The Newport Artillery Company of Newport, Rhode Island was chartered in 1741 by the Rhode Island General Assembly during the reign of King George II of Great Britain. It is the oldest military unit in the United States operating under its original charter, and the company maintains a museum in its historic armory. The Company has served in wars ranging from the French and Indian War to the First World War. Individual members of the Company have served in every war fought by the United States.
==History of Organization==
After receiving its charter from King George II in 1741, the Artillery unit served in the French and Indian War and was led by elite members of the community. During the American Revolution the British Army occupied Newport for almost three years starting in December 1776. As the members of the Company had divided loyalties, the company became inactive until 1792 when Francis Malbone, who was elected to Congress the same year, asked the Rhode Island General Assembly to recognize the validity of the Company’s 1741 charter. The Assembly found no reason that the charter was invalid and Malbone was elected captain (i.e. commanding officer) of the Company.
Members of the company followed Newport native Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry to Put-in-Bay, Ohio and fought at the Battle of Lake Erie in September 1813.
In 1814, during the War of 1812, the Company was activated and garrisoned Fort Greene in the Point section of Newport. The company was inactivated when the Treaty of Ghent, which ended the war, was signed in early 1815.
During the American Civil War, the Company was mustered in as Company F of the 1st Rhode Island Infantry (a.k.a. 1st Rhode Island Detached Militia) in April 1861 under the command of Captain (later Brevet Brigadier General) George W. Tew. It fought at the Battle of Bull Run in July and was mustered out of Federal service in August. Later in the war, it was activated to provide the guard force at the newly established Lovell General Hospital at Portsmouth Grove, a few miles north of Newport.
During the Spanish-American War the Company was activated for one week and received training on coast defense guns at Fort Adams so the Company could supplement the fort’s garrison in the event Newport was attacked. A number of members of the Company enlisted in the 1st Rhode Island Volunteer Infantry Regiment which served stateside from 1898 to 1899.
The Dick Act of 1903 required that state militia units, in order to receive Federal funding and equipment, would have to conform to Federal military regulations in order to be integrated in the National Guard. The Newport Artillery Company, along with several other Rhode Island Militia units, decided to retain the privilege under their charter of electing their own officers and voted not to become a unit of the Rhode Island National Guard.
As the Company was not part of the National Guard it was not called into Federal service during the First World War. It was, however, called into state service and guarded a railroad bridge connecting the towns of Portsmouth and Tiverton from April to June 1917.
After the First World War, the Company entered a period of slow decline and was not activated during the Second World War. It was rejuvenated in the early 1960s under the leadership of tobacco heir, and Newport resident, Louis Lorillard. Outfitted with Colonial style uniforms and using original cannons, cast by Paul Revere in 1798, the Company began to participate in many military and historic events. During the Bicentennial celebrations in the mid-1970s the Company played a prominent role in many events which included serving as the honor guard to Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Newport in July 1976.
The Newport Artillery is a unit of the Chartered Commands of the Rhode Island Militia, of which it is the senior unit. It officers are elected by its members and commissioned by the Governor of Rhode Island. It is also a member of the Centennial Legion of Historic Military Commands, which is composed of military organizations pre-dating 1876. It is currently very active and participates in many ceremonial events each year.
==Armory Building and Museum==
The Company’s stone and brick armory building, located at 23 Clarke Street in Newport, was constructed in 1835 at in the Greek Revival style. In the late 1800s, the armory was extended about 50 feet west and in 1906 it was heavily damaged by a fire. When the armory was rebuilt that same year, the second story was added.
The armory houses a museum which features an extensive collection of military uniforms from over 50 different nations. The museum features the uniforms of prominent individuals such as General Colin Powell, General William Westmoreland, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Colonel Katherine Amelia Towle, President Anwar Sadat, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, King Hussein of Jordan and HRH Prince Phillip.
The museum also contains several artillery pieces including four bronze cannons cast for the state of Rhode Island by Paul Revere in 1798 and a portrait of President George Washington by Jane Stuart (daughter of Gilbert Stuart). A letter from President Washington to the Newport Artillery Company is currently on display at the Museum of Newport History.
The Newport Artillery’s armory was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.