Nathanael Greene: Quaker Turned Military Hero


What does a peace-loving Quaker do when an outside nation threatens his way of life? That was the issue faced by Nathanael Greene nearly 250 years ago.


Greene was born to a devout Quaker family in 1742, whose ancestors helped establish the colony of Rhode Island. Young Nathanael loved to read, and that’s what caused a change of 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. He chose to make up for 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 when General George Washington sought a wise, dedicated and responsible men he could trust to carry out orders.


When Greene 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.


A plot took place during the war in which self-seeking officers tried to divest General Washington of his rank. They were joined by some supporters in Congress. Greene stood by his commander, however, and his loyalty helped win greater support from loyal officers, members of Congress and the general 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 Westpoint after the army discovered Benedict Arnold’s plot to hand over Westpoint to the British.


One of the most challenging decisions this veteran faced, however, was temporarily giving up his position as military strategist in order to fulfill a difficult request from General Washington.


Conditions at Valley Forge were deplorable. Soldiers lacked food, clothing and shelter. Since Greene had established a reputation for speed and efficiency in whatever he undertook, Washington asked him to serve as Quartermaster for the encampment. His job was to make sure soldiers had what they needed. Greene 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” and raised several varieties of produce. After a business trip to Savannah, however, Greene became ill and died within a week. Historians rightly recorded that the Quaker-turned-military genius, stood next to General Washington in service to his country.


Diligent. Efficient. Sometimes called the strategist of the War for Independence, Greene served as a role model for today’s veterans.


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