Prescott had no use for the rebels who had risen up against Britain, and perhaps too little respect for their abilities, for he had only a tiny contingent of sentries that he took with him to the farm. He stayed there with only the light guard to protect him -- a practice that would earn him criticism back home very soon.
The Rhode Island militia’s Major William Barton, stationed in Tiverton, learned of this situation when a soldier who was held by the British managed to escape. The intelligence was confirmed by a deserter.
An idea began taking shape in Barton’s mind. With Newport firmly under British control and the waters surrounding the peninsula thick with British ships, it would have been foolhardy to attempt to steal Prescott from the city. But his farm residence was a different matter.
The patriots had been embarrassed earlier in the year when their own General Charles Lee had been captured upstairs at a tavern in New Jersey, apparently under dubious circumstances. Returning the favor by swiping Prescott was an appealing thought.
Barton recruited a band of more than 30 men. The skills he needed most were a knowledge of the Newport peninsula and experience rowing in small boats. With his men selected, he began discreetly training, drilling them in small boats until he was comfortable he had an able crew. On July 5, the small group left Tiverton. Two days later, the long boats proceeded to Warwick.
The details of the mission had only been completely explained to the men two days earlier, and on the night of July 9th, the weather conditions were right for their launch.
Causing barely a ripple, the party rowed their boats down the bay and landed near the farm where Prescott was staying without being spotted by any of the ships. After only a minor scuffle with a sentry, the men confronted Prescott in his bedroom and stole back into the night, bringing the general with them.
By the time an alarm was raised, the boats were back in the water. The trip back to Warwick Neck took more than six hours. Barton, in telling the story, recalled that Prescott was initially concerned about how he would be treated. The party that captured him included a man who the general had sentenced to 300 lashes for failing to assist the British in moving a cannon.
Barton assured him, however, that he would be treated well, according to the custom of the times. Though Prescott had been hustled onto the boat with only slippers and limited clothing, it wasn’t long after he landed that a boat arrived under a flag of truce carrying the general’s fine clothing, wigs and perfumes.
As news of the capture spread, crowds gathered to gawp as Prescott was brought by coach to Providence and from there to Connecticut. He was eventually exchanged for General Lee, who was still cooling his heels in British custody.