George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Nicholas Cooke, 21 January 1776

From Nicholas Cooke

Providence January 21st 1776

Sir

Your Favour of the 6th instant I received & laid before the General Assembly. It had great Weight: And I believe that no Supplies to the Enemy’s Ships would have been permitted had it not appeared to us that the Members of the Continental Congress were of Opinion that they should be continued. The following is an Extract of a Letter from our Delegates on that Subject “A Memorial from the Town of Newport forwarded to us by Express having been referred to the General Assembly we now inclose that with the Papers pertinent thereto. We should not do Justice to the Benevolence of Congress or to the distressed Situation of the Town if we did not acquaint you that all the Gentlemen who spoke in this Debate expressed the most tender Regard for the distressed People, and gave it as their Opinion that as long as the Ships of War now in the Harbour could be supplied with fresh Provisions Beer and such like Necessaries for their own immediate Support consistently with the great Principles of the general Good and Safety of America the Town ought to be permitted to furnish them; the greatest Care being taken by Government that no more than the barely necessary Supplies be furnished them from Time to Time, lest the common Enemy in other Parts of the Continent should through them obtain Provisions.”1 In Consequence of which the General Assembly have ordered that Capt. Wallace should be supplied, as you will see by the inclosed Vote.2 But, as he may canonade and even burn the Town, a discretionary Power, by a private Vote, which it is designed should be kept a profound Secret, is given to the Commander of the Forces on Rhode Island to permit Supplies in Cases of imminent Danger until the next Session to be holden on the last Monday in next Month.

Similar Measures to those taken by Connecticut as mentioned in your Letter have been adopted by this Colony. Besides which the commanding Officer of any Body of the Continental Troops is empowered to impress Carriages &c.3

The General Assembly ordered an Address to the Congress a Copy of which I do myself the Honor to inclose you.4 We are not without Hopes that the Congress will take the whole Brigade into their Service, especially as the Necessity arising from so powerful an Invasion, of establishing the whole Force we have ordered is clear and manifest.5 From the Nature of the War, and the Circumstances of the Colonies I think every Idea of partial and colonial Defence ought to be given up. There must be a supreme superintending Power to exert and direct the Force of the whole for the Defence and Safety of all; otherwise the Exertions & Burthens will not only be very unequal, to the greatly endangering of the Union upon which the Welfare of America depends, but Colony after Colony may be subdued without the Chance of making Resistance. I shall only add on this Head that unless the Continent enter upon the Defence of the Colony it must be abandoned to the great Detriment of the common Cause. I beg the Favour of your Excellency seriously to consider this Matter and to give us your Assistance with the Members of the Congress for procuring such a Body of Forces as the Interest of this and the United Colonies in general shall require.

We had procured upwards of an Hundred Blankets which were designed for the Army under your immediate Command; but the Descent upon Prudence obliged us to send Forty of them to our Troops upon that Island; and to supply the additional Forces ordered to be raised will demand every Blanket that can be spared in the Colony.6 I am with great Respect and Esteem Sir Your Excellency’s most obedient and most humble Servant

Nichs Cooke

LS, DLC:GW; Df, R-Ar.

1On 5 Jan. Congress received “a long Memorial from the Town of Newport . . . prayg. Leave to continue to supply the British Men of War with Provisions, otherwise they fear immediate Destruction.” On the following day the memorial “was agitated for several Hours & at last referred generally to the Assembly of Rhode Island” (Richard Smith’s Diary, 5, 6 Jan. 1776, in Smith, Letters of Delegates description begins Paul H. Smith et al., eds. Letters of Delegates to Congress, 1774–1789. 26 vols. Washington, D.C., 1976–2000. description ends , 3:38–39, 49–51).

2The general assembly resolved on 17 Jan. that the Newport town council “be allowed to supply Captain Wallace, so long as he shall remain peaceably within the colony, without committing any depredations upon the islands, or upon any of the lands in the colony, weekly with two thousand pounds weight of beef; and with beer as usual, under the direction of the commanding officer of the forces stationed on Rhode Island.” At the same time the assembly urged the inhabitants of Newport “to remove to some place of safety all their aged people, women, children and those who are unable to assist in defence of the place, together with their valuable effects” (Bartlett, R.I. Records description begins John Russell Bartlett, ed. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England. 10 vols. Providence, 1856–65. description ends , 7:439; see also the copy of these resolutions, attested by Henry Ward, DLC:GW).

3See Bartlett, R.I. Records description begins John Russell Bartlett, ed. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England. 10 vols. Providence, 1856–65. description ends , 7:422.

4In its address to Congress of 15 Jan. the general assembly represented at length the danger that the British navy posed to Rhode Island’s extensive coastline, the resulting disruption of the colony’s commerce, and the great expense that the colony had incurred in providing men and ships for the Continental forces as well as for its own defense. “We need not observe to you,” the legislators said in conclusion, “the great importance of Rhode Island, or the damages that would be sustained, by the enemy’s possessing themselves thereof. . . . We therefore request that you will give the earliest attention to this address, and have no doubt that you will take the most proper measures for defending the colony; otherwise, Rhode Island, and the other islands in the [Narragansett] bay, with the surrounding sea coast upon the continent, must be depopulated, and the colony entirely ruined” (ibid., 424–26; see also the copies in DLC:GW and DNA:PCC, item 152). Cooke sent a copy of the address to the Rhode Island delegates in Congress on 21 Jan. (Bartlett, R.I. Records description begins John Russell Bartlett, ed. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England. 10 vols. Providence, 1856–65. description ends , 7:450–51), and GW enclosed a copy of it in his letter to Hancock of 30 April 1776.

5The brigade consisted of a regiment that the general assembly had ordered to be raised for the defense of the colony during the previous fall and another one that it authorized in its January session (Bartlett, R.I Records description begins John Russell Bartlett, ed. Records of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England. 10 vols. Providence, 1856–65. description ends , 7:384–86, 403, 432–38).

6A British naval force commanded by Capt. James Wallace raided Prudence Island on 12 Jan. and burned several houses. For detailed accounts of the raid, see the excerpts from the Providence Gazette, 13, 20 Jan., and Wallace to Molyneaux Shuldham, 14 Jan. 1776, in Clark, Naval Documents description begins William Bell Clark et al., eds. Naval Documents of the American Revolution. 11 vols. to date. Washington, D.C., 1964—. description ends , 3:767, 784–85, 882–83.

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