The Revolutionary War closed the college from December 1776 until September 1782. When British and Hessian troops under Sir Peter Parker landed in Newport on December 7, 1776, President Manning wrote, “This brought their Camp in plain View from the College with the naked Eye; upon which the Country flew to Arms & marched for Providence, there, unprovided with Barracks they marched into the College & dispossessed the Students, about 40 in Number.” Manning notified the students that they might return home until the end of the spring vacation. On May 17, 1777, another notice in the Providence Gazette, announced that, there being no hope of reopening the College, students were advised to continue their studies elsewhere and seniors might report to the College for examinations and graduation. On September 3, seven bachelor’s degrees were conferred. In April 1780 the troops left the College Edifice and the Corporation announced the reopening of the College on May 10. Before that time, however, a letter arrived from Governor Greene, stating that the building was now needed for a hospital for French soldiers. The edifice was seized on Sunday, June 25, while Manning was preaching in town, and was occupied by the French for nearly two years.
Four of the seven graduates in the first class to graduate in 1769 served during the Revolution. William Rogers, the first student, was the chaplain of Miles’s Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment, and later a brigade chaplain in the Continental army. Richard Stites, the second student, was a captain in Heard’s brigade, General Nathanael Greene’s division of the Continental Line. He died of wounds received during the battle of Long Island on August 27, 1776, the first Brown graduate to die in military service. Charles Thompson was the chaplain of Colonel Greene’s battalion. On May 25, 1778, while he was home on a visit to Warren, he was captured by British troops and confined in a guard-ship at Newport for a month. James Mitchell Varnum, whose part in the Commencement dispute in 1769 had been that America could not subsist independent of Britain, became Colonel of the “Kentish Guards” of East Greenwich, and later Colonel of the First Rhode Island Infantry and Colonel of the Ninth Continental Infantry. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general in February of 1777. Solomon Drowne 1773, Philip Padelford 1773, Barnabas Binney 1774, Pardon Bowen 1775, and Levi Wheaton 1782 all served as surgeons. Ebenezer David 1772 was a chaplain in Colonel Varnum’s regiment and died after his discharge in 1778. Esek Hopkins 1775, son of the admiral, was master of a privateer which captured the British ship “Westermoreland” in August 1776. He was taken prisoner and said to have died in Halifax in 1777. While the College was closed, the College Library was sent for safe-keeping to the home of William Williams 1769 in Wrentham, Massachusetts. At its first meeting after the war, held on September 4 and 5, 1782, the Corporation granted degrees to seven students, appointed a committee to break the seal of the College bearing the portraits of the King and Queen of Great Britain, and ordered the return of the College Library. The College Edifice had been badly damaged and the Corporation presented a bill for 1309 pounds, 3 shillings, and two pence to the Congress of the United States. Ten years later the bill was resubmitted, having been increased by the addition of simple interest to 2300 pounds, 4 shillings, and 2 pence, or about $7,667. On May 27, 1800 the College received from the Unitd States the sum of $2,779.13.