A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections and events at the RIHS

Fighting Like Heroes: Accounts of the Battle of R.I., 1778

The Battle of Rhode Island, also known as the Battle of Quaker Hill, occurred August 29, 1778 in Tiverton, R.I. on Aquidneck Island. It was one of the decisive battles of the American Revolutionary War (1775-1883) and from the perspective of a soldier, “fighting like heroes the Enemy dared not press on our Main Boddy.”

Noah Robinson (1758-1788) provides an account of the battle in his diary found in R.I.H.S. MSS 1132:  “Noah Robinson’s Journal of a Six Month’s Campaign (by God’s Permition) in the State of R. Island in a Compy. Command by Capt. Caleb Richardson, From the Town of Attleborough” July 20, 1778 – Jan 3, 1779; Feb 12, 1779. Starting on August 9, 1778 he describes their journey to Rhode Island culminating with short entries for the day of the main battle.

Noah Robinson Diary Entry, August 29-31, 1778. MSS 1132

Born in Attleboro, Mass., Robinson voluntarily joined militias being raised out of Attleboro and other nearby towns during the Revolutionary War and served on and off between 1777 and 1779 in Rhode Island.

Noah received enough education to be offered a teaching position at the school in Dedham and to work as clerk or scribe for each of the captains under whom he served during the war. Interestingly, the makeshift cover for this journal is a pay roll for one of the Massachusetts regiments with discernible dates of June 20 – July 16, 1778 and Joseph Cole listed as Captain. Noah was the scribe for all the captains he served under and this must have been a pay roll that was not acceptable.

He served from September 1777 to September 1, 1778 with Captain Caleb Richardson when Richardson was discharged and the company was put under the command of Captain Joseph Cole. Noah was discharged in early January, 1779.

For another account of troop movements see: The Order Book of Col. Jacobs’ Regt., From May to Sept., 1778, which is held by the Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport, R.I. A digital surrogate can be viewed at Internet Archive. A transcription of this orderly book edited by Erich A. O’D. Taylor is available at the Redwood as well. A manuscript transcription is available at the Rhode Island Historical Society in MSS 743, the John Sullivan Papers.

The most celebrated hero of the Battle of Rhode Island was General John Sullivan (1740-1795).  He was born in Berwick, Maine and lived a large portion of his life in Durham, New Hampshire where he practiced law.  He served in the N.H. militia and was sent to the Continental Congress in 1774 where his work earned him a commission as one of the eight brigadier-generals of the Continental Army.  He served with distinction in many battles including the siege of Boston and an attack on Fort William and Mary.  General Sullivan was sent to command the forces in Rhode Island in 1778 and cooperated with French forces in the defense of Newport.

In R.I.H.S. MSS 743, General John Sullivan Papers, we find an “Address to Sullivan from the town of Providence thanking him for his faithful service.  Drafted by Governor Hopkins with edits and addendums by Theodore Foster.” 19 Mar 1779. The original text is in Stephen Hopkins’ (1707-1785) distinctive shaky handwriting. While the graceful edits are in the precise handwriting of Theodore Foster (1752-1828), the Providence Town Clerk at the time. Notice how Foster crosses out “State of Rhode Island” and replaces it with “United States of America”!

Foster graduated from Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in 1770, studied law and settled in Providence, entering in practice with his brothers. He was elected Town Clerk of Providence in 1775, and served through 1787. Though he did not serve in the Army during the Revolution, he did serve as Secretary on the Rhode Island Council of War. He also became a close associate of Hopkins, who conveyed his passion for the early history of the colony to the younger Foster.  The document above shows how these two men worked together to carry out the business of the state.

For more information on the Battle of Rhode Island see Patrick T. Conley’s article in Rhode Island History (Fall 2004).

~Phoebe Bean, Librarian

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One comment on “Fighting Like Heroes: Accounts of the Battle of R.I., 1778

  1. Brad therrien
    2 September 2017

    FYI, The battle was fought in Portsmouth on the Island, not Tiverton which is on the mainland.

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