Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.



By Judy Leithe, Contributing Editor 

The Society of Friends began in England in the 1650's.  More familiarly known as Quakers, they believe that there is something of God in everybody.  Therefore, as pacifists, they are opposed to war.  

Born into a Rhode Island Quaker Family, Nathaniel Greene (1742-1786) received a good education in reading, writing and business math.  His father, as a  member of the Friends of the Society, was also a successful businessman.  However, the younger Greene seemed to have other interests and, to support his appetite for reading, began making toys to sell to support his love of books.  A major area of interest was learning as such as he could about military strategy. 

As relations between England and the Colonies worsened, and, after one of his father's merchant ships was captured by the British Navy, Greene took steps to prepare a defense against the Crown's aggressions.  He and other men from East Greenwich formed a militia company.  In 1775, the Assembly of Rhode Island established an Army of Observation for which the thirty-three-year-old Greene was given the rank of General of the state troops, even though he had no prior experience as an army commander. 

It was later that year that Greene was introduced to General Washington as preparations were being made for the Battle of Bunker Hill.  Within a year, Washington was so impressed with Greene that he considered Greene as the most capable of his generals, even naming him best suited to succeed him in case of his own death or capture. 

When the Continental Army moved into New York, in April of 1776, Greene was in command of Long Island.  He was promoted to Major General, and was also put in charge of the Brooklyn defenses.  His military record was not without mishap, however, as he was hoping for another Bunker Hill victory when he recommended that the army hold Fort Washington.  Badly outnumbered and outgunned by the British, three thousand American men fell in a battle lasting only a couple of hours. 

Major General Greene participated in every battle across New Jersey, including  Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, and Germantown.  He was then given the Southern Command, where in 1781 in North Carolina, he faced the famed General Charles Cornwallis and his the British troops at the Battle of Guilford Courthouse.  Cornwallis caused Greene to finally retreat, but at great cost to the British army.  The British suffered a casualty rate of twenty-seven percent of their troops, while the Americans lost only six percent of their forces.  Cornwallis' army had been significantly damaged, and this would contribute to his surrender at Yorktown later that year. 

After the war, Greene moved his family to Savannah, Georgia, where he attempted to settle down.  The years at war strained the finances of the Greene family.  He was forced to sell off portions of his land to remain solvent.  Probably due to these stresses, as well as the exertions of war, Nathaniel Greene died from a stroke on the 19th of June 1786, at he age of forty-four. 

A grateful nation has sought to honor Nathaniel Greene with numerous bronze equestrian statues throughout the south, in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum, and in Washington D.C.  The U.S. Armed Forces have named multiple sea crafts after Greene: An Army cargo ship (1904); Four Coast Guard revenuecutters; A Liberty-class steam merchant ship (1942); The Navy's nuclear submarine, U.S.S. Nathaniel Greene (decommissioned in 1986); and an Army tug (still in service); The city of Greensboro, North Carolina, and numerous southern city parks have been named after this American Revolutionary War hero.