Sunday, April 25, 2021

ARP198 Raid on Old Tappan

I haven’t really focused on the continental army since we left the Battle of Monmouth, which took place in late June 1778.  Since then, we’ve gone through a bunch of episodes about attacks in upstate New York which did not really involve the main army.  I also covered a few court martials, which were taking place during this time. This week, I want to catch up on what Washington has been doing since Monmouth.  

The British had pulled out of New Jersey entirely.  They had hunkered down on Manhattan, Staten Island, and Long Island.  Washington’s Continentals camped first in Northern New Jersey, near Paramus, hoping that the French fleet would assault New York from the sea.  When Admiral d’Estaing opted to abandon that effort and move on to Rhode Island, Washington moved his army to White Plains, New York.  From there, Washington could block any overland march from New York City to relieve the British at Newport, Rhode Island.  

Kingsbridge Raid

While the Continentals dug in at White Plains, British General Henry Clinton sent 4000 reinforcements to Rhode Island via ship.  Clinton wanted to keep Washington from sending more reinforcements to Rhode Island, so he sent several regiments north to harass the Continentals at White Plains.  Clinton already had a garrison at Fort Knyphausen, formerly known as Fort Washington, on the northern end of Manhattan.  He deployed several regiments further north of Manhattan Island, to Kingsbridge, only a few miles south of White Plains.

Stockbridge Warrior

These forward detachments were mostly Hessians and local loyalists, most notably the Queens Rangers under Lieutenant Colonel John Graves Simcoe.  Another loyalist regiment under Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, and a third under Lieutenant Colonel Andreas Emmerich.  These three regiments, along with several companies of Hessian Jaegers, hoped to harass the Continentals.

 On the American side, closest to the front lines were several companies of Virginia riflemen as well as the Stockbridge Indians.

I’ve mentioned the Stockbridge Indians on a few occasions.  These warriors had lived in Stockbridge Massachusetts, where they lived in homes and had interacted closely with the colonists for many years. They had their own militia and had joined the patriot cause early on.  These men had been present at Bunker Hill, and had fought as Continentals ever since.  These were the same soldiers who stopped the British advance at Barren Hill near Philadelphia, allowing General Lafayette to escape with the main force.  They had a reputation as fierce fighters and good soldiers.  They served under the command of their Chief, Daniel Ninham.

In July, 1778, the loyalists on patrol had run into the Stockbridge Indians and had taken a number of casualties.  Simcoe, Tarleton, and Emmerich resolved to attack and destroy this menace to their men.  On the morning of August 31, Colonel Emmerich marched out to confront the Stockbridge.  The two groups began a firefight.  Although the loyalists outnumbered the Stockbridge, the loyalists began falling back slowly, while maintaining a line of fire.  

Battle of Kingsbridge, 1778 by Don Troiani

This was all part of the plan.  As Emmerich’s loyalists pulled back, the Stockbridge pursued them.  This drew them into an area where they quickly became surrounded by hundreds of the Queen’s Rangers and nearly two hundred saber-wielding cavalry under Banastre Tarleton.  They was a brutal hand to hand combat, but the greatly outnumbered Stockbridge were nearly completely slaughtered.  Chief Ninham, according to accounts, made a stand and ordered his warriors to flee.  He was cut down by a saber, as were most of his men.  Accounts differ, but the company of 50-60 warriors suffered between 17 and 37 killed.  About twenty of them managed to escape and returned to the main Continental camp.

General Charles Scott dispatched 300 Continentals, but by the time they were deployed, the loyalists had pulled back to their main lines.

Two weeks after the Kingsbridge Massacre, Colonel Mordecai Gist’s 3rd Maryland Regiment held the front line position in front of the main army.  Once again, Colonels Tarleton, Simcoe, and Emmerich developed a maneuver to trap and destroy the regiment.  Guided by local loyalists, the British forces encircled the Marylanders for a dawn attack on the morning of September 16.  They launched their assault and quickly overwhelmed the Continentals. However the British had failed to cut off all avenues of escape as planned. Gist and his soldiers escaped over an unguarded bridge and made their way back to the main Continental lines.

New England Raids

Attacks were not the only concern of the continentals.  As I said, Clinton had dispatched 4000 regulars to Newport, Rhode Island to assist in the defense of that garrison.  After the French fleet gave up and sailed for Boston, the Continentals under General John Sullivan also gave up their attempted invasion and pulled back out of Aquidneck Island.  The threat of a Continental victory had vanished.  With that, the commander of the British reinforcements, General Charles Grey, figured he should do something before returning to New York.  

Gen. Grey's 1778 raids
On September 6, his troop transports sailed to Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts.  With the support of Admiral Howe’s navy, still in the area after the French fleet had left, Grey landed near the town of New Haven.  His soldiers burned homes, looted property and seized a few suspected rebels.  All night and the next morning, the regulars terrorized locals and marched without much resistance.  A patriot fort across the river in Fairhaven fired on the ships but the garrison took massive return fire from the fleet.  The fort garrison spiked their guns and abandoned the fort.

The next day, Grey marched his regulars up the creek to a point where they could cross, then marched down the east bank to Fairhaven, where they continued their destruction.  The local militia managed to assemble about 150 men, who fired on some of the raiding party.  Not prepared for a full battle, the British returned to their ships and sailed away.

Next, Grey sailed his transports to Martha’s Vineyard.  Due to poor winds, it took the ships several days to reach the island. There, he demanded that the locals deliver 300 oxen and 10,000 sheep, as well as all their weapons and public funds.  The locals dragged their feet, taking about two days to assemble half of what the British demanded.  Grey landed several regiments who rounded up the animals, all the militia weapons and 950 pounds sterling which had been collected in taxes for the Continental Congress.

With that, the British fleet returned to New York.  Grey reported one man killed, four wounded, and sixteen missing from the mission.  He also reported his men had killed four rebels and taken sixteen prisoners with the intent of exchanging them for the missing British soldiers who were presumed captured.

New York Defenses

Washington heard about these raids, but was not terribly concerned.  He was considering an all-out attack on Manhattan.  He could take the northern half of the island, or perhaps take all of it with so many British being deployed to Rhode Island.  There is no record of Washington discussing the attack  plan with his offices, but a draft plan for the attack was found among Washington’s records.  It would have been a daring move. But without clearing the British navy from the water around Manhattan, it faced serious challenges, which is probably why Washington did not pursue the plan.

He did ask his general officers about what they thought about the probability of the success of an attack on New York.  Most of the officers rejected the idea.  Because the British still controlled the Hudson and East Rivers, they could bring up troops and artillery to use against the Americans at any time.  That was the reason they had abandoned Manhattan back in 1776.  Further, even if the Continentals took northern Manhattan, there was not much to prevent British Commander Henry Clinton from marching thousands of regulars from Rhode Island to strike at the Continental rear while the forces in New York attacked its front.  The continentals could easily be walking into a trap.  

Washington did not have very good intelligence about the British numbers and position in New York.  There were just too many variables.  So, he opted not to pursue the plan.

Ann Bates

By contrast, the British had good intelligence on American positions.  Deserters, loyalists and paid spies, including Ann Bates, a loyalist from Philadelphia, were provided General Clinton with intelligence.  General Clinton always maintained an espionage network so that he could keep tabs on the size and position of the Continentals.

Ann Bates
Bates became one of Clinton’s key assets in New York.  She was a thirty year old school teacher from Philadelphia.  She was a loyalist.  Her husband served in the British army.  During the British occupation of Philadelphia, one of General Clinton’s civilian spy recruiters, a man named John Craig, began using Bates for local intelligence-gathering.  As a woman, Bates would not raise much attention nor be seen as a threat.  

When the British evacuated Philadelphia, Bates’ husband marched with the army to New York.  Bates became a camp follower, leaving her home and most of her family behind.  In New York, she again reached out to Craig, hoping to find work.  Craig, along with Clinton’s intelligence officer, Major Duncan Drummond recruited Bates for a more difficult mission.  They proposed to send her straight into the Continental Camp to collect information.

Bates adopted the pseudonym Ann Barnes, a civilian peddler of goods.  The British provided her with money to buy a sack full of odds and ends to sell and sent her marching north to join Washington’s army at White Plains. She spent more than a week in July roaming around the Continental camp, counting soldiers and cannon, and listening in on conversations.  After selling all of her goods, she simply walked back to New York through various check points, and reported what she had learned.  

Her handlers sent her back to White Plains twice more in August, where again she gathered more intelligence, including overhearing a discussion on a planned invasion of Long Island as well as reporting on troop movements to Rhode Island.  Continental officers seemed unconcerned that this woman was capable of gathering military intelligence.  Her cover was solid, and she kept no written notes of what she had discovered.

On her third trip to White Plains, a British deserter recognized her and reported her.  Even so, she was able to elude capture and returned to British lines.  The discovery ended Bates’ undercover activity at Washington’s camp, but she continued to engage in other espionage missions for the British.


On September 16, Washington began moving his main army north from White Plains, settling in Fredericksburg, a small village a few miles northwest of Danbury, Connecticut.  From there, Washington set up defensive lines that dispersed his army from Danbury, Connecticut to Fishkill, New York.  Washington could move his army south against New York if needed, but could also march it into New England if the British opted to expand their coastal raids on new England towns into something larger.

Washington figured that if the British went on the offensive at all, it would be a thrust up the Hudson River again, in an attempt to cut off New England, or it would attack the French fleet which was under repair in Boston.  From his position, Washington could pivot easily to either location.  Washington, however, was not ready to consider any other major campaigns.  He was still wrapping up the court martials of several of his top generals, as I discussed a few weeks ago.  Several of his top officers were fighting duels with each other.  Others were unhappy about losing commands because the army had to consolidate regiments.

Once Washington left White Plains in mid-September, he was putting some distance between his army and the enemy.  As the Continentals pulled back, the frontline loyalist regiments advanced, leading to a few more skirmishes.

The British, however, were not prepared for any major offensive operations either.  General Clinton was still under orders to ship much of his army to the West Indies or other parts of the empire.  He was in no position to take and hold more territory than he already had.

Even so, Clinton still had an army in the tens of thousands, not to mention loyalist civilians, all of whom needed to be fed.  The British also needed to collect supplies for the regiments who were about to ship out to other parts of the empire.  

Much of the needed food came from Long Island.  Some was still shipped in from more distant locations.  With the immediate threat of an American attack seemingly gone when Washington's army pulled north, the British leadership turned their attention toward another source: New Jersey.

Old Tappan Massacre

The British had maintained two toe holds in New Jersey: one at Sandy Hook, the other at Paulus Hook.  Both were right on the coast where navy ships could protect the outposts.  With the main Continental army well up into New York, New Jersey defenses relied primarily on the local militia.  A year earlier, even during the forage wars, the British had held much larger areas in northern New Jersey.  They had been able to rely on the area for food and supplies.  Many of the locals were loyalists who were happy to trade with the British and who valued their protection and hard currency.

General Clinton did not want to leave large outposts in New Jersey, where they could be vulnerable to attack.  He was fine with short raids into the region in order to capture supplies.

Washington had deployed a regiment of light dragoons to the area with the goal of obtaining intelligence about British troop levels and movements.  Colonel George Baylor had only just resumed command of the regiment after several months away on a recruitment tour.  Baylor was a Virginia officer who had served briefly as an aide-de-camp to General Washington. 

Site of the Baylor Massacre
The British became aware of the presence of these Continentals.  General Grey, having returned from New England, dispatched about 600 regulars on a night raid into New Jersey for the purpose of attacking and destroying the enemy.  As he had at Paoli, Grey ordered his men not to load their muskets, but to rely on the bayonet.  He also ordered no prisoners.  Soldiers were to kill the enemy, even if trying to surrender.

The British received precise intelligence about where a dozen officers and over 100 men were sleeping on the night of September 26.  The regulars moved in after midnight and put everyone to the bayonet.  There does not appear to have been much resistance, as the sleeping Americans were caught by surprise.  There are multiple accounts of soldiers having surrendered, only to have their captors receive orders to put the prisoners to the bayonet.  A couple of men who were dispatched in this way, were left for dead, but managed to survive multiple bayonet wounds and report what had happened.

Casualty reports indicate that only 15 men were killed outright.  Another 54 were wounded or taken prisoner.  Colonel Baylor and several of his officers attempted to hide in the chimney of the home where his officers were sleeping.  The attackers found them and bayoneted the men.  Baylor managed to survive and was taken prisoner.  The British also came across New Jersey militia which they also dispatched without quarter.

The Tappan massacre, as it came to be called, was part of a larger raid by the British.  On the night of September 22, the British regiments crossed the river to Paulus Hook and began tracking the enemy.  At the same time, General Clinton assembled a much larger force of around 10,000-11,000 soldiers in northern Manhattan.  His intent was to begin a grand forage into Bergen County, New Jersey.  Clinton thought he might provoke a Continental attack, which would give his army a chance to defeat the Continentals.  If the enemy remained in their defenses, then the British would have an opportunity to sweep the region for any needed supplies.

After taking out the enemy soldiers in the immediate area, the British began collecting hay, produce, and cattle to ship back to New York.  Dozens of ships ferried supplies across the Hudson River as pickets kept guard against an attack.  

Continental General William Maxwell commanded a few regiments in Elizabethtown to the south.  Washington also deployed Major General Lord Stirling to contest the enemy’s actions in Bergen County.  Stirling used his forces to harass the enemy and succeeded in burning several ships, but the collection efforts proceeded anyway.  Similarly, General Charles Scott commanded Continentals and militia in Westchester, New York, where they made several raids and ambushes which inflicted casualties but did not deter the British from holding the field and continuing their forage.

Troop Transports

After about three weeks, the British had collected the supplies they wanted and returned to New York City.  George Washington received intelligence that the British planned to evacuate New York.  This, of course, proved false.  The British would remain in control of the city.  Clinton did, however, ship a large portion of his New York garrison as per his orders from London.

Over the next few weeks, thousands of British regulars boarded transport ships. Five thousand would go to the West Indies.  Another three thousand would go to Florida and seven hundred to Halifax.  The war with France meant that the British had to protect their colonies in the West Indies, and perhaps capture some vulnerable French islands.  The British also hoped to reclaim several southern colonies, where they believed they could rally more local loyalists to support their efforts.

For the remainder of the war, the number of British soldiers in North America would never come close to the numbers they had in 1776 and 1777.  London was writing off New England and the mid-Atlantic states for the time being.  The attempt to suppress the rebellion quickly had been a failure.  Now, the ministry had to contend with a much larger war with France, meaning North America was no longer a priority.

Clinton would never again deploy such a large force from New York City.  Although everyone thought they would resume at some point, major combat operations north of Virginia were effectively at an end.

Next week: I want to take a look at another operation taking place at this same time, involving Pulaski’s Legion and a massacre at Little Egg Harbor.

- - -

Next Episode 199 Little Egg Harbor & Pulaski’s Legion 

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Further Reading


Battle of Kingsbridge:

Hauptman, Laurence “The Road to Kingsbridge” American Indian, Vol. 18 No. 3, Fall, 2017:

Walling, Richard S. Death in the Box: The Stockbridge Indian Massacre August, 1778:

Andreas Emmerich and Emmerich’s Chasseurs:

Grey’s Raid:

Grey’s Raid:

Ann Bates:

McBurney, Christian M. “Ann Bates: British Spy Extraordinaire” Journal of the American Revolution, December 1, 2014:

The Baylor Massacre:

George Baylor:

Charles “No Flint” Grey:

Braisted, Todd W. “Massacre Averted: How Two British Soldiers Saved 350 American Lives” Journal of the American Revolution, May 20, 2014:

Schenawolf, Harry “The Baylor Massacre of the American Revolution and Earl Grey Tea: What did they have in common?” Revolutionary War Journal, October 27, 2018:

The Baylor Massacre - Sept 28, 1778, Primary Documents:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Davidson, J. N. Muh-he-ka-ne-ok, a History of the Stockbridge Nation, Milwaukee: S. Chapman, 1893. 

Simcoe's Military Journal: A History of the Operations of a Partisan Corps, Called the Queen's Rangers, Commanded by Lieut Col. J.G. Simcoe, during the war of the American Revolution, New York: Bartlett & Welford, 1844.  

Stryker, William S. The Massacre Near Old Tappan, Trenton: Bergen Co Historical Soc. 1900. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Braisted, Todd Grand Forage 1778, The Battleground Around New York City, Westholme, 2016. 

Gruber, Ira The Howe Brothers and the American Revolution, W.W. Norton & Co. 1975. 

Willcox, William B. Portrait of a General: Sir Henry Clinton in the War of Independence, Knopf, 1964. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

ARP197 Cobleskill & German Flatts

The Mohawk Valley in upstate New York had been the scene of repeated fighting.  Even before the war, fighting with the French and Indians had accustomed the inhabitants to a regular threat of violent attack. Beginning with the capture of Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, divisions between loyalists and patriots in the area, as well as internal divisions among the Indian tribes, led to some of the most brutal and merciless combat of the war.

Most of the loyalists had fled to Quebec.  Many of them joined the Burgoyne Campaign to return to the Mohawk Valley and retake the area for the King.  Many Indian tribes also joined the British effort.  Notably, as I’ve mentioned in previous episodes, the Mohawk and a few other members of the Iroquois Confederation threw off their traditional neutrality to support the British.  Others from the Oneida and Tuscarora tribes backed the patriots, leading to a civil war not only between local colonists but also within the Iroquois Confederation.

Joseph Brant, 1776

One of the leading Mohawk chiefs, whom I have introduced before, was Joseph Brant, also known as Thayendanegea.  Brant was a Mohawk war chief, but was also comfortable in the world of the English.  He has visited London and was a Freemason.  He was also a relation of the Johnson family, which had lived and served as Indian agents in upstate New York for decades.  Brant had been one of the primary leaders to convince the Mohawk to shed neutrality and join the British effort to crush the rebellion.  He had led an army of warriors, under General Barry St. Leger, to capture Fort Stanwix in 1777.  

Working with Brant was Lieutenant Colonel John Butler, of Butler's Rangers.  I mentioned Butler back in Episode 192, at the Wyoming Valley Massacre.  He was a longtime resident of the Mohawk valley, an associate of the Johnson family, and friends with Joseph Brant.  Like other Tories, Butler had been forced to flee New York for Quebec and had organized a regiment of loyalists to fight for the King.  

After the failure of the Saratoga campaign, and the capture of Burgoyne’s army, the British all but abandoned upstate New York.  They destroyed Fort Ticonderoga and withdrew back to Quebec.  

While the regulars left, the Indians and settlers from upstate New York who had backed the loyalist cause, were not ready to give up their homes quite so easily.  They continued to raid the areas around their old homes.  These smaller raids picked up considerably in the spring of 1778.  They still expected an eventual British victory and continued to fight against the rebels.  

New Governor of Quebec

Their raids into the Mohawk Valley were organized and orchestrated by the commanders in Quebec.  General Guy Carleton had commanded Quebec for over a decade, well before the war began, and had served in Quebec for many years before becoming governor.  General Carlton, you may recall, had led the first offensive to retake Ticonderoga in 1776, only to get stuck fighting a naval battle on Lake Champlain with Benedict Arnold before withdrawing to Canada at the onset of winter.

Frederick Haldimand

The following year, his second in command, General Burgoyne, returned from a visit to London, having convinced officials to let him lead the next invasion and force Carleton to remain in Quebec.  General Carleton was, of course, rather upset that officials would not let him lead the campaign and submitted a resignation. 

While he awaited a response, he still had to deal with the mess left by Burgoyne’s surrender.  After the destruction of, and withdrawal from, Ticonderoga in November, the British retained a defensive fleet on Lake Champlain until winter ice prevented the Americans from sailing up to Canada for another invasion.  Carleton ordered everything destroyed between Ile aux Noix at the northern end of Lake Champlain and the settlement at St. Jean, about 20 miles further north.  Turning the area into a bare no-man’s land would discourage any attempted winter invasion into Quebec.  

Remember, that around this time the Continental Congress was trying to put together just such an invasion under the command of General Lafayette.  The Continental Army’s inability to gather enough resources for the campaign was the main reason it did not happen.  Without Burgoyne’s army, Carleton’s smaller force in Quebec remained vulnerable.  The British relied on the loyalist and Indian raids into upstate New York to keep the Americans occupied.

Over the winter, Carleton received word that the ministry had accepted his resignation and that he would be recalled to London later in the year. Carleton would receive a new appointment as Governor of Charlemont in Northern Ireland.  In case you were wondering, Charlemont is this tiny village in the middle of nowhere.  But the position paid £1000 sterling per year.  Carleton's new job was a way of rewarding a loyal officer when the government did not want him serving in a command anymore.  The poor peasants of Ireland could subsidize his comfortable life in a do-nothing job.  

As an aside, Secretary Lord Germain was apoplectic that the King offered this new position to Carleton.  Germain and Carleton hated each other, and Germain actually threatened to resign if the King gave Carleton this new post in Northern Ireland.  The King did so anyway.  With his bluff called, Germain remained at his post and quietly fumed.

Carleton’s replacement was General Frederick Haldimand.  I gave some background on Haldimand way back in Episode 62.  Haldimand had been second in command to General Thomas Gage at the outbreak of the war.  Haldimand was Swiss-born and had served in the Prussian and Dutch armies before joining the British Army.  He was recalled from America, primarily because London was considering replacing Gage with Howe as North American Commander. Haldimand was senior to Howe.  It would have been awkward to have a more junior officer in overall command.  London did not want Haldimand in overall command, as the leadership thought an English-born general would be best for the situation.  So Haldimand had left Boston in June 1775, the day before General Howe fought the battle of Bunker Hill.

Back in London, the ministry wanted to reward Haldimand for all of his great work.  They had paid him a £3000 cash reward upon his return and had given him a high-paying job as Inspector General of the West Indies.  Apparently the West Indies did not need close inspection, because Haldimand remained in London and collected his salary there.  Again, this was one of those do-nothing jobs for generals to hold between commands, paid for by locals who had no votes.  This was one of those practices that the Continental Congress had raised in the Declaration for why they did not want taxation without representation.  For most of the next three years, Haldimand remained without a command, watching events unfold in America from his comfortable position in England.

Then, in late 1777, probably shortly after word of Burgoyne’s surrender reached London, Haldimand learned he would be called off the bench and sent back to America, this time as the new Governor of Quebec.  It took a while to work out the travel arrangements and other matters, so that Haldimand did not reach Quebec until late June 1778.  

Haldimand’s administration did not differ significantly from that of Carlton.  Haldimand actively supported raids into upstate New York, but focused primarily on keeping Canada safe from another American attack, and making sure the Canadians remained firmly in the loyalist camp.  The British had hoped to use terror and intimidation to get the patriots to abandon the Mohawk Valley.  If the patriots would not leave, they would be killed or taken prisoner.  This would turn the area into a buffer between the patriots in New York and loyalists in Quebec.

Tryon Co. Committee of Safety

The patriots, of course, were organized to oppose this.  For many years, New York patriots had formed local committees of safety.  These were quasi-legal organizations designed to further the cause, but also to keep some level of law and order in areas where the King’s peace was no longer protected by the colonial government.  Committees were often made up of local politicians and militia leaders, who could call out armed companies as needed.   

By 1778, open and outspoken loyalists had been taken into custody, executed, or forced to flee to Quebec.  Any New Yorker found to be fighting for the British would likely be executed, if caught.  In fact, a quick execution might be the best he could hope for, rather than a slower tortuous death.  Many families of loyalists had been taken into custody, including Colonel Butler’s wife and children.

Because of this harsh treatment, many loyalists who remained in the area, kept their views to themselves, and maintained a low profile to protect their land and family.  In response, Committees of Safety began focusing more on people for whom there was no direct evidence that they had taken up arms, but who were suspected of harboring loyalist sympathies.

Not only did the committees permit patriot mobs to harass and terrorize suspected loyalists, but it also tolerated, some say encouraged, attacks from friendly Indians against loyalist farms.  It got so bad that in March, General Philip Schuyler wrote a letter to the Tryon County Committee of Safety saying that they really needed to stop encouraging Oneida warriors to pillage and murder suspected loyalists.

In early 1778, the New York Legislature ordered all of the local Committees of Safety to be shut down, and replaced by Commissioners of Conspiracy who would be appointed by the Governor.  Although these new Commissioners would be patriots, local leaders feared they would be moderates who would not support the active and sometimes harsh suppression of the Tory threat.

The Tryon County Committee of Safety remained active, in defiance of state orders to shut down.  In May 1778, the Committee formed a posse to release a debtor from jail, and charge his creditor with the costs of confinement.  This attack on the court system was too much, and the state finally forced the Tryon Committee to dissolve.  Although they complied, locals still did not want to soften their stance against toleration of any loyalist or Indian activity that threatened their communities.

Spring Raids

The locals had good reason to fear the Tory threat.  Small raids continued to threaten their peace and safety.  In March, Tories who had fled to Quebec joined with Indians to raid their home town of Fairfield, near present day Herkimer, NY.  The men killed and scalped one boy, and took twelve other men prisoner, and burned the patriot homes.

A couple of weeks later, the same group raided Snyder’s Bush, near present day Little Falls, NY, capturing eight more men and burning the local mill.

Nearly a month later, in late April, a group of about twenty patriot militia mustered in Ephratah for drill.  While the militia drilled, a group of loyalists and Indians attacked and burned their homes outside of town.  Several militiamen, as well as a four year old boy, were killed in the ensuing fight.  The raiders also executed a young women in front of Fort Klock


In May, the village of Cobleskill became a target.  The small village of around twenty homes had its local militia, commanded by Captain Christian Brown, as well as a small company of Continental soldiers under Captain William Patrick

The soldiers were assembled, aware that raiding parties were in the area.  After spotting a group of warriors, the militia and Continentals marched out in pursuit of them. 

This, however, was not just a small raid.  Joseph Brant led an army of about 450 warriors. Brant had deliberately sent a small contingent of his force to be spotted and then be chased back by the militia.  When the militia marched out after the raiding party, they ran right into an ambush of several hundred warriors.  

The attackers killed Captain Patrick and his lieutenant in the first assault, along with several others.  The soldiers did put up a brief resistance and returned fire.  The number of attackers, however, were too great.  The men soon turned and ran for their lives.  Most of those killed were Continentals, who had led the initial pursuit.  After the fact, Captain Brown of the militia said that he suspected an ambush and had warned Patrick of that possibility.  Brown and most of the militia escaped.

Several of the soldiers took refuge in a nearby house owned by George Warner.   From there, the men fired on the pursuing Indians, thus drawing attention away from the rest of the militia company that was trying to escape.  The Indians turned their attention to the house, setting it on fire, burning those inside.  Two men attempted to escape from the burning building and were immediately cut down.  

According to one source, the raiders captured a Continental soldier who they later tortured to death.  Others, though, were able to escape.  The Indians also burned many of the area farms, as civilians fled and hid in the woods.  The raiders stole or shot any horses, cattle, or other animals on the farms.  

Surprisingly, the one building they did not burn was the log cabin on George Warner’s property, the same property where they had killed soldiers firing at them from the main home.  Speculation is that they left it standing in hopes that Warner would return and that they could capture him there at a later time.

Brant captured several settlers, who were given the choice of being integrated into his tribe, or being sent to Fort Niagara as prisoners.  Even though prison could often mean a slow death, the settlers chose the latter.

The fight at Cobleskill was not a complete route though.  The militia and Continentals involved put up a pretty good fight as they withdrew.  After the battle, the patriots counted twenty-two Continentals or patriot militia killed.  According to one source, twenty-five raiders also died in the fighting, and another seven wounded died on the march back to Quebec after the raid. 

The low-grade fighting continued.  In June, the two sides managed to arrange a brief truce, where loyalists who had fled to Quebec were permitted to return to collect their families and remove them to Quebec.  According to the patriots, these 100 loyalists used the opportunity to capture several prisoners who they also removed to Quebec, and also burned several homes along the way.

In July, the residents heard about the Wyoming Valley Massacre, just to the south in Pennsylvania, an event I covered in more detail in Episode 192.  That same month, Joseph Brant led raids against the villages of Springfield and Andrews Town (aka Andrustown) in New York, killing eight and taking fourteen prisoners.

These are only some examples of many low intensity raids, some on isolated farms or individuals, that kept the entire population of the Mohawk Valley on edge.  Some families fled the area, but most had nowhere else to go.  So, they remained and they fought.

German Flatts

The sustained attacks in the Mohawk valley were part of a larger plan.  Brant’s tactics hoped to frighten the locals into leaving or swearing allegiance to the King, but he also went out of his way to protect the lives of women and children, to protect the property of loyalists, and to warn the patriot inhabitants of more raids and destruction if they did not leave.  Thus giving them a chance to remove themselves from harm.

In the late summer, Brant and his combined force of warriors and loyalists occupied the village of Unadilla.  The occupiers demanded that the local inhabitants provide his army with food and supplies.  Most of the locals just fled. 

Nearby communities worried about their defense.  They did not stray into fields or the woods on their own, and worked to build up the small forts at their villages for better defense.  German Flatts was one of the western most communities in the Mohawk Valley, about twenty miles north of Unadilla.  Patriots built two forts nearby.  Fort Dayton sat on the north shore of the Mohawk River.  Fort Herkimer sat on the south shore.

Tryon County Militia Colonel Peter Bellinger commanded a regiment of militia at the two forts.  In order to prevent any surprise raids, he regularly sent out patrols toward Unadilla to warn of any raids.  On September 16, a patrol of nine militia marched toward Unadilla, but ran into an ambush.  Two of the men were killed and the rest scattered.  One of the men who escaped ran back to the German Flatts to warn the people of an impending raid.  The man had to run many miles to deliver the message, meaning that the raiding party would probably still be at least a few hours away.

Colonel Bellinger sent word out to all the area homes to have people gather inside the two forts for safety.  Over the course of the night, families made their way to the forts.

The raiders arrived in German Flatts the following morning, September 17.  The attackers were several hundred strong, comprised of native warriors, primarily Mohawks under the command of Joseph Brant, and also some Tory militia from Butler’s Rangers, under the command of Captain William Caldwell.

The attackers threatened the two forts, but found that the walls were too well-defended.  Rather than assault the forts directly, the raiders formed groups that spread into the area around the forts, burning homes, and driving off horses, cattle, and other animals.  What animals they could not take with them, they killed.  They also burned grain stored up for winter use and pretty much anything else of value.  Aside from the forts, the only buildings they did not destroy were a church and two houses owned by known loyalists.  More than 700 people were left homeless as a result of the damage.

The raiders made efficient work of their destruction.  By noon, they had left the area.  Prior to the attack, Colonel Bellinger had sent out a request for reinforcements to Fort Klock, further down the Mohawk river about twenty miles away.  Those reinforcements, under Colonel Jacob Klock, did not arrive until the afternoon of the 17th, hours after the raiders had left.

The combined militia force set out after the raiders, but never caught up with them.  They called off the pursuit and returned home.  Captain Caldwell, who led the loyalists on the raid, later commented that his men likely would have massacred many of the residents had they not received advance warning and taken shelter in the forts.  His men were mostly former neighbors who had to flee for their lives because of their support for the King.  Many of them had lost everything.  Some had seen their friends executed in earlier confrontations, including the Battle of Bennington.  So, these raiders were out for revenge.

In the end, the raiders only managed to kill three people.  There is no record of any raiders killed.

The continuing raids into the Mohawk were going to require a larger response.  But that would take a while to come, and will be the topic of a future episode.

Next week, I’m going to take us back to the fighting around New York City, where Washington’s Continentals continue to harass the main British garrison under General, Sir Henry Clinton.

- - -

Next Episode 198 Raid on Old Tappan 

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American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account. You may also donate via Venmo (@Michael-Troy-20), Zelle, or popmoney (send to

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Further Reading


Butler’s Rangers:

Timeline of Events for 1778:

Letter from General Schuyler to the Tryon Committee of Safety, March 11, 1778:

The Battle of Cobleskill:

Iroquois Indians Win the Battle of Cobleskill:

The Attack on German Flatts:

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Cruikshank, E. A. Story of Butler's Rangers and the Settlement of Niagara, Welland, Ontario: Tribune printing house, 1893. 

Flick, Alexander C. Loyalism in New York During the American Revolution, New York, Columbia Univ. Press, 1901. 

Halsey, Francis W. The Old New York Frontier, New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902. 

McIlwraith, J.N. Sir Frederick Haldimand, Toronto: Morang & Co. 1910. 

Stone, William L. Life of Joseph Brant-Thayendanegea, New York: A.V. Blake, 1838. 

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Graymont, Barbara The Iroquois in the American Revolution, Syracuse University Press, 1972. 

Kelsay, Isabel Thompson Joseph Brant, 1743-1807, Man of Two Worlds, Syracuse Univ. Press, 1984. 

Mintz, Max M. Seeds of Empire: The American Revolutionary Conquest of the Iroquois, NYU Press, 1999. 

Reynolds, Paul R. Guy Carleton: A Biography, William Morrow,1980. 

Swigget, Howard War out of Niagara, Port Washington, NY: I.J. Friedman. 

Williams, Glenn F. Year of the Hangman: George Washington's Campaign Against the Iroquois

Westholme Publishing, 2005. 

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

ARP196 Rhode Island Campaign

By late summer, 1778, the British forces in North Ameirca were mostly restricted to their major garrisons on New York City and Quebec.  The next largest force in North America was in and around Newport Rhode Island.  

British Defenses 

In 1776, when General Howe ordered General Clinton to capture Newport, Clinton had been upset because it removed him from the primary campaign in New Jersey against Washington’s retreating Continentals.  After capturing Aquidneck Island, Clinton went back to London to resign his commission.  The king refused to accept his resignation and sent him back to New York City.  The British garrison in Newport came under the command of General Richard Prescott.  The Continentals managed to kidnap the general (see Episode 147) and the British sent General Robert Pigot to take command in Rhode Island.

First Rhode Island Regiment
Because soldiers were needed elsewhere, Rhode Island never really got enough soldiers to go on the offensive in New England.  Instead, they fortified Aquidneck Island and kept the waters around it as a port for the navy.  Occasionally the Americans in the surrounding areas would run minor raids against the island, but this was really just harassment.  Other than the mission to kidnap General Prescott, there was not much they could do.  Retaking Aquidneck Island without being able to control the waters around the island was just not possible.

In the spring of 1778, General Pigot ordered  a few British raids against the mainland, which I described back in Episode 185.  But again, those were day raids, designed as quick search and destroy missions, designed to be over before the enemy could respond in force. These minor raids aside, the occupation was pretty much a standoff for nearly two years, with the British in control of Aquidneck Islan and the patriots controlling the surrounding mainland.

General Pigot commanded between 2000 and 3000 British Regulars and Hessians, along with a handful of loyalist militia.  In July, before the French fleet reached New York, General Clinton sent an additional nearly 2000 regulars to Newport, under the command of General Richard Prescott.  The more senior General Pigot remained in command.  A short time later, Clinton dispatched another two regiments of Hessians.  All of these reinforcements travelled by sea and arrived via troop transports.  Rounding out Pigot’s command were Major General Francis Smith and Hessian General Friedrich Wilhelm von Lossberg.

These reinforcements put nearly 6000 soldiers under General Pigot’s command in defense of Aquidneck Island.  The British Navy still had at least a dozen smaller warships in the waters around Aquidneck in order to protect against any American assault on the island from the mainland.

American Forces

The Americans had been frustrated with this British outpost in New England.  But the Continental Navy was no match for the British, thus leading to the nearly two-year standoff.  However, until the French Navy under Admiral d’Estaing was able to threaten the British Navy  Washington saw no good chance to remove the British from Newport.

A year earlier, Washington had sent General Joseph Spencer of Connecticut to challenge the British presence in Rhode Island.  Spencer had called up New England militia for an attack on Aquidneck Island, but then cancelled the attack at the last minute fearing he had lost the element of surprise.  The Continental Congress had censored Spencer for his failure to attack.  Although a court of inquiry later exonerated the general, he resigned his commission and left the army as a result of the controversy.

 Gen. John Sullivan

Washington then sent General John Sullivan with similar orders.  Sullivan had spent several months trying to build up an assault force, but had done little other than try to parry against the British raids against the mainland.  

Washington, seeing the opportunity to use the French fleet to resolve this deadlock, sent his aide, Alexander Hamilton, to meet with Admiral d’Estaing at Sandy Hook, at the southern end of New York Harbor.  Hamilton, who spoke fluent French, advised d’Estaing of Washington’s plan to capture Newport with the French Navy’s assistance.  The French admiral set sail for Rhode Island. 

At the same time, Washington sent Sullivan about 2500 Continental reinforcements, as well as Generals Lafayette and Greene.  Nathanael Greene was, of course, from Rhode Island.  Even though he was serving as Quartermaster of the army at this time, Washington hoped his presence in the military command would help inspire local militia to turn out.  The bulk of the Continental army remained at White Plains, New York, just north of New York City, and perhaps a week’s march from Newport.  Washington was not going to break his siege of British-occupied New York.  His position north of the city also prevented Clinton from trying to march any British reinforcements overland to Rhode Island.

Washington had called on Sullivan to raise 5000 New England militia to supplement his army, but to keep secret the involvement of the French fleet.  Washington hoped to keep that a secret from the British.  Sullivan had difficulty getting the militia to turn out in great numbers until the actual arrival of the French fleet on July 29.  Buoyed by the presence of the fleet, New England militia began making their way to the Continental camp. 

Congress also ordered three Continental Navy ships in Boston to work with d’Estaing’s fleet. Two of the ships could not muster enough sailors to leave port.  All of the sailors were serving aboard privateers.  A third ship, the 32 gun Warren, did manage to leave port.  However, Captain John Burroughs Hopkins, much like his father, the now-disgraced Commodore Esek Hopkins, opted to disobey orders and set out in search of a merchant fleet sailing from Ireland to New York City.

Narragansett Bay

Washington’s aide, Colonel John Laurens, had been attached to General Sullivan for the campaign.  Laurens received Sullivan’s instructions and then waited for the French fleet.  When it arrived at Point Judith at the mouth of Narragansett Bay, Laurens, who also spoke French fluently, met with Admiral d’Estaing.

The meeting did not go particularly well.  Laurens informed d’Estaing that Sullivan only had about 1600 soldiers ready to go.  He was still awaiting the arrival of the Continental reinforcements under Lafayette and Greene.  He was also still awaiting the arrival of most of the New England militia. D’Estaing also learned that the British had destroyed most of the Continental boats in their May raids.  Sullivan wanted to wait for the arrival of more reinforcements and the manufacture of more boats before he could begin an assault. The French fleet should guard the entrance into Narragansett Bay and await further instructions.

Admiral d'Estaing

The French were not happy about having to wait. It would simply give the British time to improve their defenses.  There was also the danger that the British could send a relief fleet before the French and Americans could take out the defenders.  Also, the French sailors and soldiers aboard the ships had not been ashore since sailing from France.  The men were suffering from scurvy and lack of fresh water.  On top of all that, d’Estaing was perturbed that General Sullivan was issuing orders to him like he was some subordinate officer.

The British did, in fact, take advantage of the delay.  The French fleet was much larger than the small British contingent of ships around Newport.  Admiral Howe had issued orders to make sure the British ships were not captured.  The British Navy unloaded and scuttled the ships in Narragansett Bay, where they would serve as obstacles to an advance by the French fleet.  The crews mounted the cannons in batteries around the various islands in Narragansett Bay, prepared to contest any French advance.

The day after his arrival, d’Estaing sent two of his ships into Narragansett, to the west side of Conanicut Island, which sat west of Aquidneck Island.  The British defenders on Conanicut spiked their cannons, blew up their powder magazine and retreated to Aquidneck.  The following day, the French landed a small party and raised the French flag on Conanicut. A couple of days later, they placed their own cannons on the island to cover the entrance to Newport Harbor.  They did not land in force though, fearing a British counterattack would lead to the soldiers being trapped on the island.

French ships also attacked several British warships that were still unloading onto Aquidneck.  The British abandoned their ships and set them on fire, their primary goal, keeping the ships from falling into the hands of the French.

On August 1, General Sullivan came aboard the Languedoc to meet personally with Admiral d’Estaing.  The leaders agreed that, once they were ready, the Continentals would land on Aquidneck from their bases on the mainland east of the island.  The French would land on the west coast at the same time.

The French also landed some of their sick, to be cared for on the mainland, turned over several hundred prisoners from prize ships to be held as American prisoners, and sent to Boston nine prize ships that they had captured since leaving France.

On August 3, two small British ships took advantage of the fog and sailed past the French fleet into Newport. They carried word from Admiral Howe that he was assembling a relief fleet.  With that, General Pigot ordered several remaining ships to put their cannons back aboard in order to protect Aquidneck from any attack before the British relief fleet arrived.

The French, seeing these ships back in position, came after them.  After trying to sail away from the French, the British commanders ordered their ships set on fire and destroyed them.

General Pigot became convinced that the French were planning to assault Newport.  The British commander attempted to enlist more local loyalists, even slaves, to assist in the town’s defense. Most locals, however, did not like British chances and did not want to be captured on the losing side of the battle.  Pigot also virtually abandoned the northern part of Aquidneck Island, concentrating his forces and supplies in the area immediately around Newport on the south of the island.

American Assault

In response to the call for militia, Massachusetts had called up about 3000 soldiers.  Of these, about 1000 were already in the field and had their terms extended.  Another 2000 were drafted and sent marching.  Connecticut only sent a mere 500 soldiers, leaving another 4000 militia in the state to protect against any British invasion from Long Island.  New Hampshire neglected to send any militia, despite New Hampshire General Sullivan’s command.  Rhode Island called about 3000 militia, but only for fifteen day’s service.  Officials were concerned about getting men home in time for harvest.

1778 French Map of the Area Around Aquidneck Island
In addition to the militia and the 2500 Continentals still making their way from White Plains, Sullivan also had command of several regiments of state regulars: the First and Second Rhode Island regiments, two Massachusetts Regiments, and one regiment from New Hampshire.  Massachusetts also sent a regiment of artillery.  

By the first week of August, the bulk of the American forces had arrived.  The Rhode Island militia were some of the last, given that they did not bother to muster until August 6.  The other delay was a lack of boats to transport the army to Aquidneck Island.  Sullivan did not get authorization to pay for replacement boats until July 20.  Now he was rushing to buy, borrow, or build enough flat bottomed boats to transport his army.  By August 8 though, Sullivan had the fleet that he thought he needed.

With his forces ready, Sullivan called on d’Estaing to attack Aquidneck island as a feint to draw off British defenders, thus making the main American landing on the other side of the island easier.  The French leader, once again offended by Sullivan giving French forces a secondary role, insisted that both armies land simultaneously.

In point of fact though, although d’Estaing claimed to have 4000 French forces, he had only had about 1000 regular soldiers and 1600 marines.  The remainder of his forces were 1400 sailors who were not even armed with guns.  Much of his crew was also too sick for battle.  To supplement the French forces, Sullivan sent Lafayette commanding 300 Continentals and 900 militia to land with the French. 

Lafayette did not actually arrive until August 7.  Sullivan had planned the attack for August 8.  However most of his expected militia was still a day or two away.  He delayed the attack until August 10.  Even so, d’Estaing sailed several of his larger ships past Newport on the 8th, forcing the British to burn two more of their ships to avoid risk of capture.  Pigot also recalled the remainder of British soldiers from the northern part of the island, completely abandoning his defenses there.

On the morning of August 9, the day before the planned invasion, Sullivan called a council of war to discuss overnight intelligence that the British had abandoned their defenses on the northern part of the island. The council agreed to begin the landing right way, before the British thought better of their decision to withdraw, and returned.  

Sullivan sent a messenger to inform d’Estaing, while he deployed the First Rhode island Regiment to land and confirm the intelligence.  When the intelligence proved true, Sullivan began landing in full force.  The French had begun landing soldiers on Conanicut Island that same morning.  They planned to cross over to Aquidneck the following day.  About this time, d’Estaing received Sullivan’s message that he was already landing and inviting the French to move up their assault on Aquidneck.  The French landing force, mostly on Conanicut Island by this time, prepared to move on Aquidneck in the afternoon.

British Fleet

As the French prepared for their landing, d’Estaing received word of a fleet appearing in Narragansett Bay.  Fearful of the arrival of a large fleet from England, d’Estaing halted the French landing and began recalling his forces back to the fleet.  

As it turned out, the British ships were part of a fleet that Admiral Howe had cobbled together from ships arriving in New York Harbor.  Howe had been waiting for a larger fleet under the command of Admiral John Byron.  By August 6, Howe had eight ships of the line, seven smaller ships with at least 44 guns each, and a flotilla of smaller ships.  Howe figured that even if he could not defeat the French fleet decisively, it was better to go disrupt the assault on Newport than to await the arrival of the rest of the fleet. 

That night, under cover of darkness, d’Estaing took his fleet out of the narrow channels, preparing to sail into the open sea, where the large ships had a much greater advantage against the British.  The admiral hoped he could defeat the British fleet before more reinforcements arrived, then return to assist with the assault on Aquidneck.

Howe’s smaller fleet, having succeeded in drawing the French away from Newport, tried to get the best position upwind from the enemy before engaging.  The French pursued the British, who managed to keep their distance for the rest of the day. 

The next morning, the two fleets resumed the chase, but also noticed that the wind had picked up considerably.  Over the course of the day, the winds got worse, along with heavy rain and fog.  The storm was the remainder of a hurricane making its way up the east coast.  By evening, both fleets gave up the idea of battle and focused on riding out the storm.

Over the next two days, General Howe’s fleet got scattered, with several ships losing their masts and taking other damage.  The French also took serious damage and were scattered.  The Languedoc, d’Estaing’s flagship, not only lost several of its masts, but also broke its rudder, leaving the crew unable to steer.  On the morning of August 13, with the storm having passed, the smaller British ship, the Renown spotted the Languedoc and attacked.  Normally, the larger French ship would have had a clear advantage.  But after realizing the amount of damage, the Renown moved in to attack.  The French managed to keep the enemy at bay for most of the day, and overnight was able to signal other French ships to join her and chase away the British attacker.

Two British ships also attacked the damaged Marseilles.  But the larger French ship of the line managed to get off several broadsides despite damage to her masts, and chased off the British attackers.  Several other engagements took place as the damaged ships on both sides struggled to regroup their fleets.

Battle of Rhode Island

As the fleets struggled at sea, Sullivan’s forces dug in on the heights on the northern part of Aquidneck Island.  Sullivan had over 10,000 soldiers on the island  The army had to hunker down and endure the same storm that had hit the fleets at sea.  Soldiers’ tents were blown away and everyone was soaked.  Most of the gunpowder was ruined by water, making any battle plan much more difficult.

By the morning of August 15, the army had recovered sufficiently from the storm to begin moving south toward the British lines around Newport.  The Americans moved within a mile of the British.  Then, over the next couple of nights, moved within a few hundred yards, in artillery range of the lines.

The British defenses were formidable.  The reason that Pigot had given up the northern part of the island without a fight was so that he could concentrate his forces on entrenched heights just north of Newport.  The British laid out two lines, with water protecting their flanks and artillery covering the open fields that the Americans would have to cross.

The Americans outnumbered the British probably by two to one.  Sullivan tried to bait the British into leaving their lines to advance on the Americans, but Pigot remained safely inside his defensive perimeter.  For several days, the two sides just traded artillery fire, each side waiting for their navy to return.

On August 20th the British garrison happily caught sight of the British ship Senegal returning to Narragansett Bay.  Their hopes were dashed after learning that the Senegal was now a prize ship under French control.  Several other ships from the French fleet soon appeared.  They were badly damaged, but the French were returning to Narragansett, not the British.  If the French controlled the waters around Newport, the British could only hold out for a short time before inevitably having to surrender.  Their only hope was that a British fleet would arrive before they reached the end of their supplies.

The Americans appeared to be on the verge of victory.  Then, the Senegal landed a messenger at Point Judith with a message for General Sullivan.  D’Estaing informed Sullivan that the fleet was too badly damaged and that they were leaving right away, headed to Boston for repairs.  Sullivan immediately dispatched General Lafayette, General Greene, and Colonel John Langdon to persuade d'Estaing to remain.  The fleet’s presence, even for a few days, might be enough to convince the British garrison to surrender.  If d’Estaing could deploy his 4000 French troops onto the island, it would either convince Pigot to surrender, or at least divide his defensive lines, making an American attack more likely to prevail.

D’Estaing, however, would not be swayed.  His fleet was too badly damaged to do any good.  His lookouts had identified a few British ships of the line which they knew were part of Byron’s relief fleet.  The French did not want to get caught in Narragansett Bay facing a superior force, especially with their ships in such poor condition.  On the evening of August 21, the French fleet set sail for Boston.

With the French departure, Sullivan saw the American victory slip away.  He had already had to deal with several hundred militia leaving the island when their 15-day enlistments ended.  These were draftees, not volunteers.  Nothing would compel them to remain a minute longer than required.  Sullivan faced the imminent departure of all of the 3000 Rhode Island militia.  The other soldiers remaining were demoralized by the abandonment of the French fleet.  Following another council of war, the Americans withdrew back to the northern end of the island, where they occupied the defensive heights there.

Upon receiving word from Washington that a fleet of over 100 ships was gathering in Long Island Sound, likely a relief force for Newport, Sullivan began removing his supplies, heavy equipment, and some of his larger artillery off Aquidneck Island and back to the mainland.

By the evening of August 28th , the Continentals had completely evacuated their lines in front of Newport.  The British sent out two divisions, under General Von Lossberg and General Smith, to move to the northern part of the island and test the American lines.  The Americans held stiff resistance on fighting at Quaker Hill and Turkey Hill.  The back and forth fighting cost the Americans about 200 casualties, with the British and Hessian attackers taking about 260.  The British, back in control of the waters, brought up several frigates to support the attack. On the night of August 30, the Americans abandoned their position entirely on the island and rowed back across to Tiverton to take up defensive positions on the mainland.


With that withdrawal, the situation pretty much returned to the status quo.  The British held Aquidneck Island while the Americans remained across the water on the mainland.  The militia returned to their homes and the standoff remained.  The morning after the withdrawal, a 70-ship British relief fleet was spotted off Point Judith.  The British, once again, took control of the waters around Aquidneck Island.  

In the days following the French withdrawal, an angry General Sullivan and his officers hurled invectives and the French, the 18th Century equivalent of cheese eating surrender monkeys.  General Lafayette nearly got drawn into several duels while trying to defend the honor of his home country.  Some feared that the angry words might damage the new French alliance.  Sullivan had to put out a public declaration praising the efforts of the French.  The Continental Congress praised both the efforts of the Americans and the French.  The diplomatic statements papered over the hard feelings.  But once again, the Americans had failed to take their intended target.

Next week: we head back to upstate New York where battles still rage with the Indians and Loyalists at at Cobleskill and German Flatts.

- - -

Next Episode 197 Battle of German Flatts (Available April 18, 2021)

Contact me via email at

Follow the podcast on Twitter @AmRevPodcast

Join the Facebook group, American Revolution Podcast:

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American Revolution Podcast is distributed 100% free of charge. If you can chip in to help defray my costs, I'd appreciate whatever you can give.  Make a one time donation through my PayPal account. You may also donate via Venmo (@Michael-Troy-20), Zelle, or popmoney (send to

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Further Reading


Battle of Rhode Island:

The Battle of Rhode Island:

Battle of Rhode island:

“To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 22 July 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“From George Washington to Major General John Sullivan, 27 July 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“From George Washington to Major General John Sullivan, 28 July 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 10 August 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 17 August 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 19 August 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 21 August 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 29 August 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

“From George Washington to Major General John Sullivan, 1 September 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

To George Washington from Major General John Sullivan, 3 September 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives,

Free eBooks
(from unless noted)

Defense Technical Information Center Hearts and Minds: The Political and Military Effectiveness of the Rhode Island Militia in the American Revolution, 1992. 

Durfee, Joseph  Reminiscences of Col. Joseph Durfee: Relating to the Early History of Fall River and of Revolutionary Scenes, 1834 (from Harvard Univ. Library). 

Field, Edward Revolutionary Defences in Rhode Island; an historical account of the fortifications and beacons erected during the American revolution, with muster rolls of the companies stationed along the shores of Narragansett Bay, Providence, R.I., Preston and Rounds, 1896.  

Munro, Wilfred H. The History of Bristol, R.I: The Story of the Mount Hope Lands, Providence: J. A. & R. A. Reid, 1880. 

Murray, Thomas H. Gen. John Sullivan and the Battle of Rhode Island: a Sketch of the Former and a Description of the Latter, Providence : The American-Irish Historical Society, 1902.

Books Worth Buying
(links to unless otherwise noted)*

Crane, Elain F. A Dependent People: Newport, Rhode Island, in the Revolutionary Era, Fordham Univ. Press, 1985.

Dearden, Paul F The Rhode Island Campaign of 1778: Inauspicious Dawn of Alliance, Rhode Island Bicentennial Federation, 1980. 

McBurney, Christian M. Kidnapping the Enemy, The Special Operations to Capture General Charles Lee and Richard Prescott,  Westholme Publishing, 2014.

McBurney, Christian M.  The Rhode Island Campaign: The First French and American Operation in the Revolutionary War, Westholme Publishing (book recommendation of the week).

Ward, Christopher The War of the Revolution, Macmillan, 1952.

* As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.