Artillery Company of Newport (RI)

P.O. Box 14
Newport, RI 02840

(401) 846-8488


It could be said that the Artillery Company of Newport was formed because of an ear. England and Spain were involved in the so-called War of Jenkins' Ear. Jenkins was an English sea captain who complained that a Spaniard had cut off his ear. One thing led to another, and these two maritime powers were at war again. The Colonies once more found themselves forced to prepare for war. At this time there were few British Regulars in the colonies, so the Militia was especially important.

Eighteen prominent citizens of Newport petitioned the General Assembly for permission to form a militia company. The charter for this company, called "The Artillery Company of the Town of Newport, " was granted on February 1, 1741. It is here that our story begins. The Artillery Company had a dual role, unique in the colony, as an active militia unit ready for combat, but also as a "nursery school" for officers of the Common Militia. These early years were uneventful, but the foundation was laid for over 262 years of loyal service to the nation.

During these years the Company manned Fort George and other defensive works around Newport. In 1756 war came again to North America. The Seven Years War was a conflict of global scope and was known America as the French and Indian War. The French and their Indian allies attacked the British at Fort Duquesne, and war again reared its ugly head in America.

The Crown Point/Fort William Henry Expedition of 1757 saw the Artillery Company tasked to provide one quarter of the Rhode Island contingent. The members to be attached to the expedition drew lots for this honor. These men included William Vernon, later the first Secretary of the Navy, and Robert Eliot, a future Adjutant General of Rhode Island.

With the conclusion of the War in 1763, Britain began enforcing restrictions on trade and levying direct taxes on the Colonies. These were intended to pay for the cost of defending the Colonies, but nevertheless these actions were unpopular and were resisted.

In 1764 crewmembers from HMS St. John got into trouble in Newport after they had stolen some chickens and hogs from the townsfolk. Others, while trying to apprehend a deserter, were assaulted by citizens of Newport. The ship attempted to sail, but two members of the Governor's Council ordered the Company to fire the guns at Fort George in an attempt to stop its departure. A gun under the command of Daniel Vaughan fired eight shots damaging the main sail. When asked why he did not sink the St. John, Vaughan replied that his orders did not allow him to do such an act, but that he could only fire to disable.

This was the first armed act of resistance to the King, but such events as the Boston Tea Party and other more famous events have eclipsed it.

Relations between the King and the colonists continued to deteriorate. Once shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, the dispute became open rebellion. In many ways it would be a civil war, with many colonists supporting independence and many remaining loyal. This division was evident in the ranks of the Company. Shortly after Newport was occupied by the British on December 8, 1776, half of the Company, under Captain (later Brigadier General) John Malbone, crossed over to the mainland to join the rebels. Of these, many served in the United Train of Artillery. Many of those who remained in Newport served in Loyalist units such as the "Loyal Newport Associators ". Two Loyalists, Archibald Campbel and Alexander Grant, went on to form the "Loyal New York Regiment". Both were killed in the New Jersey Campaign.

The Company had split, but the charter of 1741 still remained in effect. In 1792 the State Legislature reaffirmed this charter. This gives the unit its distinction of being the oldest active military unit in the country operating under its original charter.

The years after the Revolution were turbulent ones at best. The late 1790's saw several war scares with the revolutionary government of France. These were resolved peacefully, but proud legacies of them are the four bronze field pieces, cast in 1798 to arm the Company. These magnificent guns, made by Paul Revere's Foundry, are to this very day the pride and joy of the Artillery Company.

In the early years of the nineteenth century Britain and America again clashed. The War of 1812 was not popular in New England, but the Artillery Company volunteered for service to defend the state.

The only skirmish of the war fought in Rhode Island was the Battle of Smith's Beach in August 1813. Members of the Artillery Company, assisted by the Middletown Militia, engaged the British sloop HMS Nimrod with musket fire, driving her away.

Several members also served with Oliver Hazard Perry at Lake Erie. William V. Taylor was sailing master of Perry's flagship Lawrence. Taylor was honored with a Congressional Sword of Honor for his part in the battle. Thomas Breeze was the Lawrence's master gunner, and David Turner commanded the captured Caledonia.

The Company was federalized in 1814 as "Colonel Fry's Regiment of Rhode Island Artillery". To this day the Company retains its regimental organization in honor of its service as the only Rhode Island unit to be carried on the army list for the War of 1812.

In 1835 the armory on Clarke Street was built. It is the oldest active armory in the state, and it remains the Company's headquarters.

Eighteen forty-two saw the Company called to arms again. On May 18, the Company was called to Providence to help suppress an armed rebellion against the state. Rebels, under Thomas W. Dorr, removed cannon and other weapons from the Cranston Street Arsenal and were occupying Federal Hill, preparing to assault the statehouse.

Upon assembling with the other militia units on Broad Street, the commanders discussed who would lead the charge. Colonel Swan was asked if Newport, as the senior unit, would lead. He replied, "Gentlemen, was there ever any doubt in anyone's mind?" The Company marched up, Atwells Avenue into the muzzles of the rebels' three cannon. As they marched up, Dorr was heard to give the order to fire, but his men had no stomach for a fight and abandoned their guns without firing a shot.

These guns were heavily loaded with shot and scrap metal to within ten inches of their muzzles. With the rebels' flight, the rebellion was over. The rebels' demands were eventually addressed legally, and many of them became part of our current State Constitution. For its valiant role, the Artillery Company was given the honor of "Right of the Line, in perpetuity".

With the attack on Fort Sumter in April 1861 and President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers, the Artillery Company responded. One hundred three artillerymen became Company F, 1 st Rhode Island Detached Militia under the command of CPT George Tew. The remaining members were placed under the command of Colonel Swan and designated as the "Old Guard of the Artillery Company". They formed the garrison of Fort Adams.

The 1st regiment served in Washington and, extending its stay beyond its official three- month tour, fought at the Battle of First Bull Run suffering 14 percent casualties. Many members, upon returning, joined other units that saw active service. CPT Tew himself rose to the rank of colonel in the Fifth Rhode Island Heavy Artillery.

During the years following the war, the Company often trained at Fort Adams, but would again man Fort Adams in the event of hostilities. In 1898 the Company was called to garrison that fort along with a greater number of regulars and the forty-seventh Brooklyn Regiment.

The National Guard Act of 1908 changed the Company's role forever. The members of the Company, in a close vote, decided to continue electing their own officers. It would remain independent of the Guard. The Company volunteered for active federal service in 1917, but this offer was declined, as the Company would not stop electing its own officers. It did, however, see state service guarding the Tiverton Railroad Bridge. Many other members volunteered to serve in the regular forces, many seeing combat in France.

In keeping with the spirit of our charter, the Company has sent men to all subsequent twentieth century wars. Many of the men serving in the Company today are veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Twenty-two of the men then serving in the Company served in Vietnam. Members have served in Grenada, Desert Storm, and Bosnia. In addition, members continue to serve in the regular armed forces, reserve units, and the National Guard.

It is with great pride that we, the present Company members, continue to serve. May we always continue to serve. May we always be prepared for whatever may be our lot, and may we ever be true to our motto: "Fiat justitia ruat coelum" (fee-at yus-tee-tee-ya rue-at kay-lum) "Let justice prevail though the heavens may fall".

1741 - 2003

"Let Justice Prevail Though the Heavens May Fall"

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