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Rhode Island and Declaration of Independence


The breaker in Rhode Island
The breaker in Rhode Island

Beginning in the 1760s, Britain passed a series of laws restricting the sugar and molasses trade. Rhode Islanders, who now depended largely on maritime trade for their prosperity, responded by smuggling such goods past British enforcement ships. In 1772 a British customs ship, the Gaspée, ran aground while chasing a suspected smuggler ship up Narragansett Bay. A group of colonists, led by prominent merchant John Brown and Captain Abraham Whipple, burned the stranded British ship, in one of the most significant violent acts of resistance against Britain before the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775. Within days after the battles at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, the first of the Revolutionary War, Rhode Island’s General Assembly voted to raise an army to fight the British. On May 4, 1776, the assembly became the first colonial body to renounce its allegiance to King George III.

On July 18 it ratified the Declaration of Independence and officially changed the colony’s name to the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. Though few land battles occurred in Rhode Island during the war, British troops seized Aquidneck Island and occupied Newport from December 1776 to October 1779. In 1778 the British held off an attack by a combined force of American and French troops. As the American force retreated, the British counterattacked and were defeated in what is known as the Battle of Rhode Island. This campaign was the largest military-naval engagement fought in New England during the war. After the British withdrew from Newport in 1779, the city hosted a large French army under the Comte de Rochambeau in 1780 and 1781.

Rochambeau’s forces marched to Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, helping General George Washington defeat the British in the last major action of the war. The Rhode Islander most important to the Revolutionary War military effort was Nathanael Greene, Washington’s second in command and the leader of American forces in the successful southern campaign that led up to the victory at Yorktown. "Rhode Island" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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