Rhode Island has a varied past when it comes to the American Revolution. Riots in Newport during the Stamp Act Crisis in 1765, and the burning of the HMS Gaspee in 1772 were significant displays of protest in the face of British policy in the years leading up to the Revolution. When the War of American Independence began, Rhode Island struggled with trials and tribulations after it was the first colony to declare it's Independence in May of 1776. Newport was occupied by British Forces in December of 1776, and Aquidneck Island remained under their control for almost 3 years. Although there were two American attempts to retake Aquidneck Island from the British, neither were successful. Rhode Island had difficulty providing men and materials to General Washington and the Continental Army, barely providing enough men by the end of the war for a single regiment. Despite these difficulties, Rhode Island also provided a number of men whose service throughout the war helped forge a nation that has proudly grown over the last 240 years. Men such as Jeremiah Greenman, Israel Angell, and of course Nathanael Greene were Rhode Islanders who gave their all to make a new nation of free and independent states. To aid the United States in its endeavor to break from Great Britain, France sent two armies of expedition in 1778, and 1780, both of which came to Newport. The latter of the two, under the Comte de Rochambeau, remained in Newport for a year before eventually marching to Yorktown, Virginia in 1781. This reading list explores the long and difficult history of Rhode Island during the American Revolution, using Biographies, Diaries (of Americans, British Officers and others) and other forms of text, creating a comprehensive array of books. While the history of Rhode Island during the Revolution tends to be glossed over in many texts, it should not be forgotten, but instead studied, and understood better. This reading list will provide the materials to make that happen.
By, Mary Almy
If you click on the link above, you will be able to read the Diary of Mary Almy, a loyalist woman who was in Newport during the French and American attempt to retake Aquidneck Island from the British in 1778. Her account, written for her husband Benjamin who is serving with the American Army, describes in vivid detail the French Fleet arriving and cannonading Newport, and Mary's attempt to keep herself and her family alive. The original diary is located in the vaults here at Redwood Library.
By, Frederick Mackenzie
Frederick Mackenzie was an officer in the 23rd Regiment of Foot serving with the British Army in America during the Revolution. In 1776 he was made Adjutant General for the British campaign to occupy Newport. Through his diary we see a vivid account of that occupation, through the eyes of the British Army. In his account, such events as the capture of British General Richard Prescott in 1777, the French and American attack on Aquidneck Island in 1778, and the bitter winters that plagued the occupation forces are expressed in a first hand detail that brings readers back in time.
During the American Revolution, Jeremiah Greenman served with the Rhode Island Line in the Continental Army. His detailed diary accounts for the many travels and hardships Greenman faced. In the 8 years of service, Greenman served at Quebec, New Jersey, the Hudson Highlands, and even right on Aquidneck Island. As those years progressed, Greenman's rank progressed as well. This diary reveals the American Revolution from the perspective of a rank and file soldier as they make their way throughout the war, suffering privation and hunger many times.
By, Terry Golway
Nathanael Greene is a revolutionary hero who has been lost to history. Although places named in his honor dot city and country, few people know his quintessentially American story as a self-made, self-educated military genius who renounced his Quaker upbringing-horrifying his large family-to take up arms against the British. Untrained in military matters when he joined the Rhode Island militia in 1774, he quickly rose to become Washington's right-hand man and apparent heir. After many daring exploits during the war's first four years (and brilliant service as the army's quartermaster), he was chosen in 1780 by Washington to replace the routed Horatio Gates in South Carolina.Greene's southern campaign, which combined the forces of regular troops with bands of irregulars, broke all the rules of eighteenth-century warfare and foreshadowed the guerrilla wars of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. His opponent in the south, Lord Cornwallis, wrote, "Greene is as dangerous as Washington. I never feel secure when I am encamped in his neighborhood. He is vigilant, enterprising, and full of resources." Greene's ingenious tactics sapped the British of their strength and resolve even as they "won" nearly every battle. Terry Golway argues that Greene's appointment as commander of the American Southern Army was the war's decisive moment, and this bold new book returns Greene to his proper place in the Revolutionary era's pantheon.
By, Christian McBurney
The Rhode Island Campaign: The First French and American Operation of the Revolutionary War unravels one of the most complex and multi-faceted events of the war, one which combined land and sea strategies and featured controversial decisions on both sides. Many prominent patriots participated, including Nathanael Greene, Marquis de Lafayette, John Hancock, and Paul Revere. Most important, while the campaign's failure led to harsh criticism of the French in some quarters, leaders such as Greene, Lafayette, and George Washington steadfastly worked to ensure that the alliance would remain intact, knowing that the next joint operation could well succeed. Relying on in-depth research from American, French, British, and German original sources, author Christian McBurney has written the most authoritative book on this fascinating episode in American history.
By, Helen Farrel Allen
A French Lieutenant's Diary of the American Campaigns of Rochambeau's Army 1780-1783.
By, Elaine Forman Crane
This work tells a story about the sea, an American colonial town, and the British. It relates how Newport's dependence on the Atlantic Ocean dominated nearly every aspect of its existence. Newport learned early from its watery surroundings that its survival and prosperity were inextricably linked to commerce. Dependent on a thriving trade, Newporters were willing to explore a combination of routes which suggested a successful return in voyage and investment. Newport's single-minded commitment to commerce produced a society in which people were also dependent on each other. Merchant and dockworker, sailmaker and rope-walk owner developed symbiotic relationships as a result of their common efforts to ensure the success of each voyage. Dependency also extended to social networks where the affluent took responsibility for other members of the community. Because of their dependence on unobstructed trade, Newporters had evaded British customs for generations, using methods which cast some doubt on their commitment to the law. Thus, when it became clear in 1764 that Britain would go to great lengths to enforce new duties, the stage was set for confrontation. In the end, events outstripped the ability of Newport to chart its own course as the violence escalated. The Revolution prematurely ended Newport's golden age and destroyed the town both physically and spiritually. A dependent people had gained independence but at a cost only a few could foresee.
By, Florence Parker Simister
This book focuses on important people and events in RI during the American revolution. Well illustrated. While it is not exhaustive, it is a good starting point for RI historical studies.
Salve Regina University students working in collaboration with the Middletown Historical Society have completed a 365-page investigative analysis of the Siege of Newport, a 1778 battle fought from opposing hills in Middletown that became one of the largest military operations of the Revolution. The historic effort to retake Newport – known as the Battle of Rhode Island – was the first joint military operation of the newly formed alliance between the French and the Colonials.
Printed at Salve Regina University, “Siege of British Forces in Newport County by Colonial and French in August of 1778” is the first in-depth analysis of the battlefield that could very well have been the site where the Revolutionary War was won.
By, Charles Rappleye
In 1774, as the new world simmered with tensions that would lead to the violent birth of a new nation, two Rhode Island brothers were heading toward their own war over the issue that haunts America to this day: slavery. Set against a colonial backdrop teeming with radicals and reactionaries, visionaries, spies, and salty sea captains, "Sons of Providence" is the biography of John and Moses Brown, two classic American archetypes bound by blood yet divided by the specter of more than half a million Africans enslaved throughout the colonies. John is a profit-driven robber baron running slave galleys from his wharf on the Providence waterfront; his younger brother Moses is an idealist, a conscientious Quaker hungry for social reform who -- with blood on his own hands -- strikes out against the hypocrisy of slavery in a land of liberty. Their story spans a century, from John's birth in 1736, through the Revolution, to Moses' death in 1836. The brothers were partners in business and politics and in founding the university that bears their name. They joined in the struggle against England, attending secret sessions of the Sons of Liberty and, in John's case, leading a midnight pirate raid against a British revenue cutter. But for the Browns as for the nation, the institution of slavery was the one question that admitted no middle ground. Moses became an early abolitionist while John defended the slave trade and broke the laws written to stop it. The brothers' dispute takes the reader from the sweltering decks of the slave ships to the taverns and town halls of the colonies and shows just how close America came to ending slavery eighty years before the conflagration of civil war. This dual biography is drawn from voluminous family papers and other primary sources and is a dramatic story of an epic struggle for primacy between two very different brothers. It also provides a fresh and panoramic view of the founding era. Samuel Adams and Nathanael Greene take turns here, as do Stephen Hopkins, Rhode Island's great revolutionary leader and theorist, and his brother Esek, first commodore of the United States Navy. We meet the Philadelphia abolitionists Anthony Benezet and James Pemberton, and Providence printer John Carter, one of the pioneers of the American press. For all the chronicles of America's primary patriarch, none documents, as this book does, George Washington's sole public performance in opposition to the slave trade.Charles Rappleye brings the skills of an investigative journalist to mine this time and place for vivid details and introduce the reader to fascinating new characters from the members of our founding generation. Raised in a culture of freedom and self-expression, Moses and John devoted their lives to the pursuit of their own visions of individual liberty. In so doing, each emerges as an American archetype -- Moses as the social reformer, driven by conscience and dedicated to an enlightened sense of justice; John as the unfettered capitalist, defiant of any effort to constrain his will. The story of their collaboration and their conflict has a startlingly contemporary feel. And like any good yarn, the story of the Browns tells us something about ourselves.