Nathanael Greene

Continental Army Commander


Engraving of Nathanael Greene
(Credit: The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Rhode Island, 1881)

Nathanael Greene of Rhode Island was known as “the Fighting Quaker” because he chose the military life over the anti-war Quaker religion of his minister father. Before that he was a blacksmith and managed his father’s mill. He owned at least one ship that tried to evade British monopolies, which a British revenue boat, the Gaspee, was chasing at Newport in 1772 when it was grounded and then burned by locals. (Greene’s boat was carrying rum, part of the slave trade.) In 1774 he raised a company of Rhode Island militia, who voted someone else captain, perhaps discriminating against his limp from a childhood incident.[1] His skill won out, however, and he quickly rose from private to major general in charge of the state forces. Greene was in command of Continental troops at the Siege of Boston when Gen. George Washington arrived to take over. They became lifelong friends. Greene led troops in various northern battles, crossed the Delaware with Washington, and helped supply the army at Valley Forge (Penn.) as Quartermaster-General. Washington’s recommendation put him in charge of southern forces after a series of failures by previous commanders appointed by the Continental Congress. Greene took formal command in Charlotte in late 1780. He devised a strategy of dividing the army to split the British, masterminded the Race to the Dan, and drew the British into attacking on ground of his choosing at the Battle of Guilford Court House. Though he retreated from the field, the British were so weakened they had to withdraw to Wilmington, which buoyed Patriot spirits. After that his army restored American control over the states to the south. Greene gave away much of his money and his home to support the war effort, so the State of Georgia provided him a plantation outside of Savannah after the war. He died of sunstroke in 1786, only 44 years old.

More Information

[1] Pancake 1985.

White capy saying, "My other hat is a" and showing a tricorn hat
Mug with an African-American soldier and the words, "Fighting for Freedom."