- Historic Sites
The Revolution Remembered
Newly Discovered Eyewitness Accounts of the War for Independence
April/may 1980 | Volume 31, Issue 3
The officer of the guard now says, “Gentleman, if this is true, we shall be all sacrificed. What can hinder the whole British army now on Long Island? Flushed with conquest, thirty or forty thousand can march their army up the island till they get opposite to Kingsbridge in four hours, and their fleet can send them the boats which we see them cross their army from Staten Island to Long Island in as short a time.”
By this time, Mr. French and I began to think about hunting up our courageous comrades and to learn whether they had kept themselves dry through the storm. I have but a confused recollection of what passed after this scene—all bustle and preparation to retreat out of the city as soon as possible. Mr. French and I, after the fatigue of the stormy day and standing sentry all night in our wet clothes, was quite sick, and preparations was to leave the city next morning, and he saw a man with a wagon that night from New Rochelle, and he hired him to carry us both to his house. We got our pass and went on, and stopped and recruited, and went as I could. I reached home about the last of September and soon listed under Lieutenant Isaac Burr of old Fairfield into the Black Rock battery service, according to best my memory, for one year.
Black Rock rock or battery lay on the top of a rock alongside of a narrow and crooked channel environed on every side with rocks, which made it dangerous for vessels unacquainted with the channel to enter. I cannot remember how many cannon was placed on the platform. I think six or eight. It belonged to the town of Fairfield and lay about half a mile east of the courthouse and jail. I believe the fortification was kept up till peace. I have forgotten how many men was supported for its defense, whether thirty or forty, I cannot [remember]. There was no particular occurrence took place of notice until about the close of the year 1776.
Near the last of December, Colonel Abel, a patriot and prominent character in the town and county, early in the morning he sent his waiter, a colored man by the name of Bill Molat, with a message to Lieutenant Burr. When Molat had reached within perhaps fifteen rods of the barracks, he began to shout and holler, “ Huzza, huzza, huzza .” He jumped up, knocked his heels together, and shouted, “Colonel Abel has news from Washington, and he has taken the whole Hessian army.” Lieutenant Burr halloed for Molat to come to the barracks, and when he came, he presented a short, brief statement in print stating that Washington, agreeable to a preconcerted plan, commenced his march at dark through rain, hail, and sleet on Christmas Day evening. He arrived at Trenton the next morning before daylight, and as they had been holding Christmas frolic, drove them out of their bunks and took them all prisoners. Thus the setting sun of the dreadful summer of ’76 sheds some rays of light on her horizon and was presageful of better days, and in fact this event was the dayspring to those better days, and the news flew swift through the land.
Abel Potter was one of thirty-six militiamen who slipped onto British-held Rhode Island in 1777, hoping to seize Major General Richard Prescott, the enemy commander. Later in the war, Potter returned to the island and was himself captured.
He was one of the … volunteers who took General Prescott from his lodgings in the nighttime from the island of Rhode Island. Colonel [William] Barton commanded at this adventure. His brother James Potter was second in command and he (this applicant) the third in command.… His brother James, after the expedition had landed on the island, took the two first sentinels that they passed, and this claimant took the third and last one who stood at the door of General Prescott’s quarters.…
They went into the house and the Widow Oberin, who kept the house, cried, “Captain Potter, what’s the matter?”
His brother James had been a sea captain … and was acquainted with the widow. He said, “You need not be scared, Mrs. Oberin. We are not agoing to hurt you. Where is the general?”
She said he was upstairs.
He and his brother and Colonel Barton went up into the general’s lodging room. He had raised up in his bed. He (General Prescott) spoke immediately and said, “Gentlemen, your business requires haste, but do for God’s sake let me get my clothes.”
Says Colonel Barton, “By God, it is no time for clothes.”
They started him immediately and bare-legged through a field of barley, which pricked him some. They went quick to their boat, where a part of their party had remained, and with them went back to their camp. The enemy fired at them as they were crossing back. They saw the shot strike the water around them. None was hurt.
The three sentinels they took with them under guard. … The mode in which he took the guard standing at the door was as follows. He answered as a “friend” and then stepped up to him to whisper the countersign in his ear and stooped forward to him, and as the sentinel inclined toward him, he seized the sentinel’s piece with his left hand and told him not to speak or he should die, the only words which this claimant spoke while on the island.