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Newport, capture of

Early in December, 1776, a British fleet, with 6,000 troops on board, appeared off Newport,

The old State-House.

R. I. The few troops stationed there evacuated the town without attempting to defend it. Commodore Hopkins had several Continental vessels lying there, with a number of privateers. With these he escaped up the bay, and was effectually blockaded at Providence. When Washington heard of this invasion he sent Generals Arnold and Spencer to the defence of Rhode Island. This possession of Newport, the second town in size and importance in New England, produced general alarm and great annoyance to the inhabitants east of the Hudson.

French fleet and army blockaded.

Washington had hoped the French army, which arrived at Newport, July 10, would march to the Hudson River, and, with their assistance, expected to drive the British from the city of New York. But it was compelled to stand on the defensive there. Six British ships-of-the-line, which had followed the French fleet across the Atlantic, soon afterwards arrived at New York. Having there a naval superiority, Sir Henry Clinton embarked (July 27) 6,000 men for the purpose of assailing the French, without waiting for them to attack. The French, perceiving this, cast up fortifications and prepared for a vigorous defence. The militia of Connecticut and Massachusetts marched to their assistance, and Washington crossed the Hudson into Westchester county and threatened New York. As Clinton and Admiral Arbuthnot could not agree upon a plan of operations, the troops were disembarked; but the fleet proceeded to blockade the French ships in Newport Harbor. The French army felt compelled to stay for the protection of the vessels. News presently came that the second division of French forces was blockaded at Brest by another British fleet. So the French, instead of being an assistance to the Americans at that time, became a burden, for 3,500 American militia were kept under arms at Newport to protect the French ships. Thus a third time an attempt at French co-operation proved a failure.

The old Tower.

This structure is of unhewn stone, laid in mortar composed of the sand and gravel of the soil around it and oyster-shell lime. It is a cylinder 23 feet in diameter and 24 feet in height, resting upon arches supported by eight columns. It was originally covered with stucco within and without, and on digging to the foundation-stones of one of the supporting columns many years ago, they were found to be composed of hewn spheres. This structure is a hard nut for antiquaries and historians to crack. Some [446] regard it as a Scandinavian structure of great antiquity, and others as a windmill built by some of the early colonists of Rhode Island. Gov. Benedict Arnold

Old Stone Tower, Newport.

speaks of it in his will (1677) as his “stone-built windmill.” Peter Easton, another early settler, says in his diary for 1663: “This year we built our first windmill.” Easton built it himself of wood, and for his enterprise he was rewarded by the colony with a strip of land on the ocean front, known as Easton's Beach. Such a novel structure as this tower, if built for a windmill, would have received more than a local notice. No chronicler of the day refers to it, nor is it mentioned as being there when the settlers first seated themselves on the island. It was a very inconvenient structure for a windmill, for it was evidently all left open below the arches, with a floor and three windows above them. The idea that it was originally built for a windmill is discarded by many intelligent persons who have examined it, and contemplate the condition of the early colonists of Rhode Island. When and by whom was it built? is a question that will probably remain unanswered, satisfactorily, forever. See Northmen.

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