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Drawn portrait of Christopher Greene

Christopher Greene

This fighting Quaker met a grisly death leading an integrated unit that promised freedom to enslaved soldiers.

A life given for the patriot cause

On May 14, 1781 Christopher Greene's body lay bloodied and mangled. The 43-year old colonel had fallen at the hands of De Lancey's New York Volunteers—loyalists fighting for the crown. Later reports of the state of Greene's remains seemed to suggest that he was attacked with particular antagonism for having led an integrated unit. Just months later, the Rhode Island Regiment would serve with Washington's allied army at Yorktown, Virginia and witness the British army surrender.

Christopher Greene came from a long line of New England stock, a descendent of early settler Roger Williams. After the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, Christopher joined the patriot army surrounding Boston. Shortly after volunteering for Colonel Benedict Arnold's Canadian expedition, Greene received a promotion to lieutenant colonel.

A map showing the patriot assault on Quebec

Early battles and capture

Greene participated in the assault on Quebec, resulting in his capture on New Year's Eve 1775.

An illustrated map showing the Philadelphia Campaign of th American Revolution

He remained a prisoner of war until his release in August 1777. Promoted to colonel, he quickly rejoined the Continental Army during the Philadelphia Campaign and subsequently took command of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment.

An illustrated map showing the location of Fort Mercer on the Delaware River

While defending Fort Mercer on the Delaware River, Greene stood defiant against approaching British forces demanding his surrender.

Warned that no quarter would be granted if he refused, Greene replied, "this fort shall be my tomb." The 1st Rhode Island successfully defended the fort against the British, inflicting heavy losses.

Enlistment of enslaved men

Casualties in the battles that closed out 1777 depleted the Rhode Island Line. Needing more soldiers, General James Varnum petitioned Washington to allow enslaved men to enlist, which he reluctantly approved. Enslaved men mustered into the 1st Rhode Island Regiment under Greene's command. The new enlistees received their freedom after their owners were compensated. But despite the new source of manpower, Rhode Island's slave population was relatively low.

An illustrated map showing the location of the battle of Rhode Island.

Though they were not at full strength, the 1st Rhode Island Regiment participated in the Battle of in August 1778.

An illustrated map showing the location of Greene's encampment near Peekskill, New York.

In early February 1781 the 1st and 2nd Rhode Island Regiments were consolidated into a single Rhode Island Regiment. The reorganized unit contained two companies of Black soldiers. That spring, Greene and his soldiers found themselves encamped near Peekskill, New York with the primary responsibility of picketing the Continental lines.

Illustration of Christopher Greene under attack.

Death at the hands of loyalists

It was early on the morning on May 14 when elements of De Lancey's Volunteers struck Greene's outpost at Pines Bridge, New York. The ensuing fight brought disaster to the Continentals, with many of them taken prisoner. Greene, however, lay among the dead, unable to fend off a number of bayonet attacks in fierce hand-to-hand combat.

Image: Death of Christopher Greene; Dale Watson

The Legacy of Christopher Greene

Colonel Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee lamented Greene's loss in his memoirs:

"Here the gallant veteran singly received them with his drawn sword", he wrote. "Several fell beneath the arm accustomed to conquer, till at length overpowered by numbers, and faint from the loss of blood streaming from his wounds, barbarity triumphed over valor."

Greene was interred in the nearby Yorktown Presbyterian Cemetery, while the Rhode Island Regiment eventually marched to face the British at another Yorktown. His grave remained unmarked until a monument was placed there by the state of the New York in 1900. He shares a resting place with Major Ebeneezer Flagg who was also killed at Pines Bridge, as well as Lieutenant Abraham Dyckman, who died of wounds received in 1782, also by De Lancey's Volunteers.

In 2018, Yorktown dedicated a new monument to the memory of Greene and his fellow soldiers who fought and lost their lives at the Pines Bridge. The monument features three figures—an African American, a Native American, and a man of European descent—representing the diversity of those who fought there.

Themes of the period
Modern-day Legacy

Pines Bridge Monument: Yorktown, NY

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