pole-arm. They were essentially a symbol of rank, but as evident by the sharpened tip on the example displayed in the Varnum Armory’s Commander’s Office, they could also be used to prod a recalcitrant soldier into action or as a weapon in its own right. During the French and Indian War, sergeants would frequently cast aside their halberd and take up the more practical musket. Since NCOs were charged with maintaining order in the firing lines, they were often in positions of close combat.
Hence, the need for a smaller, lighter weapon (which was not fitted with a bayonet). In 1770, a new Pattern Carbine was developed for non-commissioned officers in British grenadier and light infantry companies (again, the term “pattern” simply means the weapon was replicated from an original design, although mass production as we know it was still not in use). In a typical British regiment of 500 men, only about a half-dozen carbines were issued.
Our carbine belonged to the 24th Regiment of Foot, one of the British units that fought in the Battles of Saratoga. Originally formed in 1689, it was initially sent to Quebec in 1776 following the outbreak of war in America. By 1777, the regiment was part of the British effort to cut off New England from the rest of the colonies.
A complicated series of campaigns culminated with the Battles of Saratoga (September 19 and October 7, 1777) in which the British were defeated. British General John Burgoyne led his force down from Canada with the intention of joining with other forces marching northward and eastward and cutting off the New England colonies, but those troops never met up with him. Thus, cut off by a superior colonial force under General Horatio Gates, Burgoyne surrendered some 5000 English and Hessian troops who remained prisoners until the end of hostilities in 1783. At the surrender, the British troops stacked their weapons and marched away, leaving behind a trove of muskets for the colonial forces. Among those weapons was the carbine which is the subject of this story.
So, what do we know about our carbine? Quite a bit: still visible on close inspection of the lock is a stamp with a crown over the letters “GR” and “Dublin Castle”. This tells us the weapon was made in the Dublin Castle Armory in Ireland. The barrel is stamped with “24 REG” (later called the South Wales Borderers). The carbine weighs 7.2 pounds (as opposed to 10.4 pounds for a long Land Pattern musket) and fires a .68 caliber projectile (as opposed to a .75 caliber ball used in the standard-length weapon).
On our carbine is an oval escutcheon on the top of the stock behind the lock marked with a “4” over “2”. This identifies the carbine as belonging to the 4th company of the regiment with a rack number of 2. Since we know the 24th Regiment fought at Saratoga, it is likely that this weapon was one that was captured at that time. Now, our detective story gets even more interesting.
Rhode Island historian and author Don Hagist has a particular interest in British soldiers who fought in the American Revolution. Thanks to his research, assignment of the carbine can likely be traced down to one of three NCOs in the 24th Regiment of Foot. On a visit to the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum one day, Don noticed the carbine hanging on the wall. Recognizing that he was looking at a rare weapon, he asked to take a few photos and then started investigating. “I found this to be a rare Pattern 1770 Grenadier Sergeant’s Fusil, one of only a few thousand made at the Tower and Dublin Castle Armories,” he told us. Only about 100 of these carbines would have been among the thousands of muskets surrendered at Saratoga. What makes this weapon especially interesting are the two numbers on the wrist plate, as explained above. “British commanders were financially responsible for arms issued to their companies. Marking the weapons identified their unit assignment facilitating accountability,” Don explained.
Don used a muster roll of the 24th Regiment to trace the likely user. “There were ten companies in the regiment,” he said, “composing grenadier, light infantry and artillery.” Don noted that grenadiers were usually larger and stronger and were often used in assault operations. They were considered elite units as such. “The grenadier company was fourth in seniority (in the regiment), based on the rank and commission date of the company commander,” he said. The number “4” on our carbine corresponds to this fact. There were three sergeants in the grenadier company when the carbine was issued in 1771. The second of the three, according to the muster roll, was James Hughes. He was most likely issued the carbine marked “2”. “By 1777,” Don said, “Hughes was the company’s First Sergeant. There is no reason to think that he would have given up this weapon with his change in seniority.” While there is certainly some possibility that Sergeants Thomas Ford or Henry Fogg might have carried carbine 4/2, Don’s investigation indicated Hughes to be the most logical individual. He also found that Hughes was captured at Saratoga and repatriated to England after the war. Records indicate he applied for a soldier’s pension in 1784 at the age of 52, following some 29 years in the British Army.
One unanswered question is exactly how our Pattern Carbine came into the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum’s collection. No organized Rhode Island forces fought at Saratoga. However, it is possible some individuals from this area were likely there. The carbine could have come home with them or with one of the many other New Englanders who participated in the battles. Needless to say, with our Museum’s outstanding collection, there are countless stories yet to be told.
Special thanks go to Varnum Armory VP and Museum Curator Patrick Donovan, to Varnum member and arms expert Russell Malcolm, and to American Revolutionary War historian Don Hagist for their help on this story.
[FEATURE ARTICLE] Another Look at Varnum’s 1st Rhode Island Regiment
February is Black History Month, an opportunity to take a brief look at an important aspect of General James Mitchell Varnum’s illustrious career: the inclusion of men of color into the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, known as Varnum’s Continentals and from which we take our name and heritage as a historic state militia.
On February 14, 1778, the Rhode Island General Assembly voted to enable “every able-bodied negro, mulatto, or Indian man” to voluntarily enlist and earn freedom “upon his passing muster before Colonel Christopher Greene, be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress and be absolutely free.” Greene had been delegated by Varnum to return to Rhode Island and expand the regiment. To arrive at this moment, we need to go back to the roots of the American Revolutionary War.
The first shots of the Revolution echoed down from the Battles of Lexington and Concord in April of 1775. But, the men of East Greenwich, RI, had already been preparing to respond. In August of 1774, in protest of “the Late Cruel, malignant and more than savage acts of the British Parliament”, the Military Independent Company of East Greenwich was organized. They hired some ex-military men to teach them the rudiments of military science. 25-year old James Mitchell Varnum, who had already gained fame and respect as a skilled lawyer and orator, was charged with obtaining the needed financial support and seeking approval from the colonial General Assembly for the men to function as an official militia unit. Permission was granted by an act of October 24, 1774 and the group took the name “Kentish Guards”. They openly drilled in the community to attract new recruits.
Varnum was elected Captain, Richard Fry as First Lieutenant, Christopher Greene as Second Lieutenant, and Hopkins Cook as Ensign. Varnum’s very close friend, Nathanael Greene, an ardent supporter of the unit, was not chosen as an officer. Some felt it was because a deformity caused him to walk with a slight limp. Greene, who had secretly purchased a musket in Boston, bore no malice and gladly enrolled as a private. During the war, he was to become George Washington’s Quartermaster and has been acknowledged by some historians as perhaps the best general of the Revolution. The Kentish Guards’ officers were given the same ranks as other state militia companies. Thus, Varnum became colonel of the unit.
On April 22, 1775, The Rhode Island General Assembly created a 1,500-man “Army of Observation”: one brigade of three regiments under a Brigadier General. Although earlier rejected as officer material by the Kentish Guards, Nathanael Greene was named to the post. The exact reason he was chosen is not known, but history proved the Assembly made a wise decision. Immediately pledging his full support to Greene, Varnum was given command of the brigade’s 3rd Regiment: men from Kent and King’s (later Washington) Counties. It is from this appointment (on May 3, 1775) that Varnum’s Regiment dates its history giving us seniority in the Rhode Island Militia.
The unit became known as the First Regiment, Rhode Island Infantry. Taken into the Continental Army, it became the 12th Continentals or simply, Varnum’s Continentals. Under Nathanael Greene, the troops took part in the Siege of Boston between July and December of 1775. At that point, their initial enlistment ended. In response to requests from Generals Washington and Greene, most of the men remained with the Continental forces, joining the 9th Continentals, under Varnum’s command.
From Boston, the regiment marched to New York where they fought through the summer of 1776. Varnum had lobbied for promotion to Brigadier General. For mostly political reasons, his advancement was not forthcoming. His complaints to Washington went unanswered and in December, Varnum made good on repeated threats to resign and returned to Rhode Island.
His regiment remained with the Continental Army under Lt. Col. Archibald Crary. The unit fought well at the Battles of Trenton and Patterson in New Jersey. In January of 1777, Col. Christopher Greene became commander of the 1st Rhode Island. (the unit was later merged into the 2nd RI, Continental Line, created from Varnum’s disbanded 9th Continentals). As we shall see, it would be reconstituted as the 1st RI, or the “Black Regiment” in the spring of 1778. Christopher Greene would essentially command until he was killed in New York in 1781.
Meanwhile, the British (supported by Hessian troops) occupied Newport, RI, and Aquidneck Island (also known then as Rhode Island) in late 1776. In December, they burned the town of Jamestown, RI, in retaliation for opposition by local residents. Over the next few years, their suppression of trade and forays against the rest of the colony created anger, hardship, and frustration among the much of the populace. The General Assembly called on Governor Nicholas Cooke to raise a brigade of infantry to defend the colony. Varnum was given the rank of Major General and took command of all Rhode Island militia infantry. He briefly remained in that post before being recalled by Washington on February 21, 1777, promoted to Brigadier General in the Continental Army.
Varnum’s troops, like most of the colonial forces, were in bad shape. They were ill-paid, ill-clothed, ill-fed, and ill-supplied. They should have numbered 1,200 in four regiments (two from Rhode Island and two from Connecticut), but only about 600 men could be mustered. Varnum and his top officers, Colonels Christopher Greene and Israel Angell, complained to Generals Washington and Nathanael Greene, but the entire Continental Army was in the same straits.
Instead of a proposed major offensive along the Hudson River, British General William Howe had decided to occupy Philadelphia in September of 1777. This led to the Battle of Red Bank, New Jersey with American defenses under General Varnum. In the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum is a personal letter from Washington to General Varnum ordering Colonels Christopher Greene and Israel Angell to come Red Bank as quickly as possible. During the battle, Greene’s 400-man force defeated 1,200 Hessian troops at Fort Mercer. The Continental Congress later awarded him a ceremonial sword for personal bravery.
During the winter of 1777-78, American troops, including the Rhode Islanders, survived an arduous winter at Valley Forge. Varnum remained motivated to address the brutal British occupation of Newport and defended his home state’s reluctance to provide more troops to the Continental Army given the British presence.
It was at this point that Varnum lobbied George Washington to recruit black slaves and freemen as well as Native Americans from Rhode Island into a military unit. Washington forwarded the General’s proposal to the Rhode Island General Assembly, neither specifically approving or disapproving the request.
The General Assembly, in spite of strong opposition by slave owners from the southern part of the state, agreed to the plan. Men who enlisted would be freed on their acceptance into the unit and completion of military service. Slave owners were to be compensated by the Rhode Island Assembly who would then be reimbursed by the Continental Congress (or so it was hoped) for the market value of the individual enslaved recruits. Consolidating the 1st and 2nd RI Regiments at Valley Forge, Colonel Christopher Greene, Lt. Col. Jeremiah Olney, and Major Samuel Ward Jr. were sent back to Rhode Island to raise the regiment.
Col. Greene and his fellow officers recruited 225 men, of whom probably fewer than 140 were enslaved or freed black men, none above the rank of sergeant. All officers were white. The 1st Rhode Island was the only regiment of the Continental Army to have segregated companies (other regiments were integrated). Although the 1st Rhode Island became known as “The Black Regiment”, Caucasians were recruited to fill remaining vacancies as time went by. The unit eventually became integrated by necessity.
Following training in East Greenwich, the unit’s first engagement was at the Battle of Rhode Island in August of 1778. The French had come into the war and dispatched a fleet and troops with the goal of evicting the British from Newport. Relying on the presence of the major French forces, Rhode Island troops, under command of General John Sullivan, invaded the northern end of Aquidneck Island. The British were well entrenched and the outcome of the battle was in their favor after a major storm drove the French fleet away from the coast seriously damaging a number of French warships. The American forces were forced to withdraw. Although the battle has been considered a defeat for Continental forces, the Black Regiment’s performance prevented a complete rout.
Sullivan knew he could not press a confrontation against the well-entrenched enemy forces. The Americans were arrayed in three elements on the northern end of Aquidneck Island. Under Col. Greene, the men of the 1st Rhode Island, positioned on the west flank of the line, held firm against repeated attacks by British and Hessian troops.
Historian Samuel Greene Arnold in his 1859 History of the State of Rhode Island, recounted that the regiment, despite continued charges by the Hessians:
…distinguished itself in deeds of desperate valor. Posted behind a thicket in the valley, three times they drove back the Hessians, who charged repeatedly down the hill to dislodge them.
The Hessian colonel commanding later applied for a transfer, claiming his men would likely shoot him for having caused them so much loss.
History loves legend and according to one tale, an unnamed African American artillerist, wounded in the arm, exchanged places with a white soldier telling him, “I’ve got one arm to fight for my country.” As he took up his place, he was shot and killed on the spot.
Aquidneck Island remained in British hands for the time being, but thanks especially to the heroic efforts of Greene’s troops, Sullivan was able to complete an orderly withdrawal of his 5,000-man force to Bristol, RI, and Tiverton, RI. The September 15, 1778 New Hampshire Gazette reported the retreat made:
in perfect order and safety, not leaving behind the smallest article of provision, camp equipage or military stores.
Patriot’s Park in Portsmouth, RI, marks the battle site’s two principal areas. The sites were designated in 1974 as a National Historic Landmark. A small monument was erected at this location in 1976 as part of the Bicentennial observance to commemorate the bravery of the men of the 1st Rhode Island, specifically its many black soldiers. In 2005, a larger and more expansive monument funded by private donations was dedicated beside the 1976 stone tablet.
In March of 1779, for economic reasons, Varnum resigned from the Continental Army for the final time and returned to resume his law practice in East Greenwich, RI. He did so after making sure that Washington would not be displeased. On his return, he was placed in command of the Rhode Island militia. In October of that year, the British pulled out of Newport and French troops shortly thereafter returned in large numbers to jointly pursue the end of the war.
Elements of the 1st RI spent time in Rhode Island and in New Jersey before being consolidated with the 2nd RI, Col. Christopher Greene still commanding. They were sent to defend an area on the northern bank of the Croton River in New York. On May 14, 1781, the British attacked in a lightening raid. According to the July 4, 1781 edition of the American Journal and General Advertiser, the raid killed 14 colonials, wounded 4 (2 later died), and 2 officers and 22 enlisted men were captured. Col. Greene was killed by multiple saber wounds, his body carried off and later discovered mutilated. Some historians consider it an act of revenge by the British for Greene’s efforts in commanding black troops.
The Rhode Island Regiment was reconstituted under Lt. Col. Jeremiah Olney who would retain that post until the after the war. The regiment was at the Siege at Yorktown for the last major battle of the Revolution in October of 1781.
Other states had opposed the recruitment of slaves or freemen although individuals were able to enlist here and there, primarily as substitutes for white men drafted into service. There was at least one concerted effort to create a unit of African Americans in South Carolina, but slaveholders prevented it. Interestingly, Washington, himself a slaveholder, refused to openly support efforts in South Carolina (he had neither opposed or supported Varnum’s proposal). There was a concern that the British might try to recruit large numbers of enslaved men, especially from Southern states.
Writing in the January 17, 2018 edition of the Journal of the American Revolution, historian Cameron Boutin suggests that:
…by squandering the opportunities to establish battalions of enslaved African Americans, several military advantages and economic benefits were lost. (These) included the strengthening of the Continental Army by lessening the manpower crisis, weakening the British forces be denying them a source of support personnel, and averting negative economic effects on the nation’s slaveholding population.
Following the end of hostilities, the 1st Rhode Islanders were at Saratoga until they were discharged on December 25, 1783. White soldiers were granted land and a pension. Black soldiers who had been slaves were granted their freedom, but no pensions were forthcoming. Col. Olney formally returned the regiment’s colors (they remain today at the Rhode Island State House).
For nine years after Varnum returned to Rhode Island, he and his wife Martha remained in their handsome residence on Peirce Street. He served Rhode Island in various capacities including twice as a member of the Continental Congress. In 1787, Varnum was appointed a justice of the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territory in Marietta, Ohio. Varnum died there of consumption on January 9, 1789 less than a month after his 40th birthday.
But what of Rhode Island’s black veterans? For some time, they received no government pay or pension. This had bothered Varnum immensely and he campaigned unsuccessfully on their behalf, as did Col. Olney. In 1794, thirteen black veterans hired Samuel Emory to present their claims to the War Department in Washington, DC. The Rhode Island General Assembly had previously passed an act to support “paupers, who were formerly slaves and enlisted in the Continental battalions”. Local town governments were mandated to provide for the indigent veterans. Most had remained in Rhode Island, but some moved onto the 100 acres of promised bounty land in New York state or the Ohio territory. In 1818, the Black Regiment veterans were finally granted Federal pensions (as were all veterans who could prove their service).
One black veteran was East Greenwich resident Ichabod Northup. Historian Bruce MacGunnigle compiled a biography of Northup for the Rhode Island Genealogical Society’s “RI Roots” in December 2008. Born a slave around 1745, Northup enlisted in the 1st Rhode Island in 1778 and served honorably as a fifer. Northup was captured at Croton, New York, when Christopher Greene was killed. He spent the remainder of the war as a prisoner of the British and was granted a pension under the 1818 Act of Congress. Despite a handicap from a wartime wound, he worked as a laborer in Warwick and East Greenwich and managed to buy a home for his wife and eight children.
Their handsome little house at 110 Division Street was occupied by his descendants and by other families of color for many years. When he died in 1821, Northup was given an obituary in the local newspaper (unusual for a black man at the time), which referred to him as a “Soldier in the Revolution”. As were his fellows, men of all colors and heritage who comprised the 1st Rhode Island Regiment contributed bravely and loyally to the outcome of the Revolution.
For detailed accounts of the formation and campaigns involving the Black Regiment, this writer suggests The RI Bicentennial Foundation’s 1980 book “The Rhode Island Campaign of 1778, Inauspicious Dawn of Alliance” by Paul F. Dearden and Robert Geake’s 2016 book “From Slaves to Soldiers”. Also, take a look at my fellow historian Christian McBurney’s 2011 book “The Rhode Island Campaign” and Daniel M. Popek’s extensive 2015 volume “They… fought bravely, but were unfortunate: The True Story of Rhode Island’s ‘Black Regiment and the Failure of Segregation in Rhode Island’s Continental Line, 1777-1783”.
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