Artillery Company History Circa 1889

P.O. Box 14
Newport, RI 02840

(401) 846-8488

The Volunteer
Vol. 1
No. 6
September, 1889


Within less than two years the Newport Artillery, or as its name reads under the charter, The Artillery Company of the town of Newport, Rhode Island, will observe its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary, and its fitting that a brief record of its deeds in war and peace should find a place in the series which THE VOLUNTEER is publishing of the honorable military companies of New England. Its charter dates back to 1741 and the nearly century and a half of its existence has been fraught with deeds of valor and honor in times of war and peace. It is coeval in existence with famous Boston Cadets and is antedated by less than a half-dozen military organizations in the country. It had its origin in the exciting times growing out of the second Spanish war. When it was known in 1740 that war with Spain had been declared, the people of Newport awoke from the peaceful quiet which had overspread them for many years, and at once began to prepare for war. A garrison was thrown up at Fort George, troops were sent to New Shoreham with a mounted battery of six guns for the defense of that island; watch towers and beacons were established along the coast and a sloop, the Tartar, was built for the colony for war purposes, and several privateersmen were fitted out by the merchants of Newport to cruise against the Spaniards. The next year there was a continuance of the same warlike spirit, more cannon were purchased and mounted, militia companies were formed and equipped; a permanent council of war was established, and a more thorough drill system was maintained throughout the colony. Under these circumstances the Artillery Company was incorporated and the proud record of nearly a century and a half of gallant deeds in war and peace was inaugurated.

Its charter reads as follows:

At the General Assembly of His Majesty's Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in New England, held by adjournment at South Kingstown, within and for the Colony aforesaid, on the first Monday in February, being the first day of said month, in the fifteenth year of His Majesty's reign, George the Second, King of Great Britain, &c., Anno Domini 1741.

Whereas, the preservation of this colony in times of war depends under God chiefly upon the military skill and discipline of it inhabitants, and it being necessary in order to revive and perpetuate the same to form and establish a military company, which by acquainting and accustoming themselves to the military exercises by more frequent trainings than the body of the people can attend, may serve for a nursery of skillful officers, and in times of an actual invasion by their superior skill and experience, may render the whole militia more useful and effectual.

And whereas, a number of the principle inhabitants of the town of Newport, viz.: Jahleel Brenton, Godfrey Malbone, Samuel Wickham, Henry Collins, John Gidley, James Honyman, Junr., John Brown, Nathaniel Coddington, Junr., Peleg Brown, Charles Bardin, Simon Pease, David Cheseborough, Phillip Wilkinson, John Freebody, Junr., Thomas Wickham, Walter Cranston, Sueton Grant and William Vernon, have freely offered themselves to begin and with such others as shall be added to them to form such a company, and by their humble petition have prayed this Assembly to grant them a charter with such privileges and limitations as the Assembly shall think proper.

Wherefore, this Assembly, for reasons and considerations aforesaid and in order that all due encouragement may be given to the laudable and useful design of the petitioners, have ordained, contstituted and granted, and by these presents do ordain, constitute and grant that Jahleel Brenton, Godgrey Malbone, &c., together with such others as shall hereafter be added to them not exceeding the number of one hundred in whole (officers included), be and they are hereby declared to be a military company by the name of the Artillery Company of the Town of Newport, and by that name they shall have and enjoy all the rights, powers, and privileges in this grant hereafter mentioned.

The charter further provided that the organization should be independent of any officer commanding the regular militia of the district or State, and that its officers should be commissioned by the Governor and the company subject only to his orders. This position it has maintained throughout its existence and on several occasions refused to send a draft for the State's quota of troops when ordered by Congress. This raised a much mooted question, which was finally settled by an act of the General Assembly, passed in February 1860, reading as follows:

"Resolved, That the Artillery Company of the town of Newport are hereby declared to be, and are, and shall be exempt from all drafts from the militia, and they shall not be deemed and considered liable to be drafted and detached, any law to the contrary notwithstanding."

The first record of an election of officers was in April, 1744, when Jahleel Brenton was elected captain, John Brown, first lieutenant; John Gidley, second lieutenant; William Mumford, ensign, and Josias Lyndon, clerk. These names and those attached to the first muster of the company show conclusively that the best citizens of Newport, the leaders in business, social and political circles, were interested in the welfare of the organization, and through the successive years, the roll has contained the names of the most prominent men of the city. Among these names are Brenton, Mumford, Coddington, Freebody, Vernon, Gidley, Ayrault, Malbone, Rogers, Fry, Mason and Channing, in its first half-century; those of Champlin, Tower, Randolph, Cranston, both Robert B. and Henry V., Weaver, Brinley, Rogers, Allison, Clarke, Cahoone, Taylor, Lawton, Breeze, Silliman, Peckham, Boss, Robinson, Clark, Hammond, Howland, Boon, Gardner and Hazard in the earlier part of this century, and in the latter fifty years, Swan, Weeden, Perry, Turner, Tew, Stedman, Powel, Sherman, Fearing, Vaughan and Horton. These names are imprinted upon the history of Newport in all its branches and their prominence in the long muster of the members of the Artillery Company shows conclusively that the military organization received its inspiration and support from the leading citizens of the town and city and has been, as it is now, thoroughly representative.

In peace and war, and indeed whenever duty called them the Artillery Company has ever been ready to respond, and its present members are today justly proud of the record.

It is impossible within the space allowed one to tell of all the gallant deeds in the history of the company and a brief survey must suffice. The company remained in active service until 1776, when the British took possession of the island and the members of the company scattered and no regular meetings were held. While the company took no part in the war of the Revolution as a body, its members served in the Continental army and did valiant service for their country's freedom. Up to this time there had been five commanding officers: Jahleel Brenton, who served from 1744 to 47; William Mumford, from 1747-'52; Daniel Ayrault, Jr., from 1752-'69; Nathaniel Mumford, from 1769-'74; and John Malbone, who was first elected captain in 1775 and was reelected the next year.

Here the record ceases, until July 9, 1792, when a meeting was held to revive the company. The call was signed by eighty names, headed by Francis Malbone and William Ellery, Jr., and including many of the leading citizens of Newport. A few days later a meeting was held and a petition sent to the General Assembly for a revival of the charter. Without waiting for the action of the legislature, the company reorganized, electing Francis Malbone, Captain; Daniel Rogers, first lieutenant; Benjamin Fry, second lieutenant; Daniel Mason, ensign, and Samuel Freeborne, clerk. The General Assembly granted the petition and August 9, 1792 revived the charter in its original form.

On February 22, 1794, the company met to observe the anniversary of the birth of the President of the United States, General George Washington, and sent a patriotic address of congratulations to him. The original letter of Washington, acknowledging the receipt of this address in his own handwriting, is well preserved, and is one of the most precious souvenirs in the company's possession.

On April 29, 1794, the company was warned to meet with arms and ammunition at the instance of William Ellery, Esq., collector of the port, to arrest and stop the ship, Brittanic, Edward Rankin, master, supposed to be about proceeding to sea contrary to the act of Congress, March 26, laying and embargo upon all registered ships, and for thirty days, and which, the record says, "was accordingly done, and the said ship was the next day properly secured within the Basin, and the guard on board her dismissed." In April of the same year the fortifications at Fort Washington at Newport were erected, and a special vote of the company offered its service to assist in breaking the ground and erecting the fortifications. In May the work was commenced and on the first day, as the record says, officers and men shared alike in the fatigue of the day, and by their united efforts the ruined fortifications soon assumed a formidable appearance..."Upon the arrival of the company in the town they were welcomed by the heartfelt applause of citizens whose lives, properties and families it is their duty and privilege to defend." The next event in the history of the company, worthy of mention, is one of pleasure, rather than of duty, and consists in a complimentary dinner on the Fourth of July to the French generals, Rochambeau and Richards, who had fought with America for the latter's freedom and then returned to this country to receive the hearty welcome which Americans were everywhere ready to give their defenders. The dinner was held in the State House, and was of a very elaborate character, in which high honor was done the guests of the city.

The next year, 1795, the company acted as escort to the governor of the colony and members of the legislature at inauguration day, a courtesy which it has been the company's duty to perform almost without exception on each succeeding year to the present day. On many state occasions and when the governor has officially represented the state at centennial celebrations, the artillery has invariably been his chosen escort.

In June, 1809, Francis Malbone who had commanded the company since its reorganization in 1792, died, and Benjamin Fry, the next in command, was elected captain, and was successively re-elected until 1815.

During the command of Captain Fry the company was called upon to do service for the country in the war of 1812. At a meeting of the company held November 3, 1812, it was voted that the artillery company "will furnish in charge of the battery at Easton's Point (Fort Greene) a constant guard consisting of one sergeant, one corporal, one drummer, one fifer, and six men, the guard to have the same pay and rations as United States troops; the battery, in case of alarm, to be immediately manned by the whole." This offer was not accepted by the government until nearly two years later, from which time the company with a muster of 87 men remaining on duty in detachments until early in 1815, when peace was declared, the fort being then delivered back to the United States. The company up to 1812 had been allowed by its charter only one hundred members, including officers, but when a demand for more men seemed necessary a movement was started to have the limit extended. On October 20, 1812, a committee was appointed to apply to the General Assembly for a change in the charter, granting the company the privilege to augment its membership to one hundred and fifty men. This petition was favorably considered and the change granted, giving to the officers the rank of colonel, lieutenant colonel, major and captain respectively, instead of captain, first and second lieutenants and ensign. Benjamin Fry was the first colonel, and he was succeeded in 1815 by Christopher Grant Champlin.

On October 2, 1815, the town council passed the following resolution:

"Voted and resolved that the thanks of the town Council be presented to Colonel C. G. Champlin and the officers and privates of the Artillery Company of the town of Newport under his command for the prompt attention they paid to the request of said town council to turn out and guard the property of the unfortunate sufferers in the late destructive storm, and for their good conduct while on duty."
This was at the time of the famous September gale, when there was great destruction of property and loss of life in Newport.

For the next thirty years the company continued to prosper, having as do all military organizations, periods of depression but always maintaining its high proficiency in military affairs and its prominent place in the affairs of the city. In 1818 Colonel Champlin was succeeded by Richard K. Randolph; in 1819 and the five succeeding years the officers elected are named captain, lieutenants and ensign.

In 1825, John B. Lyon was elected captain, serving one year only and being succeeded by Henry Y. Cranston, who takes the rank of brevet Colonel. He was succeeded successively by James Boon in 1828, by Peleg Clarke in 1829, by Nicholas G. Boss in 1831, by Stephen Ayrault Robinson in 1832 and by William B. Swan in 1838. In these years a sergeant major and surgeon was added to the list of officers and an act of the General Assembly was secured allowing the company to elect a quartermaster who shall also serve as clerk.

In December, 1826, the remains of the great naval hero of the battle of Lake Erie, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, were brought to his former home in Newport, and the Artillery acted as funeral escort, paying proper honor to a man whose memory not only the Artillery Company, but all Newport revere to the present day. On June 9, 1833, President Andrew Jackson visited Newport and the company received and escorted him on his arrival and departure.

The year 1842 and its stirring events in state history are well remembered by the survivors of those days and members of the Artillery Company, who answered the call to duty at that time, never hesitate to tell of the glorious conduct of the Newport troops in the so-called Dorr war. Shortly after midnight on Tuesday, May 18, 1842, the people of Newport were aroused by the firing of cannon and beating of drums, summoning the Artillery Company to meet forthwith under special orders from Governor King to proceed without delay to Providence. The order was promptly obeyed and a part of the members of the company, with a few volunteers, some forty in numbers in all, and with two field pieces embarked for Providence under Colonel William B. Swan. The summons was for aid in suppressing an embryo rebellion against the lawful authority of the State under the leadership of Thomas W. Dorr, who, with stolen cannon, had occupied Federal Hill and threatened to seize the state house. The Artillery headed the line of State militia in the march to Federal Hill. At the foot of the hill the troops halted and all except the Artillery formed a line at the base. In the face of the loaded cannon, with Dorr's men ready to apply the match, the Artillery mounted the hill. Dorr, thinking discretion the better part of valor, did not order his men to fire, but sent an ambassador of peace promising to restore the stolen cannon. The campaign was over for the time and the Artillery returned to Newport, having taken all the honor there was in the contest. After the return the Artillery was reorganized, the officers and men who had failed to respond to the governor's summons being dropped from the rolls. Within a month by new succession of the best material in town the company was recruited to one hundred and twenty-five members.

On Friday morning June 24, 1842, the Artillery was again summoned by the governor to Providence to aid in suppressing a second outbreak by the Dorrites. Here again, the company made a good record for soldierly conduct and added golden laurels to those it had already won.

The period from 1842 to 1861, was marked by no event of special importance. The company prospered by several years under the command of Colonel Swan, who in 1845 declined a reelection, and was succeeded by Christopher Grant Perry, who served nearly nine years until his death, April 8, 1854. During Colonel Perry's command the Artillery was called upon but once to do even guard duty, and that occasion was at the burning of the Ocean House, when the members of the company protected the property of the neighbors, doing good service. On September 15, 1851, President Fillmore visited Newport and the Artillery did escort duty. Upon the death of Colonel Perry, the command of the company devolved upon Lieutenant Colonel Thomas B. Carr, who at the annual meeting in April 1854, was elected Colonel, serving four years and a half. During his command in 1856 a sergeant major and quartermaster sergeant were first elected. Colonel Carr resigned, December 11, 1858, and ten days later Charles W. Turner was elected colonel. He was reelected the next year, and resigned March 19, 1860. His resignation was declined, and he was reelected in April, resigning again November 27, 1860, when George W. Tew was elected colonel.

Under Colonel Tew's command the most stirring times in the history of our country occurred when the nation was stirred to its very depths by the uprising of the South. The Artillery took a deep interest in transpiring events, and as early as January 18 in that year that marked the opening of the Rebellion, asked the General Assembly to grant the company $2000 to enable it to be put on a war footing. At a meeting of the company held on Monday, April 15, a call for volunteers was read from Governor Sprague. The entire company announced its willingness to go to the front and twenty-five volunteers joined the ranks. On Wednesday the company numbering one hundred and fourteen men started for Providence to become a part of the First regiment, Rhode Island Detached Militia. as the company stood on the wharf before departure the friends and families of the soldiers gathered in large numbers to bid them good-bye and God-speed. Addresses were made by Hon. William H. Cranston, mayor of the city, Charles C. Van Zandt, afterwards governor of the state, and prayers were offered by Rev. Drs. Thayer, Adlam and Jackson. The company was designated F, and was given the honor of carrying the colors. Its officers were George W. Tew, captain; William A. Stedman, first lieutenant; Benjamin L. Slocum, second lieutenant; James H. Chappelle, ensign, and Augustus P. Sherman, first sergeant. The company served three months, the greater part of the time before Washington and in the battle of Bull Run where Privates Harrington and Peckham were killed on the battlefield, and Private T. Wheaton King was reported at night as "missing," and came home a few months later to die of his injuries. After the disbandment of the regiment the company returned to Newport. In the meantime, the Artillery had been recruited and in the evening of the annual election William H. Fludder was elected colonel, but in August these officers resigned and Colonel Tew and the officers who had served with him before were reelected. Members of the Artillery joined other regiments as they were recruited, and Colonel Tew in September resigned to join the Fourth Rhode Island which he afterwards commanded. During the war many hundreds were recruited into the war regiments from the ranks of the Artillery, and brave soldiers they were. Some filled humble positions, while others rose to higher positions, all grades from private to general being filled from the company. Those of the Artillery who remained at home were frequently called upon for service. In July, 1862 a detail of fifty men was ordered to do guard duty at Portsmouth Grove where a hospital had been established, and again in September another detail was ordered for the same purpose. In June, 1863, a detail was ordered to mount a gun on Sachuest beach to protect the river from the cruisers of the enemy. Frequently the company was called upon to pay funeral honors to their former comrades whose bodies were brought back from battlefields.

Colonel William A. Stedman succeeded Colonel Tew in 1862, and in the next year an adjutant, surgeon, assistant surgeon, commissary and paymaster were elected, the charter of the company having been amended to allow this at the recent session of the General Assembly. On October 24, 1864, Colonel Stedman resigned, and John Hare Powel was elected to command the company. He served until October 11, 1877, and under his command the company enjoyed the highest degree of prosperity. Colonel Powel was the strictest of disciplinarians, but was withal kind and considerate, and a friend to his soldiers. During his command the Artillery made its excursion to the national centennial at Philadelphia, and in June, 1877 was escort to Governor Van Zandt on the occasion of the visit of President Hayes to Rhode Island. Colonel Powel desired to resign several times, but so thoroughly was he liked by his soldiers that he was persuaded to yield in their unanimous wish that he continue at the head of the company. His resignation was finally accepted in October, 1877, with the most heartfelt regrets. Augustus P. Sherman was elected colonel at the next annual meeting in 1878, serving only one year and being succeeded by George R. Fearing. In 1882 George H. Vaughan was elected colonel, and under his command the company continued to prosper. In 1885 he declined a reelection and the present commander, Jeremiah W. Horton, was elected colonel.

The Artillery has throughout its long existence been the recipient of many honors, and has entertained with a hospitality which has become proverbial many of the leading military organizations in the country. It has, besides, visited many cities in New England and always increased its reputation for soldierly bearing and action. Its last trip was to New York to attend the centennial celebration, and on that occasion at the head of the Rhode Island State troops, it was the subject of general comment from military experts for its excellent appearance and behavior. Its last public duty was a complimentary escort to President Harrison on his visit to Newport on July 5th, last.

The company in its one hundred and forty years of existence has had 1,576 upon its roll, and this list includes three mayors of the city of Newport, Franklin, Burdick, and Powel; numerous members of the State legislature and city council, one governor of the state, Hon. Charles C. Van Zandt; one lieutenant governor, Hon. Henry H. Fay, and many others of like prominence. Ex-Governor George Peabody Wetmore is an honorary and the present mayor of Newport, Hon. Thomas Coggeshall, was on the fine roll for many years and was later transferred to the honorary roll. The chaplain of the company, Rev. Thatcher Thayer, D. D. although in his seventy-eighth year, still maintains an active interest in the company, preaching once a year the annual sermon. Through his efforts the Thayer fund for the care of sick and disabled members was originated, and is every year increased by collection at the annual election, and now amounts to about $4,500.

The company is out of debt and possesses many funds for various purposes which have been donated from time to time by its friends.

The Artillery Company occupies for its meetings and drill a substantial armory on Clarke street, only a short distance from Washington square. This building in itself, has a history which is well worth reciting. In its early days the company met in various places, in the State House, Penrose Hall, Levi Tower's Academy and wherever it was found convenient. It had no permanent habitation until 1836. The first mention in the records of an armory bears date of December 14, 1829, when a committee was appointed consisting of the commissioned officers to report on the expediency of building an armory, and on the 26th of December the committee report that it is expedient. On April 27, 1830, it was voted to send a petition to the General Assembly, stating that one of the honorary members of the company had generously given a suitable and central lot for an armory, and asking that the company be granted permission to raise by lottery the sum of $800 clear of expenses and incidental charges, for the purpose of building an armory. At the session of the legislature held the latter part of the month, the permission was granted and Peleg Clarke, Nicholas Boss and Stephen A. Robinson were appointed managers of the lottery. This scheme seems to have been of but little avail, as a latter entry in the record shows that a petition was sent to the General Assembly asking that time for the lottery be extended (one year only having been allowed in the original grant). On June 7, 1834 a committee was appointed to ascertain the cost of a building of stone or wood. At the next meeting, a week later, a subscription was taken up from the members present for the armory fund, and a committee was appointed to solicit contributions from citizens of Newport. The movement evidently did not then meet with success, as in August of the same year the committee reported that it was depending entirely upon the exertions of the members whether the armory project should prove a success or not. At a meeting held in October next, the record says: "An interesting conversation was held respecting the armory edifice, and it resulted in a firm determination to exert ourselves to the utmost for its accomplishment." This action proved to be what the company wanted, and by the following March, sufficient subscriptions having been obtained to warrant it, a committee was appointed to contract for the building of the armory. The land which had been given by Mr. Audley Clarke, was the present location of the armory, and Dr. Enoch Hazard gave the stone of which it was built. On March 4, 1835, the contract was awarded, and on April 19 the corner stone was laid with much ceremony. In September of the same year the company voted not to make its customary parade on the anniversary of the battle of Lake Erie, but to contribute the amount of expenses which would have been spent on that day, to the armory fund. On April 26, 1836, a year and a week after the corner stone was laid, the company assembled for the first time in the building, which was then only partially completed. The armory was soon completed and in July, 1842, the General Assembly appropriated $700 to pay off the debts on the armory. This was done as a reward for the excellent service of the company in the Dorr war and the money was given without request.

The cost of the building, inclusive of the donation of the land ($200) and of stone for its construction ($62.50) was $2341.52. Of this amount $241.56 was from contributions and fines from the company; $369.50 from subscriptions by citizens; $200 an appropriation from the state in 1837; $100, a legacy by Col. Champlin; $496.83 net proceeds from renting the hall, and $700 appropriation from the state in 1842, leaving a balance of $28.87. Several attempts were made to secure a further appropriation from the state for enlarging the armory, but all of these proved unsuccessful until 1873 when the sum of $3000 was voted by the General Assembly. In January, 1874, the armory enlarged to its present size, was occupied for the first time, the work of improving being done in a great measure by the members of the company. A few years ago it was desired to have a rifle range under the armory, and the earth for the entire length of the building was removed by members until a very good range was had, besides ample accommodations for supper rooms, kitchen and card rooms. Now it is desired to build a second story to the armory, so that more room may be had for officer's quarters and accommodations for the various purposes of the company. This improvement, it is hoped, may be accomplished in time for the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the establishment of the company in 1891. A considerable sum has already been collected for this purpose, but much more is needed.

Colonel Jeremiah W. Horton, the present commander, is not a native of Newport, but has become so thoroughly interested in its welfare and business pursuits that he is practically a thorough Newporter. He enlisted in the Newport Artillery March 2, 1865, was elected fourth sergeant in 1867, succeeding successively to the office of third, second and first sergeant in 1867, 1869, and 1870 respectively. He held the last office during the colonelcy of John Hare Powel, and upon the latter's retirement Sergeant Horton was promoted to captain in November, 1877. In April, 1878, he was elected major; in 1882 was promoted to lieutenant colonel and in 1885 was elected colonel, to which he has successively been reelected to the present time. He has been a member of the board of aldermen of Newport, is a member of the school committee and overseers of the poor. He is actively interested in church work and his upright character and manly bearing have a marked influence upon his company. The other officers are young, active men, well aversed in military skill and discipline, and thoroughly interested in the school of the soldier. Among the non-commissioned officers none is worthier of special mention than Sergeant of Ordinance Thomas H. Lawton, who has held that position since February, 1876, and to whose care the excellent condition of the guns and accouterments of the company give the highest recommendation.

The full roster of the company is as follows:

Colonel - Jeremiah W. Horton
Lieutenant Colonel - George A. Brown
Major - George C. Shaw
Captain - George A. Tilley
Adjutant - First Lieutenant John H. Wetherell
Quartermaster - First Lieutenant Henry C. Stevens, Jr.
Paymaster - First Lieutenant Edward T. Bosworth
Commissary - First Lieutenant William T. Stevens
Surgeon - Vacancy
Assistant Surgeon - First Lieutenant George E. Coman
Chaplain - Rev. Thatcher Thayer, D.D.
Assistant Paymaster - John H. Stacy
Assistant Commissary - John L. Nason
Sergeant Major - George W. Thompson
Quartermaster Sergeant - Max Muenchinger

  1. Herbert Bliss
  2. John D. Richardson
  3. Albert A. Stacy
  4. Charles T. Bliss
  5. Andrew J. DeBlois
Sergeant of Ordinance - Thomas H. Lawton
Ensign Sergeant - Perry B. Dawley
Color Sergeant - B. W. H. Peckham
Corporals - William D. Sayer, R. P. Manchester, M. W. Wetherell, C. S. Eldridge, Edward Wilbur, Frank H. Holt, William Borden
Right General Guide - R. W. Mitchell
Left General Guide - Galen Davis
Markers - Oscar E. Peabody, W. H. Crowell

1741 - 2003

"Let Justice Prevail Though the Heavens May Fall"

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