“Bloody Brook” is part of Portsmouth folklore. The story is that the brook ran red because of all the blood spilled there at the Battle of Rhode Island. What exactly happened there? Why is Bloody Brook or Barker Brook important to the battle?

Map with permission of the Benson Family

I came across an older account by Eric O’D Taylor with a map by John Norman Benson that helps me understand this.

“Immediately before the American line and just in front of the advancing German reinforcements was a brook, called even now from the appearance that day gave its muddy waters “Bloody Run Brook.” Where the road crossed, a bridge had been built. On either side of the road a soft marsh extended following both banks. If a battery could be placed so that it commanded the road, and, above all the bridge, all was not lost.

…Greene spotted nearly a quarter of a mile up the road at the base of a hill a slight eminence with a flat top and a clear command of the brook’s valley. Quickly he brought three field pieces to the place and opened on the advancing British ..

To return to Malsburg (a German commander). At nine AM he left his men north of Bloody Run Brook beside and even on the slopes of Barrington Hill. Re-crossing the brook, he came upon Lt. Murarius’ company already demoralized by the fire from the new battery. Reducing them to some sort of order, he continued to the rear and found the ammunition carts which he was seeking. …. If Malsburg was to advance, the troublesome redoubt with its three cannon must be taken or silenced. Eagerly he hurled again the insignificant mound all troops stills out of the brook. It was a distinct mistake. Slight as the elevation of the redoubt looked from the road and Turkey Hill, it loomed like a fortress above the low valley of the marshy brook. Encumbered in the marsh across which they must jump from grass tuft to grass tuft, the Hessians staggered forward. . Now they are on firm ground; the guns as just ahead of them; they slow up a moment to dress ranks for the charge. Does someone move in the bushes to right, to left, of the redoubt? It is too late. The word is given. The charge goes home—and crumples like paper before the sheets of flame which burst from behind the stone wall lining the road, from the windows of a house before now hidden in the trees, from the underbrush and from the super heights of the redoubt itself. As Malsburg withdrew his shattered column, finding refuge behind the wall on the right of the main road, he saw the elated defenders of the little redoubt, break out from their hidden defenses. “They were mostly wild looking persons,” he wrote, in their shirtsleeves. Among them, too, were many negroes.”

From Campaign on Rhode Island by Eric O’D Taylor and illustrated with woodcuts by John Norman Benson. This booklet is in the collection of Town Historian James Garman. There is an abbreviated pamphlet available online: http://www.newportalri.org/