The Battle of the Rice Boats — Patriots Take Control of Georgia in 1776

March 2–3, 1776 — American Revolutionary War

The Battle of the Rice Boats was fought between the United States of America and Great Britain from May 2–3, 1776, near Savannah, Georgia. Although the outcome of the battle was inconclusive, British forces eventually withdrew, leaving Georgia under the control of the Patriots.

General Lachlan McIntosh, American Revolution

Colonel Lachlan McIntosh. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of the Rice Boats Summary

The Battle of the Rice Boats was fought between the United States of America and Great Britain from March 2–3, 1776, near Savannah, Georgia. In an attempt to acquire provisions for British troops who were under siege in Boston, British ships entered the river.

The Georgia Committee of Safety responded by ordering the arrest of Governor James Wright and his council. While American forces under the command of Colonel Lachlan McIntosh prepared to defend the city, British ships seized 10-12 boats filled with barrels of rice.

American and British forces skirmished over the course of two days before the British fleet anchored at Tybee Island.

Both sides agreed to a prisoner exchange, which included Governor Wright, and the British sailed away on March 30, technically giving the American forces a victory.

Americans held Georgia for a little more than a year and a half when the British launched the Southern Campaign with the Capture of Savannah.

Savannah Georgia in 1734, Illustration
This illustration depicts Savannah in 1734. Image Source: New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Battle of the Rice Boats Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: The Battle of the Rice Boats is also known as the Battle of Yamacraw Bluff.
  • Date Started: The Battle of the Rice Boats started on March 2, 1776.
  • Date Ended: It ended on March 3, 1776.
  • Location: The Battle of the Rice Boats was fought near Savannah, Georgia, and Hutchinson Island in and around the Savannah River.
  • Theater: The battle took place in the Southern Theater of the Revolutionary War.
  • Who Won: The United States of America won the battle.

Battle of the Rice Boats Overview

Georgia and the Continental Association

Georgia was the only colony that did not send delegates to the First Continental Congress. After Congress agreed to form the Continental Association, Georgia was pressed as to whether it intended to join the Association and agree to the Aricles of Association, which prohibited trade with British merchants.

The Georgia Provincial Congress, which was established in July 1775, agreed to adopt the Articles. Patriots in Georgia started to enforce the rules of the Association as best they could, forcing merchants to comply.

Georgia also agreed to send delegates to the Second Continental Congress.

Georgia Committee of Safety

Despite the Georgia Provincial Congress, the Royal Governor, James Wright, still maintained some level of control over the colony. However, as the war continued, his control slowly slipped away. On August 17, 1775, a Committee of Safety was established, which took control of the Georgia Militia and replaced the Provincial Congress.

The Committee of Safety proceeded to elect new officers for the militia and sent the commissions to Wright for his approval. Wright refused and the Committee proceeded to approve the commissions. Among the men commissioned were:

  • Colonel Lachlan McIntosh
  • Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Elbert
  • Major Joseph Habersham

Patriot Support Grows in Georgia

Meanwhile, one of the Georgia delegates to Congress, Reverend John J. Zubly, was creating problems. Zubly was against independence and opposed the Continental Association. Making matters worse, Zubly sent reports about the proceedings of Congress to Governor Wright. Around the middle of November, Zubly left Philadelphia and returned to Georgia where he hoped to convince the Patriot faction to drop the trade embargo.

Further complicating matters in Georgia was the presence of a British agent, John Stuart, who was working to maintain an alliance with the Creek Indians. Stuart was also working with the Spanish in St. Augustine. Through his connections in Florida, Stuart was able to have goods delivered to St. Augustine and then transported north to Loyalists living in Savannah and Charleston.

Over time, support for the Patriot Cause increased in Georgia and Governor Wright asked for reinforcements to help him maintain control of the colony. In January 1776, British ships sailed up the Savannah River. The Committee of Safety responded by arresting Wright and some members of his Governor’s Council. 

British Ships Arrive in Savannah

In March, more ships arrived. This time, they were searching for provisions to buy and take back to Boston, where British forces were under siege. The British fleet was under the command of Commodore Andrew Barkley. The Committee of Safety refused to allow anyone to trade with the British, in compliance with the rules of the Continental Association.

Although Savannah was defended by American forces — Georgia and South Carolina troops — under the command of Colonel McIntosh, Barkley decided to take action. 

British Forces Move on Savannah

On March 1, Barkley sent five of his ships up the Savannah River to threaten the city. More ships were deployed as transports for Major James Grant and his ground troops. Grant’s men boarded ships and prepared to move to a position near the Port of Savannah. McIntosh and his men were able to fire on the British ships, keeping them from moving closer to Savannah. 

The Committee of Safety prepared for further hostilities by calling up more militiamen. 500 Georgians and another 100 men from South Carolina responded. 

The Battle of the Rice Boats Begins

On March 2, Grant and his men landed on Hutchinson Island in the Savannah River. There, they captured 10-12 boats carrying rice that were anchored nearby. The entire operation was conducted in silence, so the Patriot forces and the Committee of Safety were unaware.

Finally, at 9:00 a.m. on March 3, the alarm was raised in Savannah. McIntosh responded by gathering 300 men and artillery and taking a position on Yamacraw Bluff, overlooking the harbor. From there, he could easily bombard any British ships that were in the harbor.

The Georgia Committee of Safety responded by ordering men to remove the rigging of the larger British ships, which would essentially make them useless. However, when the Americans boarded the ships, they were easily taken as prisoners.

McIntosh Tries to Negotiate

McIntosh sent men, under a flag of truce, to negotiate with Barkley but the Americans were arrested. A second group of men was sent to negotiate, but a skirmish broke out. For around four hours, the American guns on Yamacraw Bluff and the British ships exchanged fire.

The Fire Boat

The Committee of Safety met and organized an attack on the flotilla of British ships and the rice boats. The Americans set a ship on fire and pushed it into the rice boats. One of the rice boats was set on fire, and a few others were damaged. Patriot Militia and British forces skirmished during the battle, while three ships burned. The next day, McIntosh offered a prisoner exchange to Barkley but was refused. The Committee of Safety responded by arresting the remaining members of Governor Wright’s council. 

The Battle of the Rice Boats Ends

The British fleet anchored near Tybee Island while negotiations continued, which carried on through the end of the month. Eventually, the prisoners, including Governor Wright, were exchanged and the British fleet returned to Boston — with the barrels of rice it had taken. 

American forces were able to maintain control of Georgia until December 1778 when British forces launched the Southern Campaign.

Significance of the Battle of the Rice Boats

The Battle of the Rice Boats is important to United States history because of the role it played in keeping Georgia in American hands during a crucial period of the American Revolutionary War. Eventually, American control of Georgia led the British to devise the Southern Campaign, which started with the Capture of Savannah in 1778. Although the Americans lost Savannah in that battle, it ultimately led to British forces being trapped at Yorktown in 1781 and having to surrender.

Battle of the Rice Boats Facts

The Battle of the Rice Boats Took Two Days

The Battle of the Rice Boats, also known as the Battle of Yamacraw Bluff, occurred during the Revolutionary War on March 2–3, 1776.

The Location of the Battle was on the Border of Georgia and South Carolina

The battle was fought in and around the Savannah River, which served as the border between the Province of Georgia and the Province of South Carolina.

The Cause of the Battle of the Rice Boats was the Arrival of British Supply Ships

The cause of the battle was the presence of the Royal Navy fleet in Savannah, which had been sent to Georgia in December 1775 to acquire provisions for British troops under siege in Boston. The Patriots in Georgia and South Carolina saw the fleet as a threat and sought to resist the British seizure of supply ships.

James Wright was the Royal Governor of Georgia

Governor James Wright was the Royal Governor of Georgia during this time. He played a central role in the conflict. Wright requested a naval presence near Savannah but faced resistance from the Patriots. He was eventually arrested by the Georgia Patriots, and his powers were progressively stripped.

Patriots Organizes Resistance to the British Supply Ships

Upon the fleet’s arrival, the Patriot militia in Georgia and South Carolina took action. They arrested Governor James Wright and other provincial representatives loyal to the Crown. The Patriots also resisted the British seizure and removal of supply ships anchored at Savannah. Some of the supply ships were burned to prevent seizure, while others were recaptured by the Patriots.

Patriots Took Temporary Control of Georgia

The Battle of the Rice Boats marked a significant moment in the Revolutionary War. It resulted in the end of British control over Georgia, as the Patriots gained the upper hand. However, the British forces later managed to recapture Savannah in December 1778, and Governor Wright returned to the city. The British retained control over Savannah until 1782.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title The Battle of the Rice Boats — Patriots Take Control of Georgia in 1776
  • Date March 2–3, 1776
  • Author
  • Keywords Battle of the Rice Boats, James Wright, Lachlan McIntosh, Continental Association, Articles of Association, Andrew Barkley
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 13, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 11, 2024