Peleg Arnold - The Rare Rhode Island Federalist

Peleg Arnold - The Rare Rhode Island Federalist

Peleg Arnold was a leader of Rhode Island during the American Revolution.

Peleg Arnold Tavern became a militia headquarters and, after the war, Arnold became Chief Justice of the Rhode Island Supreme Court.


Peleg Arnold

After attending Brown University, Peleg Arnold opened a tavern.

Although his primary occupation was as a lawyer, the Peleg Arnold Tavern became an important meeting place in Smithfield, Rhode Island. In fact, as the American Revolutionary War began, Arnold’s tavern became the de facto headquarters for the Smithfield rebels.

By 1777, Arnold had been elected to the Rhode Island General Assembly. He spent the war assisting the Militia and helping to create the State Government.



After serving in the Continental Congress, Peleg Arnold became one of the few Rhode Islanders who actively supported the Constitution. This stance made him unique as Rhode Island sent no delegates to the Constitutional Convention and would not join the Union until almost two years into President Washington’s first term.

Despite holding an unpopular opinion in his State, Arnold’s star continued to rise.

Although he ran unsuccessfully for the US House of Representatives, Peleg was chosen as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island. He would continue in the highest judicial post in his State for the next seventeen years.



Arnold had advocated to let slaves fight for the Continental Army in exchange for their freedom during the Revolutionary War. He continued this fight by forming the Providence Society for the Abolition of Slavery.

Although slavery had already been abolished in his State, several merchants who were based in Rhode Island still trafficked humans. The Providence Society aimed to find ways to enforce the laws on these ships.

Additionally, the Providence Society promoted abolition in other States as well as other parts of the world.


Public Servant

During his later years, Peleg Arnold served his community directly in several important ways.

In 1803, he opened the Smithfield Union Bank. The first bank in the area, Arnold, as President, operated this organization from his Tavern.

Just a few years later, Peleg was a founding member and first President of the Smithfield Academy. This educational institution was a preparatory school which helped educate the future leaders of America before they went off to college.

To read further on some of Arnold’s Rhode Island contemporaries, check out my articles on John Collins and Samuel Ward.

If you would like to learn more about Rhode Island during the American Revolution, I suggest you pick up ‘The Rhode Island Campaign’ through the affiliate link below. It focuses on the military history of the time but it sheds light on the place in which Arnold was living.

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