A balance of calamities and good fortune
One of the major developments in the village came when the men of Pawtuxet, on October 29, 1774, obtained a charter from the R.I. Assembly and organized the Pawtuxet Rangers. The militiamen elected Samuel Aborn as their captain. Other Pawtuxet men in the militia unit included Benjamin Arnold and Rhodes Arnold as lieutenants and Stephen Greene as ensign. Horace Belcher tells us that "At least half the membership bore the family names Aborn, Arnold, Rhodes and Smith".
Obviously, victory and independence did not come easily. The eight long years from the time of the beginning of hostilities in 1775 to the final victory in 1783, meant a great deal of suffering and hardship for Pawtuxet and Warwick. With the exception of three battles, Rhode Island troops fought in every major action of the war.
In 1775, the British naval commander in Narragansett Bay, Capt. James Wallace, brought fear to the hearts of the residents of Warwick and Providence. Wallace threatened an attack on Providence and sent a fleet to the upper part of Narragansett Bay. He stopped near Conimicut Point and pillaged the area around Warwick Neck, stealing a large number of livestock. In October, Wallace ordered the bombardment of Bristol. Following this a fort was erected at Pawtuxet known during this early period as Fort Cranston Neck, Fort Pawtuxet Neck, and eventually Fort Neck. It was built on land owned by Captain Thomas Remington and was hastily manned with a company of 50 men.
The Continental Navy
In December, 1775, the Continental Congress created a Continental Navy and Rhode Islander, Esek Hopkins, was appointed as commander-in-chief. A number of Pawtuxet seamen familiar with Warwick ports were given commands. Among these, Abraham Whipple and John B. Hopkins were named as captains and Rhodes Arnold was commissioned as a first lieutenant.
For a short while in the spring of 1776, the calamities of war seemed to be balanced by good fortune in Rhode Island. It was not uncommon in many Warwick families to see father and son, uncles, and even grandfathers taking some part in the military actions of the period. In Pawtuxet this was especially true of the Greene, Arnold, and Rhodes families. As nearly all Warwick men had some experience with the sea, many volunteered to serve with Whipple and Hopkins in the fledgling Continental Navy. Some Pawtuxet men, however, preferred the more lucrative service of "privateering" than service in the Continental Navy. This method of warfare, regarded by many as legalized piracy, had long been a favored enterprise in the colony. John Brown of Providence became famous, if not notorious, for his part, and Warwick's Greene, Rhodes, and Aborn families played leading roles.
While R.I. was busily engaged in building defenses and celebrating the victories of Esek Hopkins's voyage to Nassau, Narragansett Bay was temporarily free of British ships. Realizing this, Rhode Island chose this time to issue what is generally regarded as the R. 1. Declaration of Independence on May 4th, 1776. This came two months before the general Declaration of the United Colonies on the fourth of July.
On Dec. 3rd, the British entered Rhode Island waters with seven ships of the line, four frigates, and seventy transports with six thousand troops aboard. On Dec. 8, 1776, the King's army landed in Middletown, and, R.I. historian S. G. Arnold tells us, "after a night of pillage, the next morning marched into Newport." Within a few days, officials in neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut, realizing the danger to the mainland of Rhode Island and to their states, sent help to contain the British in Newport. Some of these neighboring troops were assigned to defend the fort at Pawtuxet Neck.
The fort at Pawtuxet was manned by the Pawtuxet Rangers who are officially ranked in the state militia as the Second Independent Company of the County of Kent. At that time they numbered 50. The commander of the militia unit was Samuel Aborn, one of the leading citizens of the village and the "host at the Golden Ball Inn, on Post Road, at the western end of the village." Aborn two years earlier, in his small sloop, Sally, had taken the anchors, guns, stores, and other effects from the Gaspee to Pawtuxet. Aborn remained the Rangers ' commander throughout the struggle for independence. His officers were First Lieut. Benjamin Arnold, Second Lieut. Rhodes Arnold and Ensign Stephen Greene.
Captain Aborn’s experiences during the war serve to remind us of the bitterness and the tragedy of the time. Very early in the struggle, his sloop. Sally, was captured by the British, causing him serious financial hardship. Later, his young son, a boy of 14, joined the Continental Army. Boys at that young age were anxious to take part in the war and often served as drummer-boys. Young Aborn, at the special request of Gen. Nathanael Greene, was granted permission to return home because of ill health. Belcher tells us it was too late as "the boy came home only to die".
The fort, with its small watch house, became the responsibility of the Rangers who not only took part in building it, but also manned it during the early months of 1777. The Rangers at this time were more than armed villagers, as each man furnished his own musket and equipment. Officers studied military drill and tactics and provided additional supplies and equipment. Most of the Rangers carried out their business in the village, subject to call when needed.
Pawtuxet Village plays host to the Gaspee Day parade. Thousands of spectators eagerly await the volley by the Newport Artillery Company that signals the beginning of the parade.
(pg. 46—City at Crossroads. )