Born in Potowonut (Warwick), Rhode Island, on August 7, 1742, Nathanael Greene showed an early aptitude for mathematics. His academic training was guided by Ezra Stiles, later president of Yale. He did not, however, continue formal education. Instead, he took charge of the family forge at Coventry. Greene became a deputy in the Rhode Island General Assembly from 1770 to 1772, but his greatest interest was the military. When war with Great Britain seemed imminent Greene helped to organize a militia company, the Kentish Guards.
In 1775, the Rhode Island Assembly voted to establish its own militia. Greene became the brigadier in charge of its three regiments. During the same year he was chosen to be a brigadier general in the Continental Army. He saw action at the siege of Boston and remained to command the army of occupation. Greene continued to distinguish himself throughout the Revolution. He was especially helpful to General Washington when the colonial troops were fighting at Trenton. Greene's activities moved south and he became commander of the Army of the South in 1780. On December 14, 1782, he was responsible for the liberation of Charleston, the last British-occupied city in the South.
Greene settled near Savannah after the war and died there on June 19, 1786. Originally interred in the cemetery of Christ Episcopal Church, Savannah, his remains were reinterred in 1902 beneath the Greene Monument in Johnson Square, Savannah.