Revolutionary Rhode Island
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Blog Post by Gloria Schmidt
Gravestones are reminders of Revolutionary War Activities on Prudence Island
Last Saturday I was part of a delegation from the Battle of Rhode Island Association (BoRIA) to the Annual Meeting of the Prudence Island Historical Society. Dr. Murray Norcross of BoRIA was the speaker and he shared the story of the Battle of Rhode Island. He also spoke about the early battles on Prudence Island. We were treated to a tour of Prudence historical sites and places we visited were reminders of that early attack on the island by the British.
With the Siege of Boston enduring for months, British ships began to forage for supplies. British Captain James Wallace, commander of the HMS Rose, came to Narragansett Bay to collect supplies for the British in Boston. August 24, 1775 Wallace landed around 100 men on Prudence Island. They sacked the farm of John Allin seizing sheep, turkeys, corn and hay. In November of 1775 they raided again and took clothing, geese, kettles and even a desk. On January 11, 1776, Loyalist Governor Wanton wrote to Captain Pearce of the Prudence militia that Wallace was coming to Prudence and Pearce was to comply with his demands. Pearce was furious at the idea of selling provisions to Wallace and he wrote back that “whatever Wallace took of this island, would be taken off at the point of the bayonet.” Prudence Islanders would be in for a battle. All the women and children were ordered off the island. The militia, the citizen soldiers, would be doing the fighting. Pearce and his thirty-two men remained on the island. Eleven of these were African-American slaves who had been trained to use the weapons they were given. Pearce requested help from Bristol and Warwick. Captain Joseph Knight of the Providence Regiment and ten of his men came to fight. Ensign Wilson and some of the Richmond Regiment stationed in Bristol came as well.
That afternoon Wallace landed about 250 British Marines and sailors on Prudence. Captain Wallace wrote, “We landed, beat them from fence to fence, for four miles into their country, firing and wasting the country as we advanced.” **
At dusk the Americans, the Scituate and Portsmouth men, together with Ensign Miller and his men retreated by boat to Warwick Neck. The British went back to their ship.
The next day eighty men from the Kentish Guards rowed out to Prudence from East Greenwich. In addition, Captain William Barton (later to be famous for his capture of British General Prescott) and fifty men from Richmond’s Regiment in Bristol rowed out to defend as well. When the British came out to forage for supplies and continue the destruction, they encountered the American forces. Though outnumbered, the Americans drove the British back to their ship.
The Americans could not hold Prudence. On January 15 Wallace came back and finished the destruction of the island. It remained unoccupied for the rest of the war.
Today gravestones bring the story of the battles on Prudence Island to mind. At an old cemetery there are stones with holes through them. Prudence Islanders say they are the result of shelling from the HMS Rose. There is the grave of an unknown British soldier who was found on the shore. Although the soldier is unknown, the islanders have carefully kept the burial plot and marked the spot with a cross and plaque.
For more information, see an excellent article
by Robert Grandchamp: Rhode Island Militia Battles the Dreaded British Captain James Wallace on Prudence Island. This can be found on this website: battleofrhodeisland.org