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This Week in History: The British raid Rhode Island

At about this time in 1776, Americans rebuff British forces, then attempting a raid on Rhode Island. The British hoped to steal sheep and other supplies. Naturally, the colonists would have none of THAT.


Information on this raid is scarce. On a personal note, it can sometimes be easier to leave this type of post unwritten. It’s hard to find information, and I’d hate to accidentally say something inaccurate. On the other hand, it can be hard to find information on many of our unsung heroes. Should we let their deeds die, simply because details are scarce? In this case, I decided to tell you what I know, acknowledge what I don’t, and at least let a little bit of our ancestors’ bravery live on.

"Spirit of 1776," by Archibald MacNeal Willard

At this point in history, Rhode Island had at least three agricultural islands near Newport: Hope, Prudence and Patience Islands. The islands were not well-populated, but they had sheep and other supplies that could help the British.


Some of these British were then based at Newport and were being led by Captain James Wallace.


On January 12, roughly 250 British sailors came to Prudence Island, intent on stealing supplies. A small group of militia opposed the British, but they were easily overwhelmed and forced to fall back almost immediately. The British burned a few houses and stole some sheep.


You know that these Rhode Island residents weren’t going to take that outcome lying down. They got reinforcements and were prepared on the morning of January 13.


On that morning, Americans were still outnumbered, but this time a battle raged for three hours! As many as 14 (or as few as 3) British were killed before they finally retreated. As they left, they set fire to more buildings on the island. In the meantime, Americans had lost between 1 and 4 men. One additional man was taken prisoner.


One modern ecological study reveals the severe damage done to the island, noting that the island had to be “virtually abandoned from January 1776 until about 1780. British troops burned nearly all buildings on the island between 1776 and 1778, cut down all the remaining trees on the island for firewood, and confiscated or destroyed everything of value they could find. After the war, many of the prewar residents never returned to the island.”


We hear of the big sacrifices made during the American Revolution. But we rarely hear about these smaller, less glamorous sacrifices. And yet they were real sacrifices made by real people.


Eventually, though, these sacrifices would ensure our freedom.

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stories can be found on my website, HERE. 

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