Indians and Rhode Island in the Revolutionary War

Working from the DAR document, Forgotten Patriots, I’m now in Rhode Island, taking my whirlwind tour of all states who provided soldiers for the Revolutionary War.  Am I ever glad there weren’t 50 then!

Rhode Island was a small state, but they provided a great deal of military support for the Revolution.  Half of all able-bodied men were enlisted at one time.  No family was unaffected. 

In 1774, Rhode Island took a census which showed a total population of 54,435 whites, 3.761 blacks and 1,482 Indians.  The Indians were not clustered in one place or another, but lived in every county and were occupied in commerce, agriculture and other trades, as were their African-American and white counterparts.

In 1776, the British captured Newport, RI, the commercial and trade hub of the state.  Times became desperate.  Another census taken in 1777 to determine how many men over the age of 16 were able to bear arms revealed that many of these men were already serving in the militia, although they had not been paid in months and wouldn’t be for many more.

In February 1778, desperate for troops, the Rhode Island assembly passed a resolution that “every able bodied negro, mulatto or Indian man slave” could enlist in the Army for the duration of the war.  They would be entitled to the same bounties and other enticements as any other soldier, and at the end of that time, they would be free, totally free, “as though he had never been encumbered with any kind of servitude or slavery.”  Masters were to be paid for each slave who enlisted.  Of course, funds were slow to arrive, but enlistments boomed.  For those enslaved, this was the only opportunity for freedom they would ever see.

Rhode Island was more meticulous than many other states in terms of recording race or at least something about their soldiers.  To date, working my way from north to south, they are the only state that used the word “mustee” in addition to mulatto.  Mustee of course, implies Indian admixture where mulatto could be anything plus white.  There are quite a few people noted as “mustee” in the records.  There is only one tribe specifically mentioned, the Narragansett. 

You can read about the Narragansett at this link:                   

About Roberta Estes

Scientist, author, genetic genealogist. Documenting Native Heritage through contemporaneous records and DNA.
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