The Battles of Wyoming and Rhode Island: Defeats of the American Revolution later turned into Victories.

By Roy E. Whitman

Both the Battle of Wyoming and the Battle of Rhode Island were fought during the summer of 1778. Although both of these battles were defeats for American forces, these defeats were later turned into victories. The Battle of Wyoming was fought on July 3, 1778 near the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. It was an ill-matched struggle between about 250 British and Tory forces and about 350 Senecas, one of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Indians, against a force of a few hundred colonists from the Valley. The Indians had joined British forces after the appointment of General Sir Gary Carleton to direct the western war for the British.

During the Battle of Wyoming, the British, Tory, and Indian forces were under the direction of Major John Butler and his rangers. The American force, small as it was, came under the direction Colonel Nathan Denison and Colonel Zebulon Butler. The battle on July 3rd took place near present-day Fourth Street in Wyoming, Pa. The Americans initiated the gunfire as they faced their British, Tory, and Indian foes, but they were quickly routed by a flurry of cannon, tomahawks, and spears. The defeat touched off a frenzied wave of Indian looting, pillaging, and plunder throughout the Wyoming Valley.

The American colonists revenge would come a year later when General George Washington directed General John Sullivan of New Hampshire to launch an all-out assault on the Iroquois in upper New York state with a Continental force numbering 3,500 men. General Sullivan arrived in Wilkes-Barre on June 23, 1779 and later marched to upstate New York to the shores of the Genesee River, punishing Iroquois settlements all along the way. By October 1779, the Indians had for the most part been successfully quelled, though small bands of Iroquois continued to harass colonists in the Wyoming Valley.

The Battle of Rhode Island was fought on August 29, 1778 in the bunkers and garrisons surrounding Newport, Rhode Island. In this action, the Americans had the advantage of having the French fleet as an ally under the direction of Count d’Estaing. The French had decided to enter the War for Independence on the side of the American colonists when General Burgoyne’s forces at Saratoga fell to the Americans in October 1777. At the Battle of Rhode Island, British forces were led by Sir Henry Clinton and by Major Howe at sea. The American forces were led by General Sullivan and General Nathaniel Greene.

The French created a controversy in the days leading up the battle by abandoning the American forces after initialing chasing the British fleet out of the harbor surrounding Newport, having suffered great damages in need of repair in Boston. Although Sullivan later protested this monstrous betrayal on the part of his new French ally, Congress later commended the French for their valiant efforts in Rhode Island as they did not want to anger and lose such an important ally.

On the day of the battle, three major assaults were initiated by the British, but the day ended in a stalemate. But without French assistance in the harbor, the Americans had to make a clever and daring escape from the bunkers and garrisons surrounding Newport so as to avoid almost certain capture by British forces who were being reinforced by Sir Henry Clinton. Instead of falling into the hands of the British forces, the American colonists managed to safely escape back to their farms and homes. General Lafayette who, along with the French fleet, played a role in this battle later called it the most successful action of the war so skilled was the escape from almost certain British entrapment. Although a defeat for the American forces, the groundwork laid by Sullivan and d’Estaing would later lead to the British evacuation of Rhode Island in October 1779 when the power and the authority of the Rhode Islanders would become unquestioned.

Sources: The Wyoming Valley: An American Portrait by Edward F.

Hanlon. Windsor Publications, 1983.

The Battle of Rhode Island by Howard Willis Preston, A.M.

Providence, 1928.

Roy Whitman had revolutionary ancestors, Peter Colvin and Aaron Wight, whom he believes participated in the Battle of Rhode Island and later took up lands in Abington, Pa. A fellow Whitman, Allen Whitman (presumably of Rhode Island but unrelated) was killed during the Wyoming Massacre that followed the Battle of Wyoming.

Copyright 2000 Roy E. Whitman
All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Contributed to "WHITMANIA!" by Roy Whitman of Scranton, PA.
Roy's web site "My Brother's Tree" is offline. The web site details the Whitman family along the lines of Valentine Whitman. He has graciously donated his information and transferred it to Whitmania! for safekeeping so that the Whitman data will be located in one place.
Thank you Roy!

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