Papers of John Adams, volume 6

Thomas Simpson to the Commissioners

From Samuel Tucker

From William Vernon Sr., 26 May 1778 Vernon, William Sr. JA From William Vernon Sr., 26 May 1778 Vernon, William Sr. Adams, John
From William Vernon Sr.
Dear sir Boston May 26th. 1778

The Two foregoing Letters are Copys,1 thinking it necessary to transmit at least Three Copys these precarious Times, which I shall think no trouble in transcribing, if a single line thereof gives you the least satisfaction. The building the 74 Gun Ships are order'd to be stoped for the present, I suppose it to be in consequence I of what You requested me to write Mr. Ellery upon the subject.2 Nothing New in the Naval department since my last.

The Enemy from Newport made an excursion upon the Main Yesterday morning, they Landed about 700 Men at Warren at Day light, under the command of Col. Cambell they burn't a number of boats that was collected there the last Winter, sat Fire to the Baptist Meeting House which with three or four other buildings were consumed, the Militia collecting to the number of 120 they retreated towards Bristol made a stand, two or three Mile from that Town, while a number Rob'd and plundered the 157Inhabitants destroy'd furniture &c. &c, sat Fire to the Episcopal Church and 22 of the best dwelling houses in the Town, retreated hastily down to the Ferry landing, opposite to Rhode Island, where a Frigate an Arm'd Brigantine and several Cutter was ready to receive them on board under cover of their Guns which constantly Fir'd upon our People who pursued and harassed them in their retreat and embarkation, altho' not a fourth part of their number. Col. Barton (who took Prescot) was Wounded with one private we made three Prisoners, and its very probabil Kill'd some and Wounded many, as much blood appeared upon the Hill where they made a stand and several were seen to fall. Thus ended this burning thieveing Expedition in six hours from their Landing after retreating 8 Mile and stealing Twenty respectabe Inhabitants out of their beds, whom they took away, we suppose to Starve and Murder on board their Prison ships, as they have done with some Thousands before.3 I forgot to tell you Ten days past they sent a party into the Eastward sound and Rob'd the Elizabeth Islands of 1500 sheep and 100 Cattle, burn't some buildings &c. they did not Land at the Vineyard, return'd to Newport with their booty.

We are impatient to hear of your safe Arrival. I am most respectfully, Dr. sir your obedt. Hble servt

Wm Vernon

RC (Adams Papers) The address portion of this letter has been lost and a portion of the surviving MS cut off, leaving only a fragmentary docket entry: “Mr. Vernon's Letter 26 May 1778 ans. 27 July 1778.” The RC begins in the middle of page 3 and continues to the middle of page 4, being preceded by a Tripl of a letter dated 9 March and a Dupl of a letter dated 20 May (both above).


See descriptive note.


What JA directed Vernon to tell William Ellery is unknown, but it apparently had an immediate effect. On 20 Nov. 1776 the congress had authorized the construction of three 74–gun ships of the line but only one was ever begun, the America, at Portsmouth, N.H. It was that ship whose construction was stopped, a decision made by the Marine Committee in response to letters from Vernon and William Whipple received in early March 1778. In commenting on the two letters, Ellery stated that the action was taken because “these huge ships are too costly and unwieldy.” Congress ratified the decision on 29 May, ordering at the same time that the ship be altered to carry 56 gun's. Three years later, following a decision by the congress on 23 June 1781, construction was resumed and the America was completed as a 74–gun ship of the line. It never, however, saw service in the Continental Navy, being instead presented to France on 3 Sept. 1782 as a replacement for the Magnifique, which had gone aground in Boston Harbor ( JCC , 6:970; 11:555; 20:692; 23:543; Dict. Amer. Fighting Ships , 4:567–568; William Ellery to William Vernon, 16 March, “Vernon Naval Papers,” p. 221–224).


For a British account of this raid, see Rivington's Royal Gazette, 10 June 1778. See also W. H. Munro, History of Bristol, R.I., The Story of the Mount Hope Lands, Providence, 1880, p. 209–218.