Rhode Island Line

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Rhode Island Line

RHODE ISLAND LINE. On 25 April 1775 the Rhode Island Assembly created an "Army of Observation" under Brigadier General Nathanael Greene to assist in the siege of Boston. This force was made up of three infantry regiments and an artillery company. Colonels James Varnum, Daniel Hitchcock, and Thomas Church commanded the three regiments. In 1776 the first two regiments reenlisted as the Ninth and Eleventh Continental Regiments, and in 1777 they became the First and Second Rhode Island Regiments. Church's regiment disbanded on 31 December 1775. The First and Second Rhode Island Regiments merged as the Rhode Island Regiment on 1 January 1781, reorganized as the smaller Rhode Island Battalion on 1 March 1783, and disbanded its last two companies on Christmas Day, 1783. During the winter of 1775–1776, Rhode Island formed two new regiments in the state troops. This were led by Colonel William Richmond and Colonel Henry Babcock (later Colonel Christopher Lippitt). These regiments were later transferred them to the Continental Army—they disbanded during the 1776–1777 winter. The artillery company technically was not part of the state's line.

The two regiments suffered heavy losses during the defense of the Delaware River in the fall of 1777, and at Valley Forge the First Regiment transferred all of its rank and file to fill up the Second, and sent the officers and sergeants home to recruit additional troops. The legislature supported that effort by passing legislation to allow slaves to voluntarily enlist for the duration of the war. Slaves were purchased by the state, which granted them their freedom when they were discharged from military service. The First Regiment has sometimes been misidentified being African American, but in reality it was really a regiment of "men of colour" and included Native Americans and men of mixed ancestry. All of the officers and sergeants were white. The experiment in segregated troops ended on 1 January 1781, when the First and Second Regiments merged into a single, fully-integrated unit.

SEE ALSO African Americans in the Revolution.


Angell, Israel. Diary of Colonel Israel Angell Commanding the Second Rhode Island Continental Regiment during the American Revolution 1778–1781. Edited by Edward Field. Providence, R.I.: Preston and Rounds, 1899.

Cowell, Benjamin. Spirit of '76 in Rhode Island, or Sketches of the Efforts of the Government and People in the War of the Revolution. Boston: A. J. Wright, 1850.

David, Ebenezer. A Rhode Island Chaplain in the Revolution: Letters of Ebenezer David to Nicholas Brown 1775–1778. Edited by Jeanette D. Black and William Greene Roelker. Providence: Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati, 1949.

Gardiner, Asa B. The Rhode Island Line in the Continental Army and Its Society of Cincinnati. Providence, R.I.: Providence Press, 1878.

Rider, Sidney S. Historical Inquiry Concerning the Attempt to Raise a Regiment of Slaves by Rhode Island During the War of the Revolution. Providence, R.I.: S. S. Rider, 1880.

Walker, Anthony. So Few The Brave: Rhode Island Continentals 1775–1783. Newport, R.I.: Seafield Press, 1981.