Kayakers raid Portsmouth in honor of Lt. Col. William Barton

20-mile paddle part of Revolutionary War reenactment

By Jim McGaw
Posted 7/27/19

PORTSMOUTH — “I’m looking for Gen. Prescott,” announced Negeen Pegahi upon landing at Weaver Cove at about 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Ms. Pegahi, who along with four …

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Kayakers raid Portsmouth in honor of Lt. Col. William Barton

20-mile paddle part of Revolutionary War reenactment


PORTSMOUTH — “I’m looking for Gen. Prescott,” announced Negeen Pegahi upon landing at Weaver Cove at about 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday.

Ms. Pegahi, who along with four other “soldiers” wore a Colonial-style tricorn hat, had just arrived after a 20-mile voyage from Warwick. She didn’t come by whaleboat, however, as did Lt. Col. William Barton and about 40 other men during the Revolutionary War 242 years ago. 

Rather, she arrived in a kayak.

For the second straight year, members of the East Bay Sea Kayakers retraced the water route Col. Barton and other Continental Army soldiers took in July 1777, when their daring raid caught the British troops by surprise and allowed them to capture Brig. Gen. Richard Prescott at the Overing house in Portsmouth.

Last year the paddlers dealt with some harsh weather conditions, which they took pains not to repeat this time around.

“It was awesome — beautiful, incredible conditions,” said Lyle Goldstein, a Barrington resident who first came up with the idea to retrace Col. Barton’s route.

“We really planned it with the weather this year. Last year we sort of just went on the designated day, and it was beyond difficult; it was dangerous. We had giant waves last year. This year we decided to watch the weather and see when it was appropriate,” he said.

The kayakers left Oakland Beach in Warwick at about 3:30 p.m. They skirted around Patience Island and followed the west side of Prudence Island before cutting across to Weaver Cove, landing just south of the public boat ramp. (After a short rest, they followed the other side of Prudence back to Warwick.)

“It was good — maybe four hours,” said Burc Oral, one of the paddlers. “This year was easier than last. It was calm weather with no waves.”

Rich history

Mr. Goldstein, a research professor at the Naval War College in Newport, said he fell in love with local history as soon as he moved to Rhode Island.

“It’s so rich,” he said. “(Warwick) has the Gaspee, but this is amazing history, too. This came right before the Battle of Saratoga; it really could be considered part of the turning point. Everything up to 1777 was really rough.”

He credited fellow paddler Brian Wu, of East Greenwich, with planning the route. 

“The key for this whole experience is, you see how wise Col. Barton was with his whole plan,” Mr. Goldstein said. “Crossing the bay is very difficult. If you don’t have a motorboat, navigation, weather, fog— all these things are a problem. 

“Following the contours of Prudence Island, which is a beautiful ’S’ shape, that’s really the key to the raid. You can see that Prudence Island really leads you from Warwick down to Aquidneck Island. That line of attack is beautiful because he knew his boats would be sheltered and not get lost — and we had the similar logic.”

Greeted with cheers

Like last year, the kayakers were greeted by a small contingent of residents who gathered at Weaver Cove, including members of the Portsmouth Historical Society.

“It’s just kind of an interesting historic event that took place here,” said Town Historian Jim Garman, who’s also a member of the Society.

“There are some ironies involved, in that Gen. Prescott was captured, and not long after that, he was exchanged for (Continental Army) Gen. (Charles) Lee, who got captured down in New Jersey,” Mr. Garman continued. “Then he came back to Newport; he was second in command for the British in Newport at the time of the Battle of Rhode Island, which was just a little bit over a year after his capture.”

Gen. Prescott had a reputation as a despot, which rankled those he came across.

“He was a real tyrant,” Mr. Garman said. “He would sound off to people if they didn’t take their hat off to him when he was walking down the street. He was not popular.”

‘Want to grow this’

Mr. Goldstein hopes to continue doing the Barton raid reenactment every year.

“We want to grow this. We want to have some younger kids doing this. They have the strength to do it,” he said.

One must prepare for such a long paddle, however.

“This was about 20 miles and one of the longest paddles we do, although most of us have been around Prudence. We did a little training — a night paddle Sunday off Barrington. You have to know what you’re doing and have your procedures down,” he said.

The kayakers said it was an honor to recreate such a famous — and local — chapter from the Revolutionary War.

“I said to my wife, what could be more American than reliving Col. Barton?” Mr. Oral said.

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