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Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the American Revolution

History

Revolutionary War General James Mitchell Varnum
James Mitchell VarnumJames Mitchell Varnum was born December 17, 1748 at Dracut, Massachusetts. After a period at Harvard, he graduated with honors from Rhode Island College(Brown University) with its first class, 1769. He married Martha (Patty) Child of Warren; was admitted to the bar of Rhode Island in 1771 and settled in East Greenwich.

Varnum showed an early interest in military affairs, becoming the first commander of the Kentish Guards, October 16, 1774, with the rank of Colonel. In 1775, he was commissioned by the General Assembly, Colonel of the First Regiment of Infantry, Army Observation. In 1775-76 he commanded the 12th and later the 9th Continental Regiments. From 1777 to 1779 he was one of Washington's Continental Army Brigadier Generals.

In 1779 he was Major General of Rhode Island Militia. General Varnum served with distinction at the siege of Boston, the battles at Long Island, White Plains, Red Bank, at Valley Forge and the battle of Rhode Island. His headquarters still stands at Valley Forge. After the war he became an active member of Society of the Cincinnati.

In the courts, Varnum won his place in legal history with the case of Trevett v. Weeden, the first well-authenticated American case in which an act of a legislative body, the General Assembly, was declared unconstitutional.

Twice elected to the Continental Congress (1780-82 and 1786-87) Varnum had a distinguished and varied career in which he seems to have excelled in whatever he attempted…until he made a fateful move West at age 40.

At this time, he became one of the original founders of the Ohio Company of the Northwest Territory (a favorite project of George Washington's) where he was appointed Federal Judge. In the Spring of 1788, he journeyed on horseback 800 miles to the new Ohio town variously named, "Queen Marie Antoinette" and "Adelphia." The new boomtown, rough and rude as it was, had a Campus Maritius, a via Sacra, and a Captiolenum -- all from the Roman classics. It also had a large delegation of Indians who watched the strange rites of the new settlers.

The first act of the New Directors was to change the town's first name from Adelphia to Marietta, Ohio. Judge Varnum gave an eloquent oration (copies of which still exist). Later, he opened the first court.

By December of 1788, Varnum became ill and within a short while died of consumption. He was buried at the Campus Martius at Marietta.


Colonel Israel Angell
Israel Angell was a descendant in the fifth generation of Thomas Angell, who came to Providence with Roger Williams; he was the son of Oliver and Naomi (Smith) Angell, and was born in that part of the town of Providence now included in North Providence, Aug. 24, 1740.

He received more than the usual education afforded the youth of that period, for his mother had been a teacher in one of the country schools and was able to give her son many advantages of learning. He seems to have been conversant with scientific subjects, was particularly fond of natural history, and in his later years made many notes on this branch of science as he traveled through sections of the country on public business. He is also said to have been an enthusiastic student of astronomy.

At the very beginning of the troubles with the mother country Israel Angell took an active part. When the army of observation was ordered raised by the General Assembly of Rhode Island in 1775, he was commissioned Major of the regiment commanded by Col. Daniel Hitchcock. The regiment to which he was attached formed a part of the American army laying siege to Boston and bore its part in the events which subsequently transpired.

Upon the formation of the Second Rhode Island Regiment Daniel Hitchcock was elected Colonel and Israel Angell Lieutenant-Colonel, and the regiment was dispatched to join the grand army under Washington.

Upon the death of Colonel Hitchcock the command of the regiment was given to Angell, his commission being dated Jan. 13, 1777; this position he held until the First and Second Regiments were consolidated.

Colonel Angell participated in the battles of the Brandywine and Red Bank and was with the army during the terrible winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge.

His regiment bore a conspicuous part in the battle of Monmouth, and soon after this engagement he with his regiment was detached from the main army and sent to Rhode Island to unite with General Sullivan in the operations against the enemy at Newport, RI. For distinguished services at the battle of Springfield, June 23, 1780, he was the subject of special mention by General Washington in a letter to Governor Greene of Rhode Island.

Upon the consolidation of the two Rhode Island regiments Colonel Angell retired from the position he had held so long.

Upon retiring from military life Colonel Angell returned to his home in the town of Johnston, where he carried on his farm and followed his trade as a cooper; at the same time he was granted a license to keep a public house.

His tavern was a popular place of resort and was widely known for its excellence and hospitality.

Late in life he moved into the town of Smithfield, where he died May 31, 1832, in his ninety-second year. He is described by one who remembered him as of "medium height, light complexion, auburn hair surmounted by a wig, blue eyes, a strong Roman nose, and straight as a ramrod."

Colonel Angell was three times married and is said to have contemplated a fourth venture when death terminated his life. In love and in war Colonel Angell was a conspicuous figure.

"He had seventeen children, eleven by his first wife and six by the second, and of the seventeen, thirteen reached maturity and eight became octogenarians."

He was buried in the family graveyard on his old farm in Johnston on the South Scituate road.

Reference:

Angell, Israel. Diary of Colonel Israel Angell Commanding the Second Rhode Island Continental Regiment during the American Revolution 1778-1781. Edited by Edward Field. Providence: Preston and Rounds, 1899.

 

Life of John Peck Rathbun
John Peck RATHBUN served in the Continental Navy from its beginning. As a lieutenant in Providence, he participated in an attack on New Providence in 1776. When John Paul JONES took command, he remained in Providence, then went with JONES to Alfred. Promoted to captain of the sloop Providence in April 1777, he took his ship back to the Bahamas, and on the night of 27 January 1778, sent a small landing party of marines ashore at New Providence. They captured Forts Nassau and Montague without bloodshed. On the 28th, RATHBUN brought Providence into Nassau harbor. Before departing on the morning of the 30th, he and his crew had taken two sloops and a brig, Mary; released American prisoners; dismantled the fortifications; and acquired badly needed small arms, ammunition, and powder.

In 1779 he assumed command of the frigate Queen of France and in July cruised off Newfoundland with Providence and Ranger. On the 16th the ships sighted a convoy bound for Britain. Fog closed in, but when it lifted, Queen of France was next to a merchantman whose crew mistook the American for a British escort vessel. RATHBUN took advantage of the situation, exploited the mistake in identity, and captured the ship. Ranger and Providence followed suit. Ten more ships were cut out of the convoy, their total value approaching $1 million.

In 1780 RATHBUN took Queen of France south in Commodore Whipple's force to bolster the defenses of Charleston, S.C. There, with smaller ships, she was stationed in the Ashley River to prevent British forces under Cornwallis from crossing and attacking the city. As the American position weakened, Queen of France's guns were removed and she was sunk as a block ship. Her crew then went ashore and RATHBUN served as an artilleryman until the city fell in May 1781.

Taken prisoner at the fall of Charleston, RATHBUN and the other American captains were paroled and allowed to return to New England. There he found that the Continental Navy had dwindled and that no commands were available. Thereupon, RATHBUN, a true patriot, secured a commission from Congress on 4 August 1781 to command the Massachusetts privateer brig Wexford. About two weeks later, he set sail from Boston bound for St. Georges Channel and, within another six weeks reached the coast of Ireland. There, less than 100 miles from Cape Clear, he ran afoul of the 32-gun frigate HMS Recovery. Following a 24-hour chase during which HMS Recovery fired at least one broadside, RATHBUN and his ship were captured by the British warship. Incarcerated first at Kinsale Prison near Cork in Ireland, RATHBUN was later transferred to Mills Prison in Plymouth, England, where he died on 20 June 1782.

PDFs

Birthplace of the American Navy
BirthplaceoftheNavy2011.06.12.pdf

General Nathanael Greene
General_Nathanael_Greene_biography.pdf

Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army
Hietman.pdf

Rhode Island Units in the Revolutionary War
RI_Units_Revolutionary_War.pdf

Captain Stephen Olney service record
Olney_service_record.pdf

Captain Thomas Cole service record
Cole_service_record.pdf

Major Thomas Hughes service record
Hughes_service_record.pdf





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