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From Slaves to Soldiers (Hardback)

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution

Military > Pre-WWI > American History

By Robert A. Geake
Imprint: Westholme
Pages: 171
ISBN: 9781594162688
Published: 10th April 2017



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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 nations 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.

The strongest part of Geake’s book, and most original contribution, is his following up on the post-war lives of the soldiers as they tried to build their lives as freemen. The former slaves were not given any land to farm or other assistance. Many had to take temporary manual labor jobs to survive.

Journal of the American Revolution

About Robert A. Geake

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 Smiths Castle Historic House and Cultural Center, he also serves on the board of the Warwick Historical Society.

Died On This Day Henry Ossian Flipper

3rd May 1940

Died #OnThisDay Henry Ossian Flipper - He was the first African American to graduate from the US Military Academy. His occupation was a Soldier and Former Slave. Born: March 21, 1856 Star Sign: Aries Birthplace: Thomasville, Georgia, USA Died: May 3, 1940 (aged 84) Cause of Death: Natural causes

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