Bombardment of Bristol

October 7, 1775

The Bombardment of Bristol was a British naval attack on the town of Bristol, Rhode Island. It was part of a series of raids carried out by Captain James Wallace in the waters off Rhode Island to seize provisions for British troops during the Siege of Boston.

Bristol Neck, 1765, Illustration, LOC

This 1765 illustration depicts a small ship anchored in the water near Bristol, Rhode Island, a port town on Narragansett Bay. Image Source: Library of Congress.

Bombardment of Bristol Facts

  • Also Known As — Raid on Bristol.
  • Date — October 7, 1775.
  • Location — Bristol, Province of Rhode Island.
  • People Involved — Captain James Wallace, Colonel Simeon Potter.
  • Historical Context — The Bombardment of Bristol took place about six months after the Battles of Lexington and Concord, during the Siege of Boston. It was part of the Operations in Narragansett Bay.

Key Moments

  • A small fleet of British ships, led by Captain James Wallace, patrolled Newport Harbor and sailed north to Bristol.
  • When the fleet arrived, Captain Wallace demanded to meet with a delegation from Bristol on his ship, HMS Rose.
  • After the townspeople declined to meet with him, Wallace ordered his ships to fire on Bristol.
  • Colonel Simeon Potter went to the Rose, met with Wallace, and agreed to provide 40 sheep. Wallace agreed and the bombardment ended.
  • The town provided the sheep on October 8 and the British ships returned to Newport Harbor.

Bombardment of Bristol History

During the Siege of Boston, the British Garrison trapped in the city — soldiers, families, and livestock — needed food and supplies. The British fleet was sent to gather what was needed from towns and farms along the coast of the New England Colonies and sometimes carried out raids when the people refused to comply with demands.

Captain James Wallace

Captain James Wallace was a veteran of the Seven Years’ War who was given command of the 20-gun frigate HMS Rose in December 1771. He sailed to America in 1774 and was based in Newport Harbor.

Wallace Raids Newport

In late September 1775, Captain Wallace, who commanded the British fleet in Newport Harbor, raised the suspicions of the townspeople, that he intended to remove livestock from the south part of Aquidneck Island. That night, several people went down to that part of the island and removed roughly 50 head of cattle and 1,000 sheep.

A few days later, the British removed livestock from two farms, where it was supposed they had been collected for supplying the troops at Boston. But the arrival of 300 Minutemen, who marched to the place and drove off the remaining cattle, prevented any more from being removed by the British.

Wallace was outraged, ordered Newport to supply his fleet with provisions, and occupied the town. To force compliance, he cut off all supplies from the mainland and threatened to bombard the town.  Approximately half the townspeople, including most of the merchants and their families, abandoned Newport, fearing Wallace would attack.

Eventually, a treaty was agreed to, with Newport providing beer and fresh provisions to Wallace’s fleet, in return for removing his troops from the town. The treaty was approved by Rhode Island officials and the Second Continental Congress.

Wallace Sails to Bristol

On October 7, Wallace moved upriver, north to Bristol, with five of his ships. When he arrived, he demanded 200 sheep and 30 cattle from the town, in the name of King George III. However, the townspeople refused to meet with Wallace or comply with his demands.

Wallace Raids Bristol

Around 8:00 p.m., Wallace’s fleet opened fire on the town. The bombardment lasted for roughly an hour and a half.

Accounts of the incident vary on the destruction that was caused. Some accounts say very little damage was done, but another says nearly 20 buildings were burned, including the Meeting House and the home of Deputy Governor William Bradford. 

Wallace sent his men onshore and they raided the town, taking everything of value they could find. According to historian Edward Peterson, the women “…had their clothes taken, all that were deemed of sufficient value to carry away, and their rings forced from their fingers.”

During the bombardment, Colonel Simeon Potter, a member of the Bristol Town Council who had been involved in the Gaspee Affair, went down to a wharf and hailed one of the ships. When he caught the attention of the crew, he yelled, “For God’s sake, stop firing!”

A boat was sent to retrieve him and carry him to the Rose, where he met with Captain Wallace, and negotiated an agreement. Newport provided the British with 40 sheep and the Wallace agreed to depart Bristol. The bombardment ended and the sheep were provided the next morning.

Harassment of American Ships

Afterward, Wallace and his ships continued to patrol the waters off the coast of Rhode Island, seizing American ships and arresting the crews. The ships and prisoners were sent to Boston.

Attack on Conanicut Island

In December 1775, Wallace attacked the town of Jamestown on Conanicut Island. He landed 200 Marines who burned the buildings near the ferry. During the attack, the British are believed to have accidentally shot and killed a Loyalist, who was standing in the doorway of his house, watching events unfold.

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Bombardment of Bristol
  • Date October 7, 1775
  • Author
  • Keywords Bombardment of Bristol, Bristol Raid
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date May 30, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update May 21, 2024