From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution

From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution


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From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution by Robert Geake

Known as the “black” regiment, the story of the first Continental army unit composed of African American and Native American enlisted men
In December 1777, the Continental army was encamped at Valley Forge and faced weeks of cold and hunger, as well as the prospect of many troops leaving as their terms expired in the coming months. If the winter were especially cruel, large numbers of soldiers would face death or contemplate desertion. Plans were made to enlist more men, but as the states struggled to fill quotas for enlistment, Rhode Island general James Mitchell Varnum proposed the historic plan that a regiment of slaves might be recruited from his own state, the smallest in the union, but holding the largest population of slaves in New England. The commander-in-chief’s approval of the plan would set in motion the forming of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. The “black regiment,” as it came to be known, was composed of indentured servants, Narragansett Indians, and former slaves. This was not without controversy. While some in the Rhode Island Assembly and in other states railed that enlisting slaves would give the enemy the impression that not enough white men could be raised to fight the British, owners of large estates gladly offered their slaves and servants, both black and white, in lieu of a son or family member enlisting. The regiment fought with distinction at the battle of Rhode Island, and once joined with the 2nd Rhode Island before the siege of Yorktown in 1781, it became the first integrated battalion in the nation’s history. In From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution, historian Robert A. Geake tells the important story of the “black regiment” from the causes that led to its formation, its acts of heroism and misfortune, as well as the legacy left by those men who enlisted to earn their freedom.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781594162688
Publisher: Westholme Publishing
Publication date: 11/30/2016
Edition description: 1
Sales rank: 644,371
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.60(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Robert A. Geake is a Rhode Island historian and the author of eight books relating to Rhode Island and New England history. A vice-president of the Cocumscussoc Association of Smith’s Castle Historic House and Cultural Center, he also serves on the board of the Warwick Historical Society.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vi

Authors' Note vii

1 The Origins of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment 1

2 From Slaves to Soldiers 20

3 Battles, Blood, and Brotherhood 47

4 The Aftermath of War 86

5 The Legacy of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment 121

Appendix A List of Officers and Enlisted Soldiers of Euro-American Descent in the 1st Rhode Island Regiment 131

Appendix B Indigenous Rhode Islanders Who Served in the Revolutionary War 136

Appendix C Documentation of Slaves 139

Appendix D Rhode Islanders Who Departed from New York on British Vessels During the Evacuation, 1783 144

Notes 148

Selected Bibliography 160

Acknowledgments 163

Index 165

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