Rhode Island Military Records

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This entry was originally written by Alice Eichholz, Ph.D., CG in Red Book: American State, County, and Town Sources.

Shipwrecks, privateering, slave trading, and smuggling were all part of everyday life in colonial Rhode Island. Many materials illustrative of military service concerning these events are housed at the Rhode Island State Archives, but there is no cumulative index. The first published material on military service in the state is Joseph J. Smith’s Civil and Military List of Rhode Island, 1647–1850, 3 vols. (Providence, R.I.: Preston and Rounds, 1900–07), with a full index published in the last volume. Unfortunately, only officers are included for the Revolutionary War. George M. Bodge’s Soldiers of King Philip’s War (1906; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1976) deals with all of New England. However, Rhode Island was heavily involved in all of the colonial wars since it depended so heavily on sea trade with England and other European countries. Rhode Island State Archives material concerning the colonial wars is published by the Rhode Island Historical Society in Providence in three volumes by Howard M. Chapin, Rhode Island in the Colonial Wars: A List of Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors in King George’s War, 1740–48; Rhode Island Privateers in King George’s War, 1739–48; and Rhode Island Soldiers and Sailors in the Old French and Indian War, 1755–62.

In a more complete form than Smith’s, revolutionary records appear in volume 12 of Arnold and in Benjamin Cowell’s Spirit of ’76 in Rhode Island (1850; reprint, Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1973). In addition, Mildred M. Chamberlain’s The Rhode Island 1777 Military Census (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Co., 1985) lists men in age categories 16–50, 50–60, and over 60, and whether they were able for service. But, since Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport were occupied by the British at the time, no returns exist for those towns. Those for Exeter, Little Compton, and New Shoreham appear to be lost. A card file at the Rhode Island State Archives indexes men who served in the Revolution.

Adjutant General’s Office records before 1865 are now located at the Rhode Island State Archives, although the report entitled Annual Report...for the Year 1865, Official Register, Rhode Island Officers and Enlisted Men, U.S. Army and Navy, 2 vols. (Providence, R.I.: State Printer, 1893–95), is usually available in research libraries with New England collections and is the official register for the Civil War.

Military records for service from the Civil War through World War I can be obtained from the Adjutant General’s Office, 1051 N. Main St., Providence, RI 02904.

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