Who was Prescott?

Blogged by Stephanie Poole, Program Assistant 

If you have ever driven down West Main Road, you have surely passed signs for Prescott Point. And, many have stopped by NRF’s Prescott Farm to see the windmill or relax by the pond. Did you ever wonder why the name Prescott is significant and how it came to be associated with the area? The name Prescott belonged to General Richard Prescott, a British general stationed in Newport during the British occupation of Aquidneck Island during the American Revolution that lasted from 1776 to 1779. During the general’s stay in Newport, Mr. Henry John Overing, a Loyalist, invited him to spend some of his time outside the city at his country estate Overing farm, today known as Prescott Farm. General Prescott, being aware of the hot, smelly conditions of a city in the summertime, gladly accepted this generous offer and took up temporary residence with the Overing family taking along a handful of body guards.

Meanwhile, on the Patriot side, General Charles Lee had been captured by the British and George Washington was desperate to get him back. He knew this might be possible if he could trade a prisoner of an equivalent rank. And so, as Rhode Island Patriots learned of Prescott’s whereabouts, they devised a plan to capture him and so strengthen their war time efforts.

Under the cover of darkness on July 10, 1777 a group of Patriots lead by William Barton crept up on the Overing house, subduing one guard (who had neglected to load his musket and so could not sound the alarm) and kidnapped General Prescott from the comfort of his bed, whisking him away into the night. But don’t worry; General Prescott was not harmed, except for perhaps his pride. Shortly after his capture, General Prescott was traded for General Lee.  This successful mission turned out to be as good for the Patriots’ moral as it was for military strategy.

You can still see Mr. Overing’s house standing in the same location as it did over 200 years ago. If you go to Prescott Farm and stand facing the Guard House (the little red building in front of the windmill), and look up on the hill across the pond to your left, you will see the large blue house that was once the home of Mr. Overing and his family (see photo below). The surrounding grounds have been referred to as  “Prescott Farm” since the early 1880’s, in honor of the historic event that took place on that fateful July night.

BUT…there is much more to this fascinating story than what is contained in this brief explanation. Mr. Christian McBurney has written a wonderful book called Kidnapping the Enemy: The Special Operations to Capture Generals Charles Lee & Richard Prescott which details the events leading up to, during, and after the capture of General Prescott. He will be discussing his book on Thursday, April 3rd at 6pm at the Portsmouth Public Library. This exciting lecture will be co-sponsored by the Newport Restoration Foundation, the Portsmouth Public Library, and the Portsmouth Historical Society. The lecture is free but space is limited so please call 683-9457 for reservations. We hope to see you there!

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About NewportRestoration

Founded in 1968, Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF) is a non-profit institution dedicated to preserving, interpreting and maintaining Aquidneck Island's 18th- and early 19th-century architectural heritage and the fine and decorative arts collections of Doris Duke.
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