Friday, July 13, 2012

Intern's Corner: July in the Revolution

Capture of General Richard Prescott
By Mark Relation, DLAR Intern

          In December 1776, General Charles Lee, second in command of the American forces, was captured by a patrol of British Light Dragoons in Mrs. White’s Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, several miles from the rest of his forces.  At the time, many believed Lee to be the most capable commander in the American military and the best hope for independence, as he was actively opposing the British occupation of New Jersey after Washington had retreated his forces to Pennsylvania.  Washington was widely perceived by many leaders of the revolution as overly cautious and unwilling to actually fight the British while Lee was out raiding British outposts and defiantly battling for the control of the colony.  When news of his capture reached leading Americans, it was received as a terrible blow to the revolutionary movement, and plans were made to recover Lee from the British. 

          However, this posed a bit of a problem.  Lee was kept in much more secure accommodations in British New York than he had been in at Mrs. White’s tavern, so an armed rescue became implausible.  This left the Americans to try to negotiate for his release, but that required an exchange for a British prisoner of equal rank, which the Americans did not possess.  So on the 9th of July, 1777, a party of around 40 men under the command of Lt. Col. William Barton set out from Warwick Neck, Rhode Island, to obtain their bargaining chip.  General Richard Prescott, commander of the British forces in Rhode Island was their target, and a heavily guarded one at that.  He was situated on an island surrounded by 5,000 of his men and several frigates guarding the approaches. 

          Masking the sound of their oars by covering them with cloth, Lt. Col. Barton’s men rowed straight past the British frigates in 5 whaleboats, even passing so close as to hear the sentries calling “All’s well,” as they passed completely unnoticed.  They then landed on the beach and marched to the Overing House, where Prescott was quartered.  They quickly overwhelmed the sentries and captured Prescott and his aide-de-camp before they even had time to change clothes for the trip. 

          One of the sentries guarding Prescott managed to evade the Americans in the attack and made it out to raise the alarm, but as soon as patrols could be sent out after them, the Americans were long gone.  In spring 1778, negotiations finally succeeded in the exchange of the two prisoners, and General Lee returned to service in his post as second in command under Washington to later participate in the Battle of Monmouth.

Blanco, Richard L., and Paul J. Sanborn. The American Revolution: 1775-1783 : An Encyclopedia. New York: Garland, 1993. Print. p. 914-917, 1316-1317.

Arrest of General Richard Prescott, By Edmund Ollier

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