1st Rhode Island Regiment
The 1st Rhode Island Regiment, or known by several other names such as Varnum's Regiment or the Black Regiment, was one of the few Continental Army units to serve for the duration of the entire Revolutionary War. Before being folded into the Continental Army, it was formed as part of the Colonial government, being officially authorized on May 8th, 1775 by the Rhode Island Assembly. Consisting of eight companies from Kent and King Counties, command of the Regiment was given to James Varnum, who then marched the Regiment to Boston in June of 1775 during the Siege of Boston.
Beginning in 1776, the Regiment was reorganized, along with the rest of the Continental Army, participating in the New York and New Jersey Campaigns, ultimately ending with their withdrawal from New York. The Regiment was reorganized again in 1777, with James Varnum being promoted to Brigadier General. Before returning to Rhode Island to expel British and Hessian forces from Newport, the Regiment spent the winter of 1776-1777 at Valley Forge.
During the course of the war, the Regiment received the name "the Black Regiment" due to the amount of African American soldiers that fought in its ranks, both enslaved and free, to help keep up with recruiting struggles within Rhode Island. To keep up with these manpower issues, Native Americans also served within the Regiment. Early historians of the American Revolution, such as William Cooper Nell, would note the bravery of these soldiers and their devotion to their officers, and their protection of Colonel Christopher Greene after he was cut down by enemy sabres fighting loyalist insurgents in Westchester County, New York.
From 1778 and on, the Regiment saw little action for the remainder of the war, as the war and its focus shifted south. The British evacuated New York on November 25, 1783, and a month later the Regiment officially disbanded, making in one of the few Continental Army regiments to remain active during the entire war. The Rhode Island General Assembly had promised its enslaved soldiers their freedom after the war and on February 23rd, 1784, passed an act stipulating any person born in Rhode Island after March 1, 1784, was forbidden from being made a slave. These soldiers continued to fight for their right to remain free and the wages and pensions promised to them for years following the war. From 1775 and on, despite the challenges on and off the battlefield, the actions of the men of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment would serve as an example of the bravery and sacrifices of African American soldiers in the United States Army.
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