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Spencer’s Expedition was a military action in which 9,000 soldiers from the Continental Army fought the British at Newport. On October 26, 1777 the attempted a forward movement, but the weather and failure of one brigade to report in time caused miscarriage of the plan.

Jonathan Trumbull, in a letter dated December 2, 1777, to General Washington, wrote the following relative to the affair: ” The expedition to Newport hath unhappily failed. An Inquiry hath been made Into the reasons. General Spencer was exculpated. A Brigadier Palmer failed in his duty. The enemy was meditating an attack on Bedford, and had actually embarked troops, which were prevented by this.”

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Spencer’s Expedition

  • The governors of New England called out their militias, and thousands responded.  They occupied the parts of the state not controlled by the British.
  • In January 1777 General Washington sent Major Generals Joseph Spencer and Brigadier General Benedict Arnold to Rhode Island.  Spencer assumed command of the loosely-organized militiamen, of whom there were 3000.
  • Spencer and Arnold began planning to capture Newport.  Arnold wrote Washington to request reinforcements, but Washington said no. With the enlistments of many militiamen set to expire, the generals had to table the plans to capture the city.
  • Arnold went to Connecticut and helped fend off a British attack there.
  • On July 10, a small group of Patriots landed on Aquidneck Island, captured the British commander (who was staying in a lightly guarded and isolated house), and took him back to Patriot lines.  (He would stay a prisoner for nine months until he was exchanged for Charles Lee).
  • General Howe sent Major General Robert Pigot to take over command of Newport.
  • Promised the raising of 8000 new militia, Spencer in September planned a new effort to take Newport. The troops were scheduled to rendezvous on October 1.
  • Delays were caused by the states taking too long to raise regiments and a lack of boats and weapons to ferry the troops.  British spies informed Pigot of the American effort, and on the 19th, British artillery fired on the Americans.
  • Then heavy rains fell and strong winds blew.  Some Patriot militia began to desert. By October 26, only 5300 Patriots were left.
  • Spencer called off the expedition and resigned his commission.  Further American attempts to take Newport would have to wait until next year.

Cite This Article
"Spencer’s Expedition: Failure in Newport" History on the Net
© 2000-2019, Salem Media.
December 5, 2019 <https://www.historyonthenet.com/spencers-expedition>
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