US Coins

Rhode Island unit a subject of proposed legislation

The First Rhode Island Regiment in the Revolutionary War was comprised mainly of enlistees of color.

Flag image courtesy of sonsoftherevolution.org; battle scene imagery courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Legislation introduced Feb. 9 seeks a congressional gold medal to recognize the First Rhode Island regiment for their contributions during the American Revolutionary War.

The bill, H.R. 6660, was introduced in the House by Rep. David N. Cicilline, D-R.I., and was forwarded to the House Committee on Financial Services for further consideration.

During the winter at Valley Forge, from 1777 to 1778, the Continental Army had difficulty recruiting the necessary quotas of men set by the Congress.

To supply Gen. George Washington with the men he needed, the Rhode Island General Assembly voted on Feb. 14, 1778, to allow the enlistment of “every able-bodied negro, mulatto, or Indian man slave.” The Rhode Island General Assembly provided that any enlisted slave “upon his passing muster before Colonel Christopher Greene, 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.”

Almost 200 men of African heritage and Indigenous descent formed the core of the First Rhode Island Regiment.

On Aug. 28, 1778, at the Battle of Rhode Island, following an attempted siege of British-occupied Newport along with the newly allied French fleet, the First Rhode Island Regiment repelled Hessian forces, causing them to retreat.

The First Rhode Island Regiment was demobilized on June 13, 1783.

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