Nineteen men, including William Hutchinson, met on March 7, 1638, at the home of the wealthy Boston merchant William Coddington. The men formed themselves into a "Bodie Politick" and elected Coddington their judge. They initially planned to move to Jersey or Long Island, but Roger Williams convinced them to settle in the area of Rhode Island, near Providence Plantations. They purchased Aquidneck Island from the Indians and the settlement of Pocasset (now Portsmouth) was founded. Anne Hutchinson followed in April.
After enduring months of persecution and suffering while pregnant, Hutchinson suffered a miscarriage. The Puritan leaders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony gloated in her suffering and that of Mary Dyer, one of her followers who also suffered a miscarriage, labeling their misfortunes as the judgment of God. Massachusetts Bay continued to persecute Hutchinson's followers who had not followed her, and sent church leaders from Boston to Aquidneck in an attempt to persuade her of the correctness of their doctrine. Hutchinson expelled the delegates from her home, denouncing the Boston church as a "whore and a strumpet." Thus Portsmouth was born.
The Capture of General Prescott:
Colonel William Barton of the Rhode Island militia captures British General Richard Prescott, from his bed, when he awoke to find Barton’s men in his garrison in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, during the early morning hours of July 10, 1777. Colonel Barton and his 40 men departed Warwick Neck under cover of darkness on the night of July 9 and proceeded silently across 10 miles of water in Narragansett Bay toward Portsmouth. Evading British warships by staying close to shore, the Patriots were able to completely surprise Prescott’s sentinel shortly after midnight on July 10. They took the general, who was the British commander for Rhode Island, directly onboard a whaling boat, without even giving him the opportunity to dress. The humiliated Prescott was held in Providence until the British commander in chief, General Sir William Howe, exchanged him for captured American Major General Charles Lee. The exchange was particularly appropriate, as General Lee had also been taken into custody in his dressing gown after being surprised in the morning hours at Basking Ridge, New Jersey, having spent the night at White’s Tavern enjoying some shady recreation.
The Battle of Rhode Island:
French Admiral d'Estaing arrived in the summer of 1778 with a fleet of ships with infantry reinforcements for the war. Since he was unable to cross into New York harbor, French and American leaders decided to deploy the fresh forces to Rhode Island, in hopes of defeating the British there. Strategically, this would open up the Narragansett Bay for American and French forces and deny it to the British. John Sullivan was put in charge of this offensive.
On Aquidneck Island there were American and British forces remaining in standoff. General George Washington sent generals Nathanael Greene and Lafayette to support Sullivan in his efforts to organize his army.
As American intentions became clear, British General Robert Pigot decided to redeploy his forces in a defensive stance in and around Newport. He also decided to move nearly all livestock into the city, level orchards and houses to provide a clear line of fire, and destroy carriages and wagons.
On August 10, the Continental Army's plans for an offensive on the island suffered a setback when d'Estaing's fleet lifted anchor and left Rhode Island after coming within sight of the landing zone. He intended to engage a British fleet nearby. Sullivan's American troops had preceded him in landing ahead of schedule but were of inadequate strength to defeat the British defensive lines.
On August 11 and 12, a hurricane hit the area and flattened corn fields. After drying off, American forces started redeploying for a siege of Newport. Before d'Estaing could engage the British, his fleet was scattered by the hurricane, also destroying the British fleet.
When d'Estaing and his fleet arrived (after regrouping) on August 20, the ships were heavily damaged by the storm. d'Estaing decided yet again to put off landing infantry force, choosing instead to sail to Boston to repair the ships. Dismayed by this turn of events, Sullivan sent Lafayette to Boston to effect the return of the French troops to the prospective battlefield. This proved fruitless in the end. There was news that the British had sent for reinforcements.
After a failed attempt by Sullivan to take Newport without the support of the French, a series of hit and run skirmishes ensued as the Americans retreated to the north end of the island. One very successful skirmish was between the Black Regiment of Rhode Island and the Hessian Mercenaries in which none of the American forces were killed and the Hessians decimated. By August 28, Sullivan changed his plans to reflect the relative strength of the opposing forces. American troops were moved away from their offensive positions to defensive positions in the north end of the island in Fort Butts. Under the cover of darkness the Americans retreated from Aquidneck Island to nearby Tiverton Fort Barton. Thus ended the Battle of Rhode Island.