The dedicated service of the First Rhode Island Regiment during the
Revolutionary War could collectively be recognized with a single gold
medal according to legislation now pending in Congress.
Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I., introduced H.R. 4045, Feb. 11. It was referred to the House Financial Services Committee and the House Administration Committee
“During the winter of Valley Forge, from 1777 to 1778, the Continental Army had difficulty recruiting the necessary quotas of men set by the Congress,” according to the legislation. “At the same time, the State of Rhode Island was ordered to supply two battalions while faced with the occupation of the City of Newport by the British.”
In January 1778 Gen. George Washington wrote to Rhode Island Gov. Nicholas Cooke requesting assistance recruiting men for the Continental Army. On Feb. 14, 1778, the Rhode Island General Assembly voted to allow the enlistment of “every able-bodied negro, mulatto, or Indian man slave,” according to the legislation.
The Rhode Island General Assembly provided that any enlisted slave “be immediately discharged from the service of his master or mistress, and be absolutely free as though he had never been incumbered ... with any kind of servitude or slavery.”
Between February and June of 1778, almost 200 men of African and Native American descent were recruited and formed the core of the First Rhode Island Regiment.
The regiment was “among the first units in American history in which men of every race and ethnicity were recruited to serve,” according to the legislation.
On June 13, 1783, the First Rhode Island Regiment was demobilized.
If approved by Congress and signed into law by the president the legislation would authorize that the gold medal be given to the Smithsonian Institution for display as well as to be made available for research. It would also permit the Smithsonian to make the gold medal available for display elsewhere, particularly at appropriate locations associated with the First Rhode Island Regiment of the Revolutionary War.
The legislation would also authorize the production and sale of bronze duplicate medals. ■