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William Barton (1748-1831)

William Barton was born in Warren, Rhode Island on May 26, 1748. After a minimal education, he gained employment as a hatter in Providence. On April 26, 1771, Barton married Rhoda Carver, and the couple raised nine children together over the next twenty years.

For much of that period, William Barton was active in the American Revolution. He enlisted in theContinental Army in 1775 and fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill as a corporal. His greatest wartime exploit occurred in July 1777, when he captured British General Richard Prescott. Barton, who was then a major in the Rhode Island Militia stationed with American troops at Tiverton Heights Fort, surprised Prescott by first rowing in secret across Narragansett Bay from Tiverton to Warwick, and then leading five whaleboats in the predawn hours of July 7 back across the bay from Warwick Neck to Middletown. His forty or so volunteers slipped past two or three British frigates and then, led by an African American named Guy Watson, broke down Prescott’s door and hurried him out in his bedclothes before his men knew what was happening. Barton’s men ferried Prescott to Providence, where he was held until exchanged for a captured American general.

In the early 1800s, Barton spent time in Vermont resolving a land dispute. Refusing to pay the $272 assessment that he felt unjust, he spent fourteen years under house arrest. Only after the Marquis de Lafayette paid his debt in 1824 did the 76 year old Barton return to Rhode Island. Read More...

Erik Christiansen, PhD, Rhode Island College