The Battle of Rhode Island

The Battle of Rhode Island

On July 29, 1778, a French Naval fleet commanded by Charles-Henri Hector d’Estaing sailed into Narragansett Bay to aid the Continental Army in removing the British occupying force from Aquidneck Island. In response to the French advancement into the harbor, the British quickly scuttled some of their own ships and drew troop lines closer to Newport. Lord Howe arrived with British reinforcements on August 9th, and d’Estaing decided to abandon the original plan and  engage with Lord Howe’s fleet offshore. An unexpected storm struck the two fleets on August 11, greatly damaging a number of French vessels, including the flagship Languedoc. D’Estaing retreated to Boston for repairs, leaving the American-French land forces without naval support.

In preparation for a land assault, British forces began consolidating troops behind their lines and planned to burn houses within a three mile radius, should the Americans land on Aquidneck Island. On August 9, 1778, troops led by General Nathanael Greene and the Marquis de Lafayette touched down on the northern part of the Island and began pressing towards Newport. However, when three British frigates arrived in Newport harbor on August 27th bringing word of reinforcements, the Continental army decided to retreat before they found themselves trapped with no escape.

This section explores the Battle of Rhode Island through written accounts and objects.

Image: "Plan de la Ville, Port et Rade de Newport" [Plan of the City, Port and Harbor of Newport], ca. 1780
Rochambeau Map Collection (gm71002157)
Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Washington, D.C.