Historic Museum and Armory in East Greenwich, RI

September Speaker: John Duchesneau, "Fort Adams: A History"

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fort Adams has a rich and illustrious history as defender of Narragansett Bay. On the shores of Newport, Rhode Island, the fort was named for the nation's second president, John Adams. Humbly beginning as an earthwork in 1776, it remained an active fort until its permanent closure in 1950. Fort Adams stood guard during the American Revolutionary War, Mexican-American War, Civil War and Spanish-American War, as well as World Wars I and II. Now a state park, Fort Adams is fully restored to its former glory of days past. In Fort Adams: A History, authors John T. Duchesneau and Kathleen Troost-Cramer explore the history of the most notable commanding officers of the fort, the changing role of women within the Fort Adams community, and the legacy left behind by the families who called the fort home.

About the speaker: Newport resident John Duchesneau has worked, off and on, as a tour guide at Fort Adams since 1995. His interest in military history started in childhood, and he has visited almost all of the coast defense forts in the northeastern United States, as well as a few in the south, and several notable fortifications in Europe including the citadel at Lille, France, and the Petrovaradin Fortress in Serbia.  He is a graduate of Rhode Island College and has a master's degree in Political Science from the University of Rhode Island.  He is a master sergeant in the Rhode Island National Guard and has served on four overseas deployments including two to Iraq and one each to Hungary and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  He is the Sergeant Major of the Newport Artillery Company, 1st Vice President of the Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Commander of the Rhode Island Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.  His is also active in several other hereditary and veterans organizations.


RSVP … Social hour begins at 5:45, followed by STEAK FRY at 6:30 p.m. (Fee is $15.) Please RSVP to Sue Hawksley at 401/732-9805 or by email at shawksley@aol.com by Friday, September 5.

This event is only open to Varnum Continental members. If you would like to join the Varnum Continentals ($35/year), please visit this link.

Upcoming Events

October 13: Varnum Continentals Annual Meeting. Election of Officers for 2014-2015. Speaker TBA. "Bring-a-friend-night." Varnum President Chris Feisthamel encourages all members to bring a friend to the October meeting. With so much to offer – a lively social hour, informative and engaging speakers, great steaks, and of course, the Armory and its collections – let's show friends and acquaintances what the Varnum organization is all about.

November 10: Varnum Members Meeting and steak fry. Speaker: Ron Barnes.

November 11: Veterans Day. The Varnum Continentals, RIM, will be marching in the East Greenwich Veterans Day Parade on Main Street. Not a uniformed member? No problem … we invite you to march with us in the "Veterans Corp." Look for more details next month.

December 8: Varnum Members Meeting and Steak Fry (speaker TBA).

Varnum News goes virtual … Beginning with the October issue, we will no longer be printing and mailing hard copies of Varnum News. The newsletter will be delivered by email only. If you do not have access to email, please notify us (401/884-4110) and we will make other arrangements.

Dues reminder … Annual dues notices will be going out soon. Renewals are due October 1 for the 2014 – 2015 membership year. We thank you in advance for your continued support.

Historic East Greenwich Hill & Harbor Scenes!

As part of our Art at the Armory Exhibit earlier this season, the Varnum Continentals released archival fine art reproductions of two beloved paintings from the Varnum House Museum collection. The original oil paintings from which the fine art prints were created were painted ca. 1860 by Dr. Daniel Howland Greene, physician, local historian, and artist. Greene wrote the History of the Town of East Greenwich and Adjacent Territory: From 1677 to 1877.


These fine art prints, on canvas, will be available at Greenwich Gallery (B&H Framing), at 514 Main Street, East Greenwich. The prints are available in two sizes: 16 X 20 and 24 X 30 and may be purchased stretched and ready-to-frame or rolled in a tube, suitable for shipping. Prices range from $125 to $250. Each comes with a certificate of authenticity.

To purchase your print, please visit Greenwich Gallery or call John Adams at 508/735-4283 or

Proceeds from the sale of these prints will help with the cleaning and restoration of artwork in the collections of the Varnum Memorial Armory and Varnum House Museums.

The Gravestone in the Armory Basement

By Varnum Member & Trustee Brian Wallin

Attached to one of the doors to the Mess Hall in the Armory basement is the tombstone of Revolutionary War hero Captain Thomas Cole of North Kingstown. The stone wound up in our possession thanks to the generosity of the Sons of the American Revolution who spearheaded an effort a few years ago to replace the broken stone with a new grave marker for Cole's final resting place in Elm Grove Cemetery on Tower Hill Road.

Cole's family roots in America have been traced back to 1630 when his great-great-grandfather, Samuel, came to Boston with John Winthrop. Samuel's son John married Susannah, daughter of the famous Anne Hutchinson. They came to North Kingstown (or Updike's New Towne) and established a farm on 600 acres along Boston Neck Road.

Two generations later, Thomas Cole was baptized in the Old Narragansett Church in Wickford on August 2, 1744. Little is known about his upbringing and early adult life. Town records, though, indicate he was earning his living as a house carpenter. (He was down the line in succession to inherit
the family farm and so turned to another occupation.) He purchased property in Wickford in May of 1775 shortly after the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

An early rendering of Old Narragansett Church, Wickford, Rhode Island.

Like most men of the time, Cole was also a member of the local militia and in June of that year, he was sworn in as a Lieutenant of the 12th Continentals, commanded by none other than General James Mitchell Varnum.

Cole joined his fellow militiamen at the Siege of Boston. Six months later he was promoted to Captain and became a company commander under Colonel Christopher Greene in the newly formed 1st Rhode Island regiment. He fought with other Rhode Islanders in New York and New Jersey and wintered over in 1777-78 at Valley Forge. Shortly after, Cole returned to Rhode Island and then, as second in command under Colonel Greene, joined in raising a battalion of slaves at the behest of the State Assembly. The unit welcomed enlistment of "every able bodied Negro, mulatto and Indian slave." As a reward for their service, at the end of the war, they would be given their freedom.

The 1st Rhode Island Regiment became known as "The Black Regiment" and served with distinction against the British occupiers in Newport. In 1780, the unit was merged with the 2nd Regiment and sent into battle in New York State. As an officer in the combined unit, Cole participated in the Yorktown Campaign in 1781 that led to the surrender of Cornwallis in October.

In May of the following year, Cole resigned to return to civilian life in Rhode Island. During his seven years of military service, he earned nine battle stars and was inducted as a charter member of the Society of the Cincinnati. According to the SAR, his great-great-great-great-grandnephew, Richmond Viall III, holds the family's hereditary membership in the Society.

Captain Thomas Cole's gravestone on display at the Varnum Armory.

Goodbye, Saratoga

The decommissioned aircraft carrier USS Saratoga left Newport, Rhode Island, on her final voyage in mid-August.

The Saratoga, a part of the Navy's carrier fleet from 1956 to 1994, fell into disrepair after her decommissioning. Attempts to restore the carrier as a museum were, sadly, not successful. The Saratoga is being scrapped in Texas.

An important piece of history, the Saratoga will be gone but certainly not forgotten.


Varnum Continentals Membership Calendar

-- Monday, September 1, 2014 -- Executive Committee Meeting

-- Monday, September 8, 2014 -- Steak Fry/Member Meeting

-- Monday, October 6, 2014 -- Executive Committee Meeting

-- Monday, October 13, 2014 -- Varnum Continentals Annual Meeting


Varnum House Museum (1773), 57 Peirce Street, East Greenwich, RI 02818-3338
Varnum Memorial Armory, 6 Main Street, East Greenwich, RI 02818-3827
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