On the night of July 9, 1777, a Continental Army major stationed at Fort Tiverton Heights quietly sailed with a regiment of 40 or so men towards Newport, to a private residence occupied by British High General Richard Prescott. Sneaking around three British frigates, and without any shots fired, the major kidnapped the general, who was said to be wearing only a night shirt.
The daring officer was Major William Barton, born in Warren, RI in 1748. A peculiar character, Barton, in contrast to many of the personalities in the Rhode Island Namesakes tour, was not highly educated or wealthy. He attained minimal education, and by 1771 he was working as a hatter in Providence. Barton married Rhoda Carver, and together they had nine children.
Although Barton was not part of the elite of Rhode Island, he nevertheless became a particularly important person in the state’s military history. He enlisted in the Continental Army in 1775 and participated in many important battles during the Revolutionary War, including Bunker Hill and, of course, the kidnapping of General Prescott.
In recognition of Barton’s courage, the Continental Congress passed a resolution of commendation and presented him with a ceremonial sword. After the war, Barton was promoted to the rank of colonel. He remained highly involved in both state and national political life, and served as the monitor for the 1790 Rhode Island state constitutional convention.
By the early 1800s Barton was in Vermont to resolve a property dispute. This case did not end in his favor, and, refusing to pay the $272 fine, he was put under house arrest. He stayed in this situation for around 14 years, until 1824. He was released when he was 76 years old, after the famous Marquis de Lafayette paid his debt.
A memorial to Barton exists today in the form of what was Fort Tiverton Heights but is today Fort Barton. The fort where Barton was stationed during the war is today a public park that still contains some of the original fortifications. During the war, this fort was one of the most strategically important locations for the Continental Army. The observation tower, where soldiers could see most of Narraganset Bay, still stands. Renamed Fort Barton to memorialize this important figure and the brave action he undertook from this site, the fort contains 80-acres of protected nature, with several pleasant walking trails. The wartime fort has become a very peaceful place to pass the time.