George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Joseph Spencer, 11 July 1777

From Major General Joseph Spencer

Providence [R.I.] 11th July 1777

Dear General

I have the pleasure to Congratulate Your Excellency on the Success of Lt Colo: Barton, who with the Number of forty, Including Capts: Addams & Philips & some other brave Officers, last Night went on Rhode Island and brought off Majr Genl Prescot and one of his Ad. de. Camps and the Centry at the Genls door all that was at the Genls Quarters—this was done with such prudence that no Alarm was given among the Enemy, untill our Party had got near to the main on their return. I have Just had the Inteligence by Capt: Adams; Genl Prescot is now at Warwick—I have sent for him here. I hope I shall Soon have your Excellencys Directions Relative to the Disposal & treatment of Genl Prescot: For the present I shall Send him to the Immediate Care of Governor Trumbull: as it is not thought best here to keep him in this more Exposed State.1 We have had Several Deserters from the British Regts at Rhode Island within three or four Days, they all say that they have had recruits to Join the British Regts there & that Each of those Regiments are now about five Hundred Strong; & that there is Now at Rhode Island at least 3500 of the Enemy. I have no Other news Excepting last night a rumour was Spread here that Ty. was taken, which hope is not true. I have the Honr to be with great Respect & Esteem your Excellencys Most Obedient Humble Servant

Jos. Spencer

LS, DLC:GW; copy (extract), enclosed in GW to Hancock, 16 July 1777, DNA:PCC, item 152; copy (extract), DNA:PCC, item 169.

1The copies in DNA:PCC end at this point. In his diary entry for this date British lieutenant Frederick Mackenzie gives the following account of the capture of British major general Richard Prescott by an American raiding party made up of about forty-five to fifty volunteers from the Rhode Island militia that had left Tiverton on 4 July: “A little before 12 o’Clock last night, a party of Rebels landed behind Genl [Francis] Smith’s late quarters at Redwood’s, about 5 miles N. of Newport, from whence they advanced very silently to General Prescott’s quarters at Mr Overing’s on the W. road. They surrounded the house about 10 minutes before 12, seized the Sentry, who had challenged twice, but who, not being loaded, could give no further alarm, and immediately forced open all the doors, they then went directly into the Chambers, where they laid hold of Genl Prescott, and Lieut [William] Barrington, his aide-de-Camp, and in about 7 minutes quitted the house, taking the General, Lieut Barrington, and the Sentry with them, returned to their boats by the way they came, and immediately went off” (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 , 1:148). The raiding party had left Tiverton on 4 July under the command of Lt. Col. William Barton (1748–1831) and captains Ebenezer Adams (1732–1799) and Samuel Phillips (1748–1808). Mackenzie also made a sketch of ground surrounding General Prescott’s quarters, dated 11 July 1777 (ibid.). For other accounts of the capture, see Williams, Revolutionary Heroes description begins Catherine Read Williams. Biography of Revolutionary Heroes; Containing the Life of Brigadier Gen. William Barton, and also, of Captain Stephen Olney. Providence, 1839. description ends , 50–57, Paul, Sergeant Paul description begins Edward J. Paul. The Part Borne by Sergeant John White Paul, of Col. John Topham’s Regiment of the Rhode Island Brigade, in the Capture of Brigadier General Richard Prescott, Commander of the British Forces, near Newport, R.I., in 1777. Milwaukee, 1887. description ends , 4–6, and Tatum, Serle’s Journal description begins Edward H. Tatum, Jr., ed. The American Journal of Ambrose Serle: Secretary to Lord Howe, 1776–1778. San Marino, Calif., 1940. description ends , 238. The Continental Congress honored Barton with “an elegant sword” for his “gallant behaviour” in leading the expedition (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds. Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789. 34 vols. Washington, D.C., 1904–37. description ends , 8:565, 580).

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