Nathanael Greene: Quaker Turned Military Genius




On this July 4th weekend, we like to remember notable persons who helped a fledgling populace accomplish a gargantuan task: breaking loose from a mother country which had a strong military.


What does a peace-loving Quaker do when a powerful nation threatens his way of life? That was the issue faced by Nathanael Greene over 200 years ago.


Greene was born in 1792 to a devout Quaker family whose ancestors helped establish the colony of Rhode Island. Young Nathanael loved to read, and that’s what changed the direction in his life.


It wasn’t that the Quakers disapproved of reading; actually, they encouraged it. It was the topics Nate read which troubled them. This young man chose to supplement his scanty formal education by reading books on military science. And when he attended a military parade and supported armed rebellion against England in the War for American Independence—well, that was going too far. He was expelled from the Quaker church.


This twist of fate proved fortunate for the colonies. General George Washington sought a wise, dedicated, and responsible man he could trust to carry out orders. Greene was that man.


When this former Quaker heard about the battles of Lexington and Concord, he sped to Boston to render his services. And when the Rhode Island legislature ordered 1,600 men for military service, they appointed 34-year-old Greene as Major-General.


During the war, a plot took place. Self-seeking officers tried to divest General Washington of his rank and were joined by some supporters in Congress. Greene stood by his commander. His loyalty won greater support from loyal officers, members of Congress, and the public. Eventually the conspiracy was abandoned, and Washington remained commander in chief of the Continental Army.


Greene became Washington’s right-hand-man in much of the War for Independence. He served for a time as commander of West Point after the army discovered Benedict Arnold’s plot to hand over the military academy to the British.


One of the most challenging decisions this veteran faced, however, was temporarily giving up his position as military strategist to filling a humble role requested by General Washington.

Conditions at Valley Forge were deplorable. Soldiers lacked food, clothing, and shelter. Since Greene had established a reputation for speed and efficiency, Washington asked him to serve as Quartermaster for the encampment. This temporarily demoted officer contacted equipment manufacturers and hired transportation teams. Soon he had the Quartermaster department reorganized and improved.


Returning to his military command, Greene became instrumental in evading the British and eventually driving them out of the Carolinas.


Grateful Americans rewarded this military genius with a plantation in the South, where he retired with his wife and six children to a life of peace and tranquility. He named his plantation on the Savannah River “Mulberry Grove.”


Historians rightly recorded that the Quaker-turned-military hero, stood next to General Washington in service to his country.


Diligent. Efficient. Sometimes called the strategist of the War for Independence, Greene serves as a role model for anyone today seeking to develop outstanding character.


What about you? Any thoughts on military heroes? You can comment below.