The Martha’s Vinyard Raid

On the August 26, 1778, the 17th Regiment marched with the rest of the 3rd Brigade, the 4th Brigade, the 1st Battalion of Grenadiers, and the 1st Light Infantry under the overall command of Major General Grey to Flushing Fly from their positions at Bedford. On the 27th, the troops marched to Whitestone and were embarked upon transports. The 17th was assigned to the Margaret & Martha and the Alicia. At this time, the regiment was reported to be 287 men strong. The fleet sailed on the 28th, arriving in Rhode Island Harbor on September 1st, to find that the Battle of Newport had already taken place and the rebels had evacuated the island. The fleet sailed the next day for the rebel privateer base at New London, but arrived in such disarray on September 4th that Generals Grey and Clinton decided against landing the troops. Grey proposed to move on and attack New Bedford, Massachusetts, in Buzzard’s Bay. Clinton agreed to this plan and returned to New York onboard the Galatea later in the evening. At five o’clock in the afternoon of September 4th, the fleet sailed from New London, bound for New Bedford. At three in the afternoon of the 5th, several large sail of ships were seen to the east. Given the possibility that they were French ships from the fleet at Boston, Grey decided to make sail back for Rhode Island and the protection of the ships posted there. At seven o’clock on the morning of September 6th, the strange ships came up with Grey’s Fleet and turned out to be Admiral Lord Howe. After conversing with the admiral, Grey’s fleet once again sailed off for New Bedford, arriving a little before sunset at Clark’s Cove. The grenadiers and light infantry were immediately landed and marched off to secure New Bedford, while the 33rd, 64th, and 42nd Regiments were landed in support. Meanwhile, the 17th, along with the 44th, landed at Skonticut Neck, where the expeditionary force to New Bedford was ordered to rendezvous. Six companies under Sir James Murray landed directly in New Bedford and burned the town, while the 33rd Regiment raid Fair Haven and burned all the stores of military value that they could find. The entire force rendezvoused at Skonticut Neck at 6 AM on the 7th and was quickly embarked.

Following the success of the New Bedford Raid, General Grey decided to continue on to Martha’s Vineyard, with an eye towards raiding Nantucket at the same time, and sent word to Rhode Island for transports to carry back cattle and sheep. On September 10, the fleet arrived at Home’s Harbor and came to anchor, except for the Grenadiers, Light Infantry, and the 33rd Regiment, which Grey intended to use in raiding Nantucket. Unfortunately, unfavorable winds foiled this plan, so Grey concentrated on Martha’s Vineyard. On the evening of the 10th, several rebel committee of safety men came aboard General Grey’s ship to submit to his authority. Grey required them to “direct the inhabitants to drive in their sheep and cattle, or that Troops should be marched thro’ the Island; likewise to bring in their arms, or that the Colonel and Captains of the Militia should be sent prisoners to New York.” On the morning of September 11th, a detachment of 150 men from each regiment in the harbor landed under Lieutenant-Colonel Stirling and secured the main harbor. Meanwhile, the ships from Rhode Island that Grey had requested for taking up cattle and sheep arrived. The next morning, several thousand cattle and sheep were embarked on these vessels, which sailed for Rhode Island.

The detachments from the 17th, 37th, and 46th Regiments were ordered to assemble on the beach, while Colonel Donkin with the 44th Regiment marched towards the Southeast of the Island. Only 229 stand of arms had been turned over to the army, so the militia officers were taken into custody along with the committee men, who had “concealed a quantity of ammunition.” On the 13th, the 17th, 37th, and 46th Regiments were embarked as more arms, sheep, and oxen came in from the countryside. Two men had deserted from the shore parties and were required to be brought in by the inhabitants “on pain of having a double number of their friends seized.” A tender from Lord Howe arrived bearing orders for the fleet to return to New York, so any lingering plans for Nantucket were set aside and the collected cattle and sheep were embarked upon the ships. Orders were sent to Colonel Donkin at Chilmarck to return and embark, which was completed on September 14th. With the cattle onboard and the deserters restored, the Militia officers and Committeemen were released “with a solemn injunction to abstain from taking part any more in the War or persecuting others for their political opinions.” Before leaving, Grey took up the money that had been collected by the inhabitants for a Congressional tax and destroyed a salt work.

The fleet sailed late in the afternoon of September 15th, arriving at Rhode Island on the 16th. By September 18th, the entire fleet was at Whitestone once more. In total, the expedition had carried away 10,000 sheep, 300 cattle, £950 in Continental Currency, and a large number of military accoutrements. On the 18th, 19th, and 20th of September, the troops landed and marched for New Bedford. On the 22nd, they were once again embarked and sent to Paulus’ Hook and were stationed at Bergen. On the 23d, the men move forward to English Neighborhood where they encamped with their left to Newbridge. On September 27th, Generals Grey and Cornwallis marched with several corps to Old Tappan, N.J. for the famous “massacre” of Baylor’s dragoons, though the 17th Regiment was left behind in English neighborhood. On October 15th, the 17th returned to New York and took up its winter encampment.