What it the real significance of the Battle of Rhode Island?
While we were unsuccessful in driving the British from the colony, the Battle of Rhode Island was a definitive event in the final victory. Unfortunately, many historians have neglected to even mention the battle or to fully evaluate its importance. Because of the strong presence of American troops in Bristol and Warwick, the British were reluctant to remove troops from Newport to aid in the campaign in the south. This worked to our advantage when Gen. Nathanael Greene conducted his successful southern campaign.
In Warwick, the economic crisis worsened in 1778. Self-serving speculators styled in the 18th century as “engrossers and forestallers,” were buying all necessary articles, especially food and clothing, for private gain. Over 2,000 people had been driven from Aquidneck Island as a result of the British action there. They were “homeless and penniless,’ dependent upon what little public and private charity was available. Warwick, already suffering, found little hope in caring for those who made their way to the town.
Tomake matters worse, on Dec. 12, the area was devastated by a snowstorm about which S.G. Arnold reports, “The depth of the snow, and the intensity of the cold, was unparalleled in this vicinity,” and goes on to say, “Sentinels were frozen at their posts, or stifled by the whirling snow, and so many Hessians perished from cold and exposure on that dreadful night in Newport, that this gale was long known as ‘the Hessian storm.’” Fortunately, by January 1779, other states came to the rescue of the Rhode Islanders suffering from the storm.
Finally, on Oct. 11, 1779, 52 transports arrived at Newport and began to evacuate the 7,000-man British army. Sir Henry Clinton, the commander-in-chief of the British forces, feared an attack on New York and decided to abandon Rhode Island. The small state, while still suffering from many of the effects of the war, was, at last, free of the enemy within their borders.
The remainder of 1779 held both high hopes and bitter disappointments for Warwick and other Rhode Island towns. The joy of seeing the British finally evacuate Newport on Oct. 25, 1779 was counterbalanced by the distressed condition of the economy and the adverse weather conditions, as severe cold again struck Rhode Island. According to Arnold’s history, prices soared and, in addition, the value of the currency plummeted all efforts of the state and the Continental Congress.
On May 19, 1780, a strange phenomenon of nature occurred that many Warwick residents felt was a bad omen, a warning of even greater reverses for the American forces in the Revolutionary War. According to Arnold’s account of the period, this “phenomenon, known as the ‘dark day,’…occasioned much comment among the intelligent, and greatly alarmed the ignorant.” He tells us that “For several days the air had filled with a dry smoky vapor, so that the sun could be looked upon with the naked eye, and the moon appeared as in total eclipse.”
Ships remained in the harbor at Pawtuxet and Apponaug while alarm and apprehension spread as the conditions worsened. Arnold’s account continues, saying, “On the morning of the nineteenth, this darkness increased…so that candles were required at noonday, and all business was suspended.” For many years al uncommon weather conditions were compared to this day.