J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

From Slaves to Soldiers at Rhode Island State House, 24 Jan.

On Tuesday, 24 January, the Rhode Island State House Library will host a book signing to celebrate the publication of From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution, by Robert A. Geake with Lorén M. Spears.

Here’s the publisher’s description of the book:
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.
Robert A. Geake is the author of several books about Rhode Island history and proprietor of the rifootprints webpage. Loren M. Spears, M.Ed., is executive director of the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum; a veteran educator; and two-term tribal councilwoman of the Narragansett Tribe.

The Rhode Island Department of State will display items from its archives related to the Rhode Island Regiment, including the “original Regimental Book from 1781-83.”

The event will take place from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M. It is free and open to the public.

1 comment:

EVR_99 said...

The American Revolution Roundtable of the Hudson & Mohawk Valleys hosted Eric Schnitzer from Saratoga NPS Thursday night to discuss Black and African-Americans at Saratoga and this regiment was part of his excellent presentation. Interesting history.