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William Barton

William Barton (1748–1831) was an officer in the Continental Army during the American War of Independence who retired with the rank of colonel. He later served as adjutant general of the Rhode Island militia.

Barton was born in Warren, Rhode Island on May 26, 1748. He worked as a hatter in Providence, Rhode Island. In 1771, he married Rhoda Carver. In 1775, he enlisted in the Continental Army as a corporal. He fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill. On August 2, 1775 he was appointed the adjutant of Richmond's Rhode Island Regiment. He was promoted to captain on November 1, 1775.

In 1777, as a major in the Rhode Island state troops, he planned and led a raid on British headquarters, capturing Major General Richard Prescott. On the night of 10 July, with 38 men in four whaleboats, Barton crossed Narragansett Bay, passed unobserved by three British frigates, and, landing about half way between Newport and Bristol Ferry, went to the farm house where Prescott had his headquarters. The guards were surprised, the door of Prescott's room was broken in, and the general was hurried away half dressed and taken to Warwick Point, and afterward to Providence. For this exploit, the Continental Congress gave Barton a sword and passed a resolution honoring his service. Barton was promoted to lieutenant colonel on November 10, 1777 and was made colonel of Stanton's regiment of the Rhode Island Militia with "rank and pay of colonel in the Continental Army" upon the resignation of Colonel Joseph Stanton, Jr.. He served until the end of the war.[1]

In 1783 Barton became an original member of the Rhode Island Society of the Cincinnati.

When Rhode Island ratified the Constitution of the United States in 1790, Barton was sent to New York to notify George Washington.[2]

He helped to found the town of Barton, Vermont. Subsequently, Barton was successfully sued in court for selling the same land to two different parties. He was sued in court and lost. He refused to pay this debt. For this he was ultimately confined to the debtor's prison in Danville for 14 years, starting at the age of sixty-four. At the age of seventy-seven, he was released at the initiative of the visiting Marquis de Lafayette, who agreed to pay the balance of his debt.[3]

Barton died on October 22, with the year of death being given variously as 1831 or 1833. He is buried in the North Burial Ground in Providence, Rhode Island. Fort Barton in Rhode Island was named after William Barton.


  1. Heitman's Register of Continetal Army Officers. pg. 77.
  2. "Journal of the U.S. Senate, Tuesday, June 1, 1790". Library of Congress. Retrieved 11 February 2012. 
  3. Dunbar, Bethany M. (June 26, 2013). "Barton's hydroelectric history is revisited". Barton, Vermont. pp. 1B. 
  • Boatner, Mark Mayo, III. Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Revised ed. New York: McKay, 1974. ISBN 0-8117-0578-1.
  • Falkner, Leonard. "Captor of the Barefoot General". American Heritage Magazine 11:5 (August 1960).
  • Heitman, Francis B. Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army during the War of the Revolution. New, enlarged, and revised edition. Washington, D.C.: Rare Book Shop Publishing Company, 1914. Available on Google Book Search, page 90 shows Barton's service record and dates of promotions.
  • Wikisource-logo.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: "[[wikisource:Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Barton, William|]]" 1900 

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