The Organization of the Rhode Island Militia 1774–1783

Sample Rhode Island militia act. (Library of Congress)

The organization of the Militia in colonial Rhode Island[1] was established by law. Five county regiments and the number of companies in each town were specified.[2] Annually the General Assembly approved the locally elected officers for the trained bands (companies of militia) at its session in May or the next session in June. In 1771, 1772, and 1773, no approvals were recorded, but the existing officers were continued for another year. In 1774 the Assembly approved the first militia officers since 1770 at the August session.[3] Table 1 shows the regiments, one for each county, and their constituent companies. Four towns did not submit officers: Tiverton and Middletown in Newport County, Cumberland in Providence County, and Warren in Bristol County. Warwick in Kent County submitted names for only the 1st Company.

We have no data to indicate how many men were in each company, except the 1774 census numbers for men over sixteen. By law, men between 16 and 50 were to train (unless excused[4]) and serve when called; those between 50 and 60 were liable to turn out on alarm; and those over 60 are not mentioned.[5] From the 1782 census we can calculate that twenty-eight percent of the white males over sixteen were over fifty. Assuming this to have been true in 1774, we can get some idea of the numbers in each militia company.[6] In the town of Newport out of twenty-one hundred, approximately six-hundred would be over 50, leaving fifteen-hundred to serve in the four companies, or approx. three-hundred seventy-five per company, a large number to be officered by three officers and administered by a single clerk. Quick inspection of Table 1, shows that only Newport and Providence had such large companies, most others being between one-hundred and one-hundred fifty men.

Table 1 – Rhode Island Militia Regiments – August 1774 (see Fig 1)
Regiment Town[7] Companies Captain Census[8]

(white males 16+)

Newport County 3594
Col. Daniel Dunham[9] Troop of Horse[10] Benjamin Dayton
Newport (4) 1st Newport Benjamin Dunham 2100
2nd Newport Elisha Lawton
3rd Newport William Tripp
4th Newport Henry Wyles
Portsmouth (2) 1st Portsmouth George Lawton 343
    (incl. Prudence) 2nd Portsmouth James Allen 2nd
New Shoreham (1) New Shoreham Co. John Sands 109
Middletown (1) Middletown Co. ?? 210
Jamestown (1) Jamestown Co. Samuel Slocum, jr 110
Tiverton (2) 1st Company ?? 418
2nd Company ??
Little Compton (1) Little Compton Co. David Hilyer 304
Providence County 4903
Col. James Angell Troop of Horse[11] Daniel Manton
Providence (1)[12] 1st Providence Comfort Wheaton 1219
2nd Providence Elijah Bacon
Smithfield (3) 1st Smithfield Joseph Jenckes 742
2nd Smithfield Israel Mowry
3rd Smithfield Abraham Matthewson
Scituate (4) 1st Scituate Joseph Knight 909
2nd Scituate Simeon Herrenden
3rd Scituate John Pratt
4th Scituate John Round
Gloucester (3) 1st Gloucester David Burlingham 743
2nd Gloucester John Olney
3rd Gloucester Abraham Winsor
Cranston (3) 1st Cranston Nicholas Sheldon, jr 455
2nd Cranston Meshech Potter
3rd Cranston Edward Knight
Johnston (1) Johnston Co. Israel Angell 242
North Providence (2) 1st North Providence Job Olney 193
2nd North Providence ??
Cumberland (2) 1st Cumberland ?? 400
2nd Cumberland ??
Kent County 1888
Col. John Waterman Warwick (3) 1st Warwick Benjamin Arnold, jr 569
2nd   Warwick ??
3rd Warwick ??
East Greenwich (2) 1st East Greenwich John Glazier 416
2nd East Greenwich Job Vaughan
West Greenwich (3) 1st West Greenwich John Weathers 429
2nd West Greenwich Nathaniel Brown
3rd West Greenwich Job Angell
Coventry (2) 1st Coventry Edmund Johnston 474
2nd Coventry Stukely Hudson
Kings County 2969
Col. Moses Barber Westerly (2) 1st Westerly Thomas Thompson 421
2nd Westerly William Greene
North Kingstown (3) 1st North Kingstown Joshua Davis 538
2nd North Kingstown John Congdon
3rd North Kingstown James Cooper
South Kingstown (2) 1st South Kingstown Ray Mumford 550
2nd South Kingstown Gardner Wm. Mumford
Charlestown (1) Charlestown Co. Thomas Sheffield 312
Richmond (1) Richmond Co. Thomas Kinyon 286
Exeter (2) 1st Exeter Christopher Champlin 441
2nd Exeter John Hoxsie
Hopkinton (2) 1st Hopkinton Joshua Wells 421
2nd Hopkinton John Randall
Bristol County 651
Col. Simeon Potter Bristol (1) Bristol Co. Jeremiah Ingaham[13] 272
Warren (2)[14] Warren Co. ?? 237
Barrington (0)[15] Barrington Co. Elkanah Humphry 142
Total 14,005
Fig 1
Fig. 1.
Figure 1. The Rhode Island Militia Regiments – August 1774
Regiment Towns Companies Map Color
Newport Cty.[16] 7 12 + Horse pale yellow
Providence Cty. 8 20 + Horse green
Kent Cty. 4 10 blue
Kings Cty. 7 13 orange
Bristol Cty. 3 3 pink
Total              5 29 58 + 2 Horse

The militia of August 1774 is the pre-war colonial militia of Rhode Island. It may have been a paper militia, one that had the officers named, but did not meet, nor train. There are several indications that the militia was not training as prescribed by law.[17] At the session of the Assembly in October 1774, we see two movements surface which indicate the people were preparing to defend themselves. The first activity was the resizing of the militia regiments and companies; the second was the formation of chartered companies of militia.

Providence County with nineteen companies was the first to divide. Its split into three regiments and formation into a brigade was approved at the October 1774 session.[18] At the June 1775 session both Kings County and Kent County divided their single regiments into two regiments.[19] The last division occurred at the May 1776 session and divided the Newport regiment into two regiments.[20] The splitting of companies is summarized in Table 2.

Table 2

Record of Town Companies of Militia Dividing, 1774–1776

Assembly Session Town Company Split into Citation
Dec 1774 Gloucester North 2 [21]
May 1775 Westerly 1st 2 [22]
May 1775 Hopkinton 2nd 2 [23]
June 12, 1775 Scituate 1st 2 [24]
June 12, 1775 Johnston single 2 [25]
June 12, 1775 Coventry 1st & 2nd 4 [26]
August 1775 Scituate 2nd 2 [27]
October 1775 South Kingstown 1st 2 [28]
October 1775 Westerly 1st & 3rd Dividing line set [29]
October 1775 Richmond single 2 [30]
October 1775 Charlestown single 2 [31]
May 1776 Little Compton single 2 [32]
May 1776 Providence 1st & 2nd 2 [33]
June 1776 Exeter two 3 [34]

 

Table 3

The Rhode Island Militia Regiments – August 1776 (See FIG 2.)

Regiment Town[35] Companies Captain
1st Newport County Newport (4) 1st Newport William Tripp
Col. George Irish 2nd Newport Henry Wiles
3rd Newport Wing Spooner
4th Newport William Champlin
Portsmouth (2) 1st Portsmouth David Gifford
2nd Portsmouth ??
New Shoreham (1) New Shoreham Co. John Sands
Middletown (1) Middletown Co. John Vars
Jamestown (1) Jamestown Co. Edward Carr, jr
2nd Newport County Tiverton (2) 1st Tiverton Isaac Cooke
Col. John Cooke 2nd Tiverton George Westgate
Little Compton (2)(see table 2) 1st Little Compton Gideon Simmons
2nd Little Compton George Simmons
The Providence County Brigade[36]

William Tyler, Adjutant-Major

1st Providence County Providence (4)(see table 2) 1st Providence Jonathan Russell
Col. Jabez Bowen 2nd Providence James Burrill
3rd Providence John Demount
4th Providence James Snow
Johnston (2)(see table 2) 1st Johnston Richard Fenner
2nd Johnston Emmor Olney
North Providence (1) North Providence Co. Eleazer Jenks
Smithfield (3)(see 2nd Regt) 1st Smithfield Thomas Jenckes
Cranston (3)(see 3rd Regt) 1st Cranston Anthony Potter
2nd Cranston Frederick Williams
2nd Providence County Smithfield (see 1st Regt) 2nd Smithfield David Eddy
Col. Chad Brown 3rd Smithfield Nehemiah Smith
Gloucester (4)(see table 2) 1st Gloucester Benajah Whipple
2nd Gloucester Samuel Mayes
3rd Gloucester Abraham Winsor
4th Gloucester ??
Cumberland (2) 1st Cumberland Enoch Weatherhead
2nd Cumberland Reuben Ballou
3rd Providence County Scituate (6)(see table 2) 1st Scituate Peleg Fiske
Col. William West 2nd Scituate Simeon Herrenden
3rd Scituate James Williams
4th Scituate Jeremiah Davis
5th Scituate Samuel Wilbour
6th Scituate Stephen Sheldon
Cranston (see 1st Regt) 3rd Cranston Edward Knight
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

 

1st Kent County Warwick (3) 1st Warwick Job Randall
Col. John Waterman 2nd Warwick Reuben Wightman
3rd Warwick Thomas Rice
East Greenwich (2) 1st East Greenwich John Glazier
2nd East Greenwich Allen Johnston
2nd Kent County West Greenwich (3) 1st West Greenwich Eleazer Carr
Col. Stephen Potter 2nd West Greenwich Jeremiah Austin
3rd West Greenwich Job Angell
Coventry (4)(see table 2) 1st Coventry Benedict Colvin
2nd Coventry William Roy
3rd Coventry Benjamin Greene
4th Coventry Joseph Whipple
1st Kings County Westerly (3)(see table 2) 1st Westerly Thomas Thompson
Col. Joseph Noyes 2nd Westerly William Greene
3rd Westerly ??
Charlestown (2)(see table 2) 1st Charlestown Thomas Sheffield
2nd Charlestown ??
Hopkinton (3)(see table 2) 1st Hopkinton Joshua Wells
2nd Hopkinton John Randall
3rd Hopkinton ??
2nd Kings County North Kingstown(3) 1st North Kingstown Thomas Clarke
Col. Charles Dyer 2nd North Kingstown William Taylor
3rd North Kingstown Samuel Thomas jr
South Kingstown (3)(see table 2) 1st South Kingstown Samuel Potter
2nd South Kingstown James Parker
3rd South Kingstown Ray Sands
Exeter (3)(see table 2) 1st Exeter Jonathan Bates
2nd Exeter John Hoxsie
3rd Exeter Daniel Barber, jr
Richmond (2)(see table 2) 1st Richmond Simeon Clarke, jr
2nd Richmond Jonathan Maxson
Bristol County Bristol (1) Bristol Co. Jeremiah Ingaham
Col. Nathaniel Martin
Warren (1) Warren Co. Ezra Ormsbee
Barrington (1) Barrington Co. Stephen Smith
RI-1776-Aug-Militia-FIG 2
Fig. 2.
Figure 2. The Rhode Island Militia Regiments – August 1776[37]
Regiment Towns Companies Map Color
1st Newport Cty. 5 9 pale yellow
2nd Newport Cty. 2 4 bright yellow
1st Providence Cty. 5 10 pale green
2nd Providence Cty. 3 7 medium green
3rd Providence Cty. 2 7 dark green
1st Kent Cty. 2 5 pale blue
2nd Kent Cty. 2 7 blue
1st Kings Cty. 3 8 light brown
2nd Kings Cty. 4 11 yellow brown
Bristol Cty. 3 3 pink
10    29[38] 72

Table 3 and the table that constitutes the caption for Figure 2 show the state of the militia just before the British occupation which began in December 1776. Between August 1774 and August 1776 the number of regiments doubled from five to ten, and the number of companies increased from fifty-eight to seventy-two, but population didn’t increase significantly; the increase in companies and regiments was a result of bringing them down to a manageable size and decreasing the distance men had to travel to train. With the British occupation of Aquidneck and Conanicut (Jamestown) Islands in December 1776 and the inability to provide protection for Block Island (New Shoreham), the 1st Newport County Regiment became non-functional. Many remained in the occupied territory, but significant numbers emigrated to other counties and states.

In January 1776, the Assembly formed artillery companies of fourteen men, equipped with two-, three-, or four-pound pieces on carriages in the coastal towns. These companies were separate from the militia companies and not included in the militia regiments.[39] At the same time, a watch was ordered in each town bordering the sea, Narragansett Bay, and select rivers where troops were not already stationed. This function, separate from the militia, was placed on the towns to administer.[40]

In December 1776, right after the British occupation, the Assembly removed the Alarm List men (those aged 50 to 60) from their town companies into a separate town alarm list company with their own elected officers.[41] These companies along with the militia companies were drafted into three divisions (later six divisions) and one division at a time was called out to guard the coasts.[42] The three towns of Bristol County with less than 32 alarm list men, were formed into a county-wide alarm company.[43]

The militia company from the town of Jamestown was removed from the 1st Newport County Regiment and placed into the 2nd Kings County Regiment in January 1777.[44] Apparently enough residents of Jamestown had relocated to the mainland and desired to maintain their town identity and continue to serve; similar moves for the towns on Aquidneck Island (Newport, Middletown, and Portsmouth) are not recorded, their residents having either remained in the occupied town or escaped to the mainland and dispersed.

In December 1777 the Assembly moved the 1st Smithfield Company from the 1st Providence County Regiment and placed it into the 2nd Regiment (in terms of Figure 2, the light green patch in Smithfield turned dark green).[45] And in June 1778, the 2nd Company in Tiverton divided into two companies, so there were then three Tiverton companies.[46] These were the only company and regimental realignments between June 1776 and May 1779.

In 1779 the structure of the militia was changed. Two new levels of command were added, one at the state level below the governor, and brigades were formed above the regiments. In May 1779 the 2nd Kings County regiment was split into the 2nd and 3rd Regiments,[47] and the brigades were first formed.[48] The militia law was revised to bring together in one comprehensive law all the pieces that impacted the militia. This had last been done in 1718 and must have been a monumental task.[49] The militia now had a new two-tier structure: men 16 to 50 years old not excused constituted the training company; and those 16 to 50 that were excused, but were still tasked with maintaining arms, formed into senior class companies; those 50 to 60 had to have arms and accouterments, and enroll, but alarm list companies were no more. Each of the new regiments was to have an artillery company, and a troop of horse under the regimental lieutenant colonel commandant’s authority. In addition to a brigadier, each brigade had a brigade major, quartermaster, commissary, surgeon and mate. At the state level a major general was appointed, along with an adjutant general, quarter master general, commissary general, purveyor general, and surgeon general.[50] In May 1780 the 3rd Providence County Regiment split into the 3rd and 4th Regiments.[51]
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Table 4

The Rhode Island Militia Regiments – Summer 1780[i] (see Figure 3.)

State Level
Maj. Gen. James Mitchell Varnum
Adjt. Gen. Archibald Crary
Quartermaster Gen. James Lovett
Commissary Gen. Charles Holden
Purveyor General to the Medical Department Jonathan Arnold
Physician and Surgeon General Isaac Senter
Brigadier General Robert Elliott, Colonel of Artillery
Regiment Town[ii] Companies Captain
New Shoreham (0)[iii] New Shoreham Co. ??
Newport and Bristol County Brigade
BG Nathan Miller
1st Newport County[iv] Newport (4) 1st Newport ??
2nd Newport ??
3rd Newport ??
4th Newport ??
Portsmouth (2) 1st Portsmouth ??
2nd Portsmouth ??
Middletown (1) Middletown Co. Oliver Durfee
Jamestown (1) Jamestown Co. Edward Carr, jr
(1) Artillery Co. Job Easton
(1) Horse Co. ??
2nd Newport County Tiverton (3) 1st Tiverton Philip Corey
Lt. Col.  Nathaniel Church 2nd Tiverton Jonathan Devol
3rd Tiverton Richard Durfee
Little Compton (2) 1st Little Compton Cornelius Briggs
2nd Little Compton John Davis
(1) Artillery Co. ??
(1) Horse Co. ??
Bristol County Bristol (1) Bristol Co William Throop
Lt. Col. Peter Church
Warren (1) Warren Co. ??
Barrington (1) Barrington Co. Vial Allin
(1) Artillery Co. ??
(1) Horse Co. ??
1st Bristol/Newport County Senior Class Battalion[v]
Bristol/Warren/Barrington Senior Class Co. ??
Tiverton Senior Class Co. ??
Little Compton Senior Class Co. ??
2nd Bristol/Newport County Senior Class Battalion
Newport/Jamestown Senior Class Co. ??
Portsmouth/Middletown Senior Class Co. ??
The Providence County Brigade
Brig. Gen. Christopher Lippitt
1st Providence County Providence (4) 1st Providence John Allen
Lt. Col. Eleazer Jenckes 2nd Providence Peter Taylor
3rd Providence ??
4th Providence Joseph Fuller
Johnston (2) 1st Johnston Daniel Sprague
2nd Johnston Laban Waterman
North Providence (1) North Providence Co. Esek Jenckes
Cranston (2) 1st Cranston Anthony Potter
2nd Cranston Frederick Williams
3rd Cranston Joseph Potter
(1) Artillery Co. Edward Spaulding
(1) Horse Co. John Mumford
2nd Providence County Smithfield (3) 1st Smithfield Benjamin Ballou
Lt. Col. Peleg Arnold 2nd Smithfield Ebenezer Trask
3rd Smithfield Benjamin Sheldon
Cumberland (3) 1st Cumberland Jeremiah Scot
2nd Cumberland Amos Whipple
3rd Cumberland ??
(1) Artillery Co. ??
(1) Horse Co. ??
3rd Providence County Scituate (6) 1st Scituate Jonathan Knight
Lt. Col. Stephen Kimball 2nd Scituate Simeon Herrenden
3rd Scituate Coomer Smith
4th Scituate Isaac Hopkins
5th Scituate Samuel Wilbour
6th Scituate William Howard
(1) Artillery Co. Isaac Medbury, jr
(1) Horse Co. James Williams
4th Providence County Gloucester (4) 1st Gloucester Benajah Whipple
Lt. Col. Chad Brown 2nd Gloucester Samuel May
3rd Gloucester Nathaniel Wade
4th Gloucester Stephen Windsor
(1) Artillery Co. Thomas Wood
(1) Horse Co. David Burlingame
Providence County Senior Class Battalion
Lt. Col. Amos Atwell Providence Senior Class Co. ??
Johnston/North Providence Senior Class Co. Caleb Sheldon
Cranston Senior Class Co. John Burton, jr.
Smithfield Senior Class Co. Job Mowry
Cumberland Senior Class Co. Levi Tower
Scituate Senior Class Co. ??
Gloucester Senior Class Co. John Wells
The Kent County Brigade
Brig. Gen. Thomas Holden
1st Kent County Warwick (3) 1st Warwick Job Randall
Lt. Col.  Thomas Tillinghast 2nd Warwick Squire Millard
3rd Warwick Thomas Rice
East Greenwich (2) 1st East Greenwich Micah Whitmarsh
2nd East Greenwich Allen Johnston
(1) Artillery Co. Oliver Gardner
(1) Horse Co. Stukley Hudson
2nd Kent County West Greenwich (3) 1st West Greenwich Samuel Hopkins
Lt. Col. Archibald Kasson 2nd West Greenwich Benjamin Gorton
3rd West Greenwich Joseph Draper
Coventry (4) 1st Coventry Joseph Brayton
2nd Coventry William Roy
3rd Coventry Langford Weaver
4th Coventry Asaph Bennet
(1) Artillery Co. Edmund Johnston
(1) Horse Co. ??
Kent County Senior Class Battalion
Warwick/East Greenwich Senior Class Co. Robert Rhodes
Coventry Senior Class Co. Abel Bennet
West Greenwich Senior Class Co. Joseph Hopkins
The Kings County Brigade
Brig. Gen. Joseph Stanton, jr
1st Kings County Westerly (3) 1st Westerly Oliver Lewis
Lt. Col. Jesse Maxson 2nd Westerly William Bliven
3rd Westerly George Stillman
Charlestown (2) 1st Charlestown John Park
2nd Charlestown Beriah Lewis
Hopkinton (3) 1st Hopkinton Henry Wells
2nd Hopkinton Randal Wells
3rd Hopkinton Phineas Maxson
(1) Artillery Co. James Babcock
(1) Horse Co. George Thurston
2nd Kings County North Kingstown(4) 1st North Kingstown Samuel Dyer
Lt. Col. Charles Dyer 2nd North Kingstown Lawrence Pearce
3rd North Kingstown John Brown
4th North Kingstown Nathaniel Shearman
Exeter (2) 1st Exeter Robert Reynolds, jr
2nd Exeter George Wilcox
3rd Exeter Walter Clarke
(1) Artillery Co. Eleazer Burlingame
(1) Horse Co. James Albro
3rd Kings County South Kingstown (4) 1st South Kingstown Timothy Locke, jr
Lt. Col. Thomas Potter 2nd South Kingstown Paris Gardner
3rd South Kingstown Simon Ray Mumford
4th South Kingstown Daniel Sherman
Richmond (2) 1st Richmond Joshua Webb
2nd Richmond John Clarke
(1) Artillery Co. ??
(1) Horse Co. ??
Kings County Senior Class Regiment
Lt. Col. Gideon Hoxsie Westerly Senior Class Co. Nathan Barber
Charlestown Senior Class Co. Joseph Wilcox
Hopkinton Senior Class Co. Thomas Wells, 2nd
North Kingstown Senior Class Co. Samuel Phillips
Exeter Senior Class Co. ??
South Kingstown Senior Class Co. William Taylor
Richmond Senior Class Co. Thomas Tefft

[i] Structure is from the Militia Act of 1779 and A&R May 1780. Officer names are from the A&R of May, June, and both July 1780 sessions and Council of War sessions from July and August.

[ii] The number in parentheses following the town name is the number of companies authorized by “The Act for better forming, regulating and conducting the military Force of this State,” (Militia Act) passed at the October 1779 session of the Assembly (A&R Oct 1779:29).

[iii] The Militia Act (A&R Oct 1779:29) does not include New Shoreham in the militia reorganization. The Act was passed just days after the British evacuated Aquidneck Island and the unsettled state of Block Island (New Shoreham) was yet to be evaluated.

[iv] In May 1779, the 1st Newport County Regiment was omitted as part of the brigade as it was not in existence due to the British occupation of Aquidneck Island (A&R May 1779:13). The Militia Act included the regiments of Newport County, but through the annual elections of 1783, no field officers were named for the 1st Regiment, and officers did not appear for either Newport or Portsmouth towns.

[v] The text of the Act is not clear, but my interpretation of it is that two small battalions, each commanded by a major, were to be formed (A&R Oct 1779:29).

RI-1780-Summer-Militia-FIG 3
Fig. 3.

 

Figure 3. The Rhode Island Militia Brigades – Summer 1780
Brigade Regiment Towns Companies[57] Map Color
Newport and Bristol County 1st Newport Cty. 4            10 pale yellow
2nd Newport Cty. 2 7 bright yellow
Bristol Cty. 3 5 pink
1st Senior Class 5 3 Not mapped
2nd Senior Class 4 2 Not mapped
Providence County 1st Providence Cty. 4 12 pale green
2nd Providence Cty. 2 8 yellow green
3rd Providence Cty. 1 6 dark green
4th Providence Cty 1 6 blue green
Senior Class 8 7 Not mapped
Kent County Brigade 1st Kent Cty. 2 7 pale blue
2nd Kent Cty. 2 9 blue
Senior Class 4 3 Not mapped
Kings County Brigade 1st Kings Cty. 3 8 light brown
2nd Kings Cty. 2 9 yellow brown
3rd Kings Cty. 2 8 brown
Senior Class 7 7 Not mapped
4 17     28          117

The troops of horse were phased out starting in October 1780.[58] In May 1781 the 2nd Company in Westerly divided, bringing the 1st Kings County Regiment to nine companies.[59] The 2nd Company of Hopkinton divided in August 1781 bringing the 1st Kings County Regiment to ten companies.[60] Also in August 1781, the town of Scituate was divided, creating the new town of Foster. Since Scituate was the only town in the 3rd Regiment, Providence County, the old Scituate companies, now located in Foster, changed names to Foster and remained as part of the 3rd Regiment. One company, the 4th Scituate, straddled the boundary between Foster and Scituate and remained as the 4th Scituate, with men now living in Foster still part of it. In January 1782 the 4th Scituate was divided and the new company became the 4th Foster Company.[61] In October 1781 the Assembly voted to change the name of Kings County to Washington County which didn’t change anything structurally, but did change the regiments’ names to the 1st thru 3rd and Senior Class Washington County Regiments.[62] There were no further changes to the militia until after the end of the war.

My maps (Figures 1 thru 3) don’t have the detail I would like. It would be nice to know the geographic location of each company within the towns. Each of the petitions for splitting a company during the war contain detailed descriptions of how a company’s area was to be divided with landmarks for the boundaries. Someone with local knowledge and good base maps should be able to produce maps locating the companies within each town. It should be possible to locate the petitions for divisions from before the war in the Acts & Resolves to couple with the wartime information and create fairly accurate maps.

 

[1] At the time of the revolution Rhode Island was the name applied to the island which today is identified as Aquidneck Island. The name of the colony was officially Rhode Island and Providence Plantations as it still is today. I will apply modern usage and Rhode Island will refer to the whole area consisting of the five counties and the island will be called Aquidneck.

[2] In 1718 the Assembly repealed all prior laws pertaining to the militia and passed a new Militia Act. That act with changes passed in 1736, 1740, 1744, 1745, 1754, 1755, 1756, and 1758 was summarized in Acts and Laws of the English Colony of Rhode-Island and Providence-Plantations in New-England in America published in 1767 by Samuel Hall (Acts and Laws 1767: 179). In 1772, Solomon Southwick published a supplement that added laws passed between June 1767 and 1772. The latter only contained one small revision pertaining to the militia.

[3] Rhode Island Assembly (Assembly), August 22, 1774 session (Acts & Resolves (A&R) 1774:59; the Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England (Records), John R. Bartlett, ed., Records 7:254) for the same session omits these appointments. In my opinion the Acts and Resolves is a much more complete source than the more commonly cited Records. In this paper I will only cite A&R.

[4] The Militia Act had a lengthy list of exceptions; in addition Rhode Island had provisions for people of tender conscience to be excused from training and serving, Acts and Laws 1767:179. Many additional people were exempted as the war progressed: workers at the cannon foundry; shoemakers and gun lock makers, and other trades essential to producing the goods needed for war.

[5] Acts and Laws 1767:179.

[6] The 1782 census, which counted males in four age groups less than 16, 16-22, 22-50, and over 50 allows calculation of percent over 50 and results in 28.4%.

[7] The number in parentheses following the town name is the number of militia companies authorized in that town in Acts and Laws 1767:180.

[8] Assembly, June 13, 1774 session, A&R 1774; insert between pages 54 and 55.

[9] Assembly, May 4, 1774 session, A&R 1774: 3. Dunham is the only colonel named in May; the other colonels and the company officers are all appointed in August, Assembly, August 22, 1774 session, A&R 1774:59 and 84.

[10] The militia law as summarized in the Acts & Laws 1767 does not specifically authorize troops of horse in any town, but does contain rules governing their meetings and accoutrements, Acts and Laws 1767:187.

[11] Ibid.

[12] I am unable to pinpoint when the Providence Company was divided into two companies. Acts & Laws 1767:180 shows a single company authorized; the supplement to Acts & Laws dated 1772 doesn’t show the division. Prior to the splitting off of North Providence in 1765, Providence had three companies. After the division, Providence was authorized one, and North Providence two. Starting in 1768, the Assembly started approving officers for a second Providence company. North Providence had officers approved for two companies in 1766, and after that (1767 and beyond) officers for a single company. At the second meeting of the Assembly in June 1767, part of North Providence formed in 1765 was transferred back to the town of Providence, in all probability this transfer of land and the people living thereon resulted in one company moving from North Providence back into Providence. Information on officer approvals is available in A&R and in Joseph Jenckes Smith’s Civil and Military List of Rhode Island, 1647–1800 (Providence: Preston and Rounds Co., 1900).

[13] Assembly, August 22, 1774, A&R 1774: 84

[14] Warren shows as having two companies in Acts and Laws 1767:180; but that was before West Warren broke off as Barrington in May 1770, Assembly, May 1770, A&R 1770: 15.

[15] Barrington is not listed in the Acts and Laws 1767: 180.

[16] The Town of New Shoreham (Block Island) at map bottom is part of Newport County and its regiment, Acts and Laws 1767:180.

[17] Providence Gazette, June 18, 1774, “A commendable Spirit for military Discipline continues to increase in this Town, and we hear will soon be revived throughout the Colony;” Newport Mercury February 20,1775, “Last Tuesday the militia of this town were mustered and exercised, when they performed extremely well, considering there has not been a muster here before upwards of ten years.”

[18] Assembly, October 26, 1774 session, A&R 1774:109-110.

[19] Assembly, June 28, 1775 session, A&R 1775:51.

[20] Assembly, May 1, 1776 session, A&R 1776:5-6.

[21] Assembly, December 5, 1774 session, A&R 1774:132.

[22] Assembly, May 3, 1775 session, A&R 1775:5).

[23] Assembly, May 3, 1775 session, A&R 1775:5.

[24] Assembly, June 12, 1775 session, A&R 1775:28.

[25] Assembly, June 12, 1775 session, A&R 1775:31.

[26] Assembly, June 12, 1775 session, A&R 1775:66.

[27] Assembly, August 21, 1775 session, A&R 1775:108.

[28] Assembly, October 31, 1775 session, A&R 1775:129.

[29] Assembly, October 31, 1775 session, A&R 1775:136.

[30] Assembly, October 31, 1775 session, A&R 1775:157.

[31] Assembly, October 31, 1775 session, A&R 1775:192.

[32] Assembly, May 1, 1776 session, A&R 1776:6.

[33] Assembly, May 1, 1776 session, A&R 1776:6.

[34] Assembly, June 10, 1776 session, A&R 1776:111.

[35] The number in parentheses following the town name is the sum of the number of militia companies authorized in that town in, Acts and Laws 1767:180, and the splits shown in Table 3.

[36] Formed by the Assembly at the October 1774 session (A&R Oct 1774:110). To be officered by a colonel of brigade, a lieutenant colonel of brigade, and a major of brigade. An adjutant-major was to be appointed annually. As far as I can determine the brigade officers were never appointed, except for the adjutant-major and the Providence Brigade never functioned as a brigade until other brigades were created in 1779.

[37] The pre-war troops of horse are absent in the wartime organization.

[38] This column adds to 31, but the towns of Smithfield and Cranston were each counted twice since they have companies in two regiments. Between 1774 and 1776 no new towns were created.

[39] Assembly, January 8, 1776 session, A&R 1775:222.

[40] Assembly, January 8, 1776 session, A&R 1775:221.

[41] Assembly, December 10, 1776 session, A&R 10 Dec 1776:8.

[42] Assembly, December 23, 1776 session, A&R 23 Dec 1776:15, 30.

[43] Council of War Proceedings, Rhode Island State Archives, Mss. C#00253 (CW), Book 1:39.

[44] CW 1:24.

[45] Assembly, December 1, 1777 session, A&R 1 Dec 1777:35.

[46] Assembly, June 29, 1778 session, A&R Jun 1778:16.

[47] Assembly, May 5, 1779 session, A&R May 1779:13.

[48] Assembly, May 5, 1779 session, A&R May 1779:22.

[49] In January 1777 (CW 1:52) we see the first attempt at revising and digesting the militia laws into a single document. At the March 1777 session of the Assembly (A&R 24 Mar 1777:8) a committee was formed for this purpose, including incorporating the law on tender consciences. Nothing came of this early attempt, and at the February 1779 Assembly session (A&R Feb 1779:11) another committee was appointed. A bill was read at the June session of the Assembly (A&R Jun 1779:26) but action postponed; draft to be published in the newspaper. In October 1779, the Assembly (A&R Oct 1779:29) approved the Act Regulating the Militia.

[50] Assembly, October 25, 1779 session, A&R Oct 1779:29.

[51] Assembly, May 3, 1780 session, A&R May 1780:3.

[52] Structure is from the Militia Act of 1779 and A&R May 1780. Officer names are from the A&R of May, June, and both July 1780 sessions and Council of War sessions from July and August.

[53] The number in parentheses following the town name is the number of companies authorized by “The Act for better forming, regulating and conducting the military Force of this State,” (Militia Act) passed at the October 1779 session of the Assembly (A&R Oct 1779:29).

[54] The Militia Act (A&R Oct 1779:29) does not include New Shoreham in the militia reorganization. The Act was passed just days after the British evacuated Aquidneck Island and the unsettled state of Block Island (New Shoreham) was yet to be evaluated.

[55] In May 1779, the 1st Newport County Regiment was omitted as part of the brigade as it was not in existence due to the British occupation of Aquidneck Island (A&R May 1779:13). The Militia Act included the regiments of Newport County, but through the annual elections of 1783, no field officers were named for the 1st Regiment, and officers did not appear for either Newport or Portsmouth towns.

[56] The text of the Act is not clear, but my interpretation of it is that two small battalions, each commanded by a major, were to be formed (A&R Oct 1779:29).

[57] Includes artillery and troop of horse.

[58] Assembly, October 23, 1780 session, A&R Oct 1780:8.

[59] Assembly, May 28, 1781 session, A&R 28 May 1781:25.

[60] Assembly, August 20, 1781 session, A&R Aug 1781:17.

[61] Assembly, January 28, 1782 session, A&R Jan 1782:3.

[62] Assembly, October 29, 1781 session, A&R Oct 1781:19.

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7 Comments

  • Hello

    I am a part of a group in Charlestown RI trying to preserve The General Stanton Inn. The property was part of the holdings of Brig General Joseph Stanton who is listed in your section on the Rhode Island Milita. We have lots of information about him and it is our understanding that at some point his militia was attached to the Continental Army but we do not have records of any battles he may have fought in as part of the Continental Army. It would be great to hear from Mr Robertson and if he lives in Rhode Island perhaps he would like to be involved with us.

  • I live in Texas; only get to New England a few times each year. Sorry I missed your post in May.

    BG Stanton’s Brigade (formed in 1779) was never sent out of state to serve with the Continental Army; but elements of the Brigade served within the state responding to some of the many alarms.

    Stanton when a Colonel, was commander of one of three state regiments raised for 15 mos that served in Rhode Island from January 1777 to March 1778 for home defense; their mission was primarily defense of the shores along Narragansett Bay. During this period, MG Spencer led an ill-fated attempt in October 1777 to dislodge the British from Aquidneck Island. Stanton’s regiment participated in that expedition, but except for some recruits of Col. Sherburne’s Additional Continental regiment, there were no Continentals. That expedition failed because of bad weather and poor leadership; little fighting occurred.

    • Thank you. Also I have read that as a Colonel in Tiverton he as Barton’s commanding officer and gave the orders for the raid to capture Prescott although he did not participate himself. What about the battle of Rhode Island? Weren’t there many militia units there? Would he have been there?

  • Stanton resigned as Colonel of one of the Rhode Island fifteen month regiments in December 1777 and was replaced by Barton. In March 1778 new leaders were appointed and because Barton had been given a Continental commission as Colonel, Rhode Island didn’t name him to command one of its new twelve month regiments (March 1778 to March 1779). Command of those regiments went to Colonel Archibald Crary and Colonel John Topham.

    I don’t know what Col. Stanton did from December 1777 until he was named as a brigade commander in May 1779.

    Yes the Rhode Island militia participated in the siege of Newport in 1778 in two ways: the three twelve month regiments (one of which was artillery) and ad-hoc regiments formed from the statutory militia regiments were there. I am not well read enough to know if they were at the battle of Rhode Island which occurred on 29 August. In any case, Col. Stanton does not appear to have been in command of any of them. If you check Appendix D of Christian McBurney’s definitive analysis of the Rhode Island campaign of 1778, you’ll find Col. Stanton’s name listed as part of a regiment of Independent Companies associated with 16 men from the Westerly Guards.

  • I’m doing some family genealogy, I discovered a Jonathan Taylor from Little Compton,RI who is documented as serving in the militia from 1775 to 1781. According to the data you have here He would have likely served in the2nd Newport Co. Regiment under Lt. Col Nathaniel Church for the 1st Little Compton( under Capt. Cornellius Briggs) or the 2nd Little Compton ( under Capt. John Davis)

    How can I find out for certain which group he served with and what his involvement might have been? I need documentation for my daughters application to get into DAR.

  • Hello,
    While researching family genealogy, I’ve discovered that the Elder Chad Brown, of Providence, was my great x8 grandfather. Our family records show that a Robert Brown, my great x4 grandfather (Chad’s gr. gr. grandson) supposedly was “Col. Robert Brown of the 2d Regiment Kings County” in the Revolution. They also state that he “was in the Battle of Rhode Island, near Newport, Aug. 29, 1778”. I see no evidence of these claims on this page. Is there any other known documentation that confirms a Col. Robert Brown in the 2d Reg. Kings County around the time of the Battle of Rhode Island?

    I have his information as: born April 9, 1735 and died Aug., 1794. Any additional information you may have on him would be greatly appreciated.

    Sincerely,
    G. Brown

  • Hello John;
    Would you know where I can find info on a Silas Wood b. 1723, Coventry, Rhode Island. What I have says he served in the Southern Army, Revolutionary War; and drew pay from the state of Rhode Island August 1, 1780. There are a few men who served named Silas Wood, and he also had a son named Silas. He would have been 57 when he drew pay. One is serving in N.Y. another in Mass. Any help I would appreciate. His wife was Jane Capwell and they moved to Otsego County, N.Y. Sharon Wesoloski. N.Y.

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