George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Major General Joseph Spencer, 15 August 1777

From Major General Joseph Spencer

Providence [R.I.] August 15th 1777

Dear Sir

The Enemy at Rhode Island remain as they were when I wrote last to your Excellency,1 as I am Informed by Six deserters who came from them the week before last, four Hessions and two British from the 54th The Enemy last week Landed about 2,00 Men from Cananicut on Boston Neck designing to take a guard and Some Stock &c. this Occasioned a Considerable Alarm but they did no other damage, than to Slightly wound two Men, and Carry off three Inhabtants and Seven Calves; the Inhabitants the Enemy returnd Again in about two days in Exchange for some that had been sent to them (Without Application from us) this I Suppose was because one of them was a Tory, and they thought he would Serve the Intrest of the Enemy better with us than with them. The Enemy was drove of by a Field peice and they own they had by that one man Killed and one wounded,2 a day or two before this Attempt of the Enemy, a party of our people went onto Cananicut with a design to Surprise and take off a guard at that place but being discovered the guard resorted to a fort, and our people only took one Hession Sentry and one Tory and about 13 H. Sheep, our party met with no damage3—Capt. Adams (one that was with Colo. Barton in the taking of Genl Prescott) about three weeks Since at one time took two Men from prudence Island belonging to the diamond Frigate they Came there to Wash their Cloathes! and the next day at the Same Island took off Lieut. Otway and one Brooks Midshipman, from the Larke Frigate, they are both Considerably Set by, Especially the Lieut the Captain of the Ship is very desirous to have them Exchanged as appears by Applications Already made, and friendly Letters that have been wrote4—we have also one Ens. Clarke of the 43d Brittish Regt, A Prisoner taken off Some time Since from Rhode Island near Howlands Ferry by Capt. Phillips, the other Capt. that was with Colo. Barton in taking Genel Prescott, I hope they as well as Colo. Barton will be properly taken Notice of5—The Council of this State are desirous to have the Sentry taken with Genel Prescott Exchanged for one of their people Confined at Newport, and have Applyed to me to do it—Late Comadore Hopkins is also very desirous to have Lieut. Otway Exchanged for a Son of his a prisoner on board the Prison Ship Newport. Hopkins has been a Lieut. in Continental Service on board the Sloop Warren, but when taken was in a privateer not belonging to the Continent6—I look on my self to be accountable to your Excellency for any Capture of the Enemy, made by this army; I acquainted the Gentlemen that the most I could at present do for them would be to represent their desire to your Excellency and further observed to them that I Supposed that the obstruction of the Exchange of Prisoners still Continues—I have Ventured to take the parole of the officers that I have in keeping; a Copy of one I Enclose that if your Excellency disapproves the measure I have taken I may be advised thereof7—I desire to be Informed what Liberty and Expences may be allowed to prisoners, officers and privates—the Customary allowances here are Rather beyond what Appears to me Necessary Unless paid in part by themselves there has been Eighteen Deserters from the Land army at Rhode Island in the whole and about as many from the Navy I order a strict Watch Constantly to be kept on the Shore to observe the motions of the Enemy and in Spetial wheather they pass to or from Rhode Island—have no acount of any thing remarkable of late. I have the Honor to be with due Respect your Excellency’s Most Obedient Servant

Jos. Spencer

ALS, DLC:GW.

2A detailed account of the landing of 200 British troops on Boston Neck, R.I., on the morning of 5 Aug. 1777 was reported to Rhode Island governor Nicholas Cooke on that date by Col. Charles Dyer and Lt. Col. Ray Sands of the Rhode Island militia: “This Morning About Fore A Clock Landed a partey of the Enemy Consisting of About two hundred, As Near as we Coold Judge in two Devitions one Devition At the South Ferrey the Other Below Benjamin Gardners, that Devition Landed at the South Ferrey was Covered by a Rogalle [row galley], we Rallied and Engaged them they Emediately Gave way and Retreated into their botes again, but by Some Accident the Galley Got a Ground when we Exchanged a Large Number of Vollies with them, and they At the Same time keeping Up an Essent [incessant] Fire out of the Galle which mainley went Above Us, coold our Artelerey bin furnished with horses So they Cood Advanced in Seasone Am Sertain we must have taken the Galley, we Drove them All our of hur, with our Small Armes, but the tide Making Flood Enabeled them to take hur of[f] Again by this time we Got down one field peace which was plaid with Sperit by the Officers of the train and Am well Asured did good Execution for we Saw Numbers fall,—the partey Landed Above Carried of[f] Caleb Allen Benjamin Gardner and About Six or Seven Solegars Quartered in Mr Guardners house the others Made their Escape—in the Scurmish we had two men wounded...the Enemy haith Landed on the west Side of Conaticut Island where their botes Now All Lay, And shoold they Make Another Desent we Cannot Make any Resistance till we Are Supplide with Amunition” (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 , 9:709–10).

3Capt. Charles Dyer with a detachment of sixty militia landed on Dutch Island, a small island between Conanicut Island and the mainland, on the night of 2 Aug. and “secured some stock, after which, proceeding to Conanicut, in emulation of Barton, they brought off two prisoners” (Arnold, History of R.I. description begins Samuel Greene Arnold. History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: From the Settlement of the State, 1636, to the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 1790. 2 vols. 1859–60. Reprint. Spartanburg, S.C., 1970. description ends , 2:404).

4The two unnamed seamen from H.M.S. Diamond were taken to Providence after their capture at Prudence Island, R.I., on Friday, 25 July 1777 (see Providence Gazette, 2 Aug. 1777; see also 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 , 9:691). The capture of second lieutenant William Albany Otway of H.M.S. Lark and “a Midshipman [Brooks] and a Boy, who had been diverting themselves with hunting” at Prudence Island took place on 26 July (ibid.). The Rhode Island general assembly passed a resolution on 18 Aug. permitting Capt. Ebenezer Adams to distribute among his detachment of Rhode Island militia the arms and accoutrements taken with these prisoners (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 , 8:285–86).

5The Rhode Island general assembly passed a resolution on 18 Aug. commending Lt. Col. William Barton and the members of his militia detachment for the capture of British general Richard Prescott and his aide and awarding $1,120 to Barton’s party to be divided “in proportion to the wages of the said officers and soldiers” (ibid., 290, and Arnold, History of R.I. description begins Samuel Greene Arnold. History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: From the Settlement of the State, 1636, to the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, 1790. 2 vols. 1859–60. Reprint. Spartanburg, S.C., 1970. description ends , 2:405). The Continental Congress had commended the detachment in a resolution of 25 July (see 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 , 8:580).

6Esek Hopkins, Jr., who served as a midshipman on board the Continental navy sloop Alfred from 20 Nov. 1775 to March 1777, had been serving as an “acting lieutenant” on board the Continental navy sloop Providence when it was taken on 5 June 1777 by H.M.S. Amazon and H.M.S. Orpheus (Independent Chronicle [Boston], 29 Jan. 1778). Hopkins apparently had also served briefly as a lieutenant on the Continental navy frigate Warren, which was commanded by his kinsman, Capt. John B. Hopkins. Efforts to have Hopkins exchanged were not successful until 1778.

7The enclosed copy of William A. Otway’s parole, given at the “State of Rhode Island & Providence Plantation” on 1 Aug. 1777, reads: “I William Albany Otway Esqr. Lt of the Larke Frigate of the Navy of his Britanick Majesty, being made a Prisoner of war by the Army of the United States of America, do promise upon my word and Honor, and upon the Faith and Credit of A Gentleman, to depart from here to the Town of Killingley in the State of Connecticut (and there Remain within the limits of Said Town) being the place of my destination And Residence, untill further Orders from Major General Spencer, or a Superior Commander of the United States, or untill I shall be duly Exchanged or Discharged, and that I will not directly or indirectly give Inteligence of any kind or Say or do any thing to the prejudice of the United States of America, during the time of my restraint” (DLC:GW).

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