Christopher Lippitt’s Legacy

By Sam Gentile

Located in the National Guard Memorial Museum is a Mobilization Order, written by Captain Edward Knight, ordering Corporal James Briggs and the 3rd Company of Cranston Rhode Island’s militia to appear at Christopher Lippitt’s home the next day. But who is Christopher Lippitt and why was his name mentioned in the mobilization order?

Cpl. James Briggs Militia Mobilization Order
(Courtesy of NGEF Collection)

Christopher Lippitt was born October 28th, 1744, in Cranston. There isn’t much information on his early years, but that soon changes when Christopher turned 21. He was elected to the Rhode Island General Assembly and shortly after turning 22, he was made captain of a militia company and Justice of Peace.

The American Revolution began on April 19th, 1775, when colonists, like Lippitt, took up arms against the British at the battles of Lexington and Concord. The next day, Capt. Edward Knight issued the Militia Mobilization Order to Cpl. James Briggs and Cranston’s 3rd Company of militia gathered at Christopher Lippitt’s farm. There, the enlisted men in the company awaited orders from their superior officers.

We can assume that Knight ordered Briggs and his men to Lippitt’s farm because it spread over 110 acres – giving the company plenty of room for preparation and organization. While some men from Rhode Island did participate in the Battle of Bunker Hill, it does not appear that Lippitt or Briggs did. Their company probably stood down soon after gathering at Lippitt’s farm.

Christopher Lippitt’s Home on Lippitt Hill in Cranston, Rhode Island.
(Courtesy of Elizabeth S. Warren, Principal Historic Preservation Specialist)

Later in 1775, Lippitt was appointed Lieutenant Colonel of a militia regiment then he was then appointed Lt. Col. of a regiment of Minutemen – volunteers ready for service at a minute’s notice. Minutemen were the first line of defense, before a militia, a military force raised from the civilian population. In January 1776, he was appointed Lt. Col. in Henry Babcock’s Regiment of infantry to be raised for one year’s service.

Within a few months, Lippitt took command of the regiment when Babcock was deemed insane. Babcock’s father Dr. Joshua Babcock wrote to Governor Nicholas Cooke, his son’s “Drinking anything strong is pernicious. Anxiety for success of the Service, added to a bad Habit of Body with sleepless Nights destroyed his Flesh. He is mere Skeleton.”

Colonel Henry “Harry” Babcock by Joseph Blackburn
(Courtesy of Frick Photoarchive)

On May 11th, 1776, the regiment was incorporated into the Eastern Department of the Continental Army and stationed at Newport, Rhode Island. In September, as the British threatened New York City, Lippitt’s regiment was sent there to join the main Continental Army.

Lippitt’s regiment was involved in some of the most pivotal battles of the war. They were present during the Battle of Long Island, which resulted in the British capturing New York City. They also participated in the Battles of Trenton and Princeton, which inspired patriotism and proved that the colonies could defeat the British.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze
(Courtesy of Fine Art America)

Decades later, another member of the regiment recalled the battle of Trenton. Private John Howland remembered Lippitt’s regiment was on the south side of the Assunpink Creek that enters Delaware. Soon, Howland and the rest of his brigade were given orders, “…to cross the bridge and march through the main town street, to cover the retreat of the artillery and picket, into and through the north end of town.” The British attempted to gain control of the bridge but were unsuccessful.

Lastly, Lippitt’s Regiment was involved in the Battle of Princeton where they carefully approached and defeated the British, taking in their goods as well as some prisoners, which increased patriot morale and encouraged recruitment. The regiment was demobilized January 18th, 1777, and returned to Rhode Island.

Washington Leading the Battle of Princeton
 (Courtesy of Library of Congress)

Lippitt continued his service in the military as a Brigadier General in Rhode Island’s militia until 1783. That same year, Lippitt was elected to the Rhode Island General Assembly and appointed Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court. His service in the Supreme Court was cut short in its fourth year because he supported ratification of the Constitution. “Being a zealous advocate for the adoption of the Constitution of the United States I was cried down,” he recalled. At this time, many in the state were against ratification – they wanted to be isolated from the Union. Rhode Island feared federal taxes and the new government structure. On May 18th, 1790, Rhode Island ratified the Constitution after the US Senate threatened to ban all trade with the state.

After Lippitt left the Supreme Court, he, and his brother Charles along with other investors raised $40,000 to begin a cotton textile farm named Lippitt Mill. In 1805, Charles and Christopher Lippitt Jr. incorporated the Lippitt Manufacturing Company in West Warwick, a twenty-minute drive from Cranston, where his service in the American Revolution began.

Christopher Lippitt lived an extraordinary life, serving in the Rhode Island General Assembly, the American Revolution, the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and establishing a textile business. His actions during the American Revolution launched his status and his family’s legacy in Rhode Island. Four Rhode Island governors descend from Lippitt: Charles W. Lippitt, Henry Lippitt, John Chafee, and Lincoln Chafee.