Nathanael Greene was born in Potowomut, Rhode Island on July 27, 1742. The Greenes of Rhode Island were a prominant family and his own father owned several profitable businesses. His father was also a Quaker minister and there is evidence that Nathanael did not fully embrace the Quaker beliefs and eventually was 'put out from under their care' in 1773 after his father's death. In 1774, he married nineteen year old Catharine Littlefield. He served in the state militia and commanded the Army of Observance that was formed following Lexington and Concord.
Greene was away and missed the Battle of Bunker Hill, but was soon commissioned the youngest brigadier general in the Continental Army. He met the new Commander-in-Chief General George Washington and they hit it off. He began the war serving under General Washington in the main army as it moved to New York. Due to illness, he did not see his first action until September 1776, at the Battle of Harlem Heights. His advice to Washington to hold Fort Washington helped precipitate the largest loss of men and supplies for the Continentals until Charleston when the fort was captured in November 1776. In spite of that disaster, Washington continued to entrust Greene with important commands. Greene commanded the right wing at the Battle of Trenton in December 1776.
Greene also saw action at the Battle of Princeton in January 1777. He then went before Congress to request supplies in March. In May, he and several other major generals threatened to resign if a Frenchman were given command and seniority over them. In September 1777 at the Battle of Brandywine, Greene served admirably first reinforcing another division and then serving as the rear guard. He led the left wing at the Battle of Germantown in October 1777.
In March 1778, Greene grudgingly became Quartermaster General and worked to clean up that department. General Washington still included him in war councils and Greene even commanded the right wing at the Battle of Monmouth Courthouse in June 1778. He next distinguished himself at the Battle of Rhode Island in August 1778. In September 1778, he even served in a diplomatic mission to Boston. In June 1780, he commanded the front lines at the Battle of Connecticut Farms and then fought at the Battle of Springfield. After politics interfered with his quartermaster duties, Greene resigned from that post in July 1780.