BARTON, WILLIAM. (1748–1831). Militia officer, captor of General Richard Prescott. Rhode Island. Born 26 May 1748, in Warren, Rhode Island, Barton was a hatter by trade. He became adjutant of William Richmond's Rhode Island Regiment on 3 August 1775. He was promoted to captain on 1 November, brigade major of the Rhode Island troops on 19 August 1776, and major of Joseph Stanton's Rhode Island State troops on 12 December 1776. Barton conceived the idea of capturing General Richard Prescott in order to exchange him for Charles Lee, who at this time was considered to be an asset to the American cause. Barton carefully and secretly planned the daring raid that accomplished this mission the night of 9 July, 1777. With forty volunteers from his regiment, he landed on the western shore of Rhode Island, then moved a mile inland. After silencing the guard on Prescott's billet, he captured the general and his aide-de-camp, Major William Barrington, and escaped with his prisoners. (This was the second time Prescott was captured, having been exchanged for General John Sullivan the previous year.)
Barton was commended by the Continental Congress by the passage of an act on 25 July 1777, in which he was extolled as "an elegant sword." On 10 November 1777 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel, and on 24 December 1777 he was named a colonel in Stanton's Regiment. In 1778 he was wounded while pursuing the British in their retreat from Warren, Rhode Island.
Although his state declined to appoint delegates to the Federal convention of 1787, Barton joined others in sending the convention a letter pledging their support of the Constitution, and in 1790 he was a member of Rhode Island's state convention, which adopted Constitution. He was detained as a prisoner at an inn in Danville, Vermont, for fourteen years after refusing on principle to pay a judgment on a piece of land in Vermont, that he had bought or been granted by Congress. Word of the old hero's plight came to the attention of the Marquis de Lafayette during a visit during 1824 and 1825. Lafayette personally paid the claim, and Barton returned to Rhode Island. He died in Providence on 22 October 1831.
Simister, Florence P. The Fire's Center: Rhode Island in the Revolutionary Era, 1763–1790. Providence, R.I.: Rhode Island Bicentennial Foundation, 1979.
revised by Michael Bellesiles