From Major General John Sullivan
Head Qrs Providence Augt 6 1778.
I have the honor to inform your Excellency that some time since three of the enemy’s frigates quited their former stations—sailed to the North end of Rhode-Island and anchored between Dyers Island and Bristal ferry—Count d’Estaign on the 4 Inst. meditated an attack upon them, and on the 5th issued orders that two of his ships should turn the North end of Connanicut Island and give them battle. These orders they proceeded to comply with, but on their approach, the English frigates were set fire to, abandoned, and entirely consumed, without making use of any means of defence, or shewing the least appearance of resistance. Their names & force have not yet been ascertained, but when known, shall be transmitted to your Excellency.1
I am sorry to inform your Excelly that the motions of the militia are excedingly tardy—I have been but inconsiderably reinforced by the militia of Connecticut—nor do I expect much from them—Those of New Hampshire & Massachusetts I am informed are on their march and have reason to expect them by saturday next.2 Your Excy may rest assured that I shall make every previously necessary preparation for their reception, so that no time be lost between their arrival and the immediate execution of our intended invasion. I have the honor to be &c. &c.
P.S. I have this moment learned from certain intelligence that four frigates and one tender were destroyed.
Copy, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy, DNA:PCC, item 169. The transcribed copy was enclosed with GW’s second letter to Henry Laurens of 9 August.
1. Four English frigates had initially left Newport harbor on 29 July, and after moving back toward the town on 2 Aug., had, along with the Pigot galley, on 3 Aug. again anchored north of the town: the Lark and Pigot “off Freeborn’s Creek”; the Orpheus and Cerberus above and below Dyer’s Island, respectively; and the Juno “near Codrington’s Cove.” When the two French ships began moving at around five o’clock on the morning of 5 Aug., the captain of the Cerberus attempted to retreat to Newport but “was obliged to run her on shore behind Redwood’s, and set her on fire. … The ship blew up about 8 o’Clock.” Not long after that the Juno was set afire when one of the French ships “tacked, as if intending to run down towards the town,” and that ship also soon exploded. The other three English ships observed “other French ships coming up between Prudence and [Rhode] Island” and “were immediately run on shore; the Orpheus at Almy’s point [modern Coggeshall Point], and the Lark and Pigot at Freeborn’s Creek.” All were set afire. “The Orpheus blew up about 7 o’Clock; the others not till near 12.” The French ships returned to anchor off the north point of Conanicut Island. According to Capt. Frederick Mackenzie of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the British captains had been under orders since 21 July to burn the frigates before letting them fall to the French, and preparations for the burning had begun on 29 July ( Mackenzie Diary description begins Diary of Frederick Mackenzie Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775–1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. 2 vols. Cambridge, Mass., 1930. description ends , 2:316, 319, 321, 327–28, 329–30; see also Döhla, Hessian Diary description begins Johann Conrad Döhla. A Hessian Diary of the American Revolution. Translated and edited by Bruce E. Burgoyne. Norman, Okla., and London, 1990. description ends , 82; “Newport in the Hands of the British,” description begins “Newport in the Hands of the British. A Diary of the Revolution.” Historical Magazine, and Notes and Queries Concerning the Antiquities, History, and Biography of America, 4 (1860): 1–4, 34–38, 69–72, 105–7, 134–37, 172–73. description ends 105; Providence Gazette; and Country Journal, 5 Sept.).
2. The next Saturday was 8 August.