Kentish Guards

Rhode Island Historic Militia
Chartered October 29th, 1774

Founding and Revolutionary War

The Kentish Guards were formed on September 24, 1774 to protect the Town of East Greenwich, Rhode Island from the direct result of a Tory mob that attempted to sack and burn the town. They were formally chartered by the Colonial Assembly on October 29, 1774 as the first Independent Militia Company for the County of Kent. Using the Kent County Court House as their armory, the Kentish Guards were present when the Rhode Island Navy was enacted there in 1775. They built Fort Daniel at the entrance to Greenwich Cove in Cowesett, equipped it with nine cannons, and garrisoned it throughout the Revolutionary War, protecting Warwick Bay from naval attack.

In the early hours of April 20th, 1775, hearing of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, the Kentish Guard set out to support the Massachusetts militia units against the Red Coats. The Guard marched to the state line but were not allowed by the Rhode Island Deputy Governor to leave the state, and returned to East Greenwich to prepare for what was soon to come.

Soon after, when the Continental Army was being formed, thirty-five members of the Guards served as officers, foremost among them Major General Nathanael Greene, the "Savior of the South" who, by the end of the war, was second only to Washington. James Mitchell Varnum, the first commanding officer of the Kentish Guards, served as a General in the Continental Army and advocated allowing freed African American slaves to enlist in the Continental Army. This resulted in the reorganization of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment as the first racially integrated unit in the United State Army in 1778.
After hostilities broke out with England, the Guards rotated state duty with other militia companies; but with the British invasion of Newport in 1776, they were on continuous duty from May 1, 1776, to June 1, 1781. They patrolled Warwick Neck, Prudence Island, East Greenwich, and North Kingstown. In the summer of 1776, the Guards recaptured a ship previously seized by the British Navy. During this engagement they suffered their only casualty, Edward Pearce, who was shot in the arm, which had to be amputated. Always keeping a detachment at Fort Daniel, they were the sole defenders of East Greenwich in 1777 and 1778, and countered several attacks launched on Potowomut, Warwick Neck, Quidnessett, and Wickford.

In August 1778 Kentish Guards Commander, Colonel Richard Fry, took command of a regiment of Militia Companies at the Battle of Rhode Island in Portsmouth and Middletown. During the summer of 1779, twenty-six Guardsmen launched a surprise attack on Conanicut Island (Jamestown), destroying a British artillery battery. In November, after the British evacuated Newport, the Guards were ordered to guard duty at Sachuest (now Second) Beach to help prevent a British return.

The Guards were again ordered to Newport in 1780 and 1781 to reinforce the travel-weakened French Army and were present in Newport during General Washington's visit there. After the war, the Kentish Guards continued to provide local defense when many other militia companies were disbanded or became volunteer fire departments. During this period, even the United States Army and Navy were temporary disbanded.

The Kentish Guards lost three (3) members during the Revolutionary War, giving their lives for a new American Nation.

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