This Day in History: The British raid Prudence Island, Rhode Island
On this day in 1776, Americans rebuff British forces who are raiding Prudence Island, in the colony of Rhode Island. The British wanted to steal some sheep and other supplies. But 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 track information down, and I’d hate to accidentally say something inaccurate. On the other hand, it’s hard to find information on *most* of our unsung heroes! Should we let their deeds die, simply because the details are scarce? In this case, I decided that I’d rather tell you what I know, acknowledge what I don’t, and at least let a little bit of our ancestors’ bravery live on.
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 would be helpful to 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 met the British, but they were easily overwhelmed and were forced to fall back almost immediately. The British burned a few houses and stole some sheep.
These Rhode Island residents weren’t going to take *that* 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. Before they left, they set fire to more buildings on the island. In the meantime, Americans had lost between 1 and 4 of their militia. One additional man was taken prisoner.
One modern ecological study reports on the severe damage that was done to that island in that time period, 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 that were 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!
P.S. The accompanying picture is a bit of a stretch, but it was the best I could do. It shows the HMS Rose engaged in battle several months after the incident I’ve described. The Rose was the ship commanded by Captain James Wallace during this time period, and I am assuming (without knowing) that it could have been used in the raid on Prudence Island or was at least then based in Newport with the British.
Terry M. Mays, Historical Dictionary of the American Revolution (2d ed. 2009)
Virginia Baker, The History of Warren, Rhode Island, in the War of the Revolution, 1776-1783 (1901)
An Ecological Profile of the Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (K.B. Raposa & M.L. Schwartz eds. 2009)