The Action at “Bloody Brook” (Barker Brook)

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“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/

Battle of Rhode Island Myths and Legends: The Hessian’s Hole and Bloody Brook


It seems appropriate during Halloween week to write about a graveyard and a brook that runs red with blood. Portsmouth has many legendary places and Hessian’s Hole and Bloody Brook are among them..

Hessian’s Hole is among the historical graveyards listed in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. This gravesite has its origin in the Battle of Rhode Island. Among the English troops that occupied Aquidneck Island were German soldiers, Hessians, who came primarily from the Hesse-Cassel region. During the Battle, Hessian and British troops chased the Americans who were trying to retreat from the island after the French fleet abandoned the campaign for Newport to repair their ships. Around Turkey Hill on the West Main Road, the Hessians rushed the hill to take an American redoubt.

From Captain Malsburg’s journals: “Here they experienced a more obstinate resistance than they expected. They found large bodies of troops behind the work and at its sides, chiefly wild looking men in their shirt sleeves, and among them many negroes.”

The Hessians had encountered the Rhode Island First Regiment – known as the Black Regiment. The Hessians were repulsed at least three times and according to General Sullivan’s account, 60 Hessians were left dead.

“Hessian’s Hole” was the name commonly used for the burial ground of these German soldiers. You can find it on modern online maps, but there are debates about just where it is located. One possible location is on the grounds of Portsmouth Abbey. Other sources claim it is by the top of Lehigh Hill on route 114 where there is a look-out. According to the state database of historical cemeteries, “This cemetery is just south of one of the holes on the golf course on the edge of the woods. It is on land of Portsmouth Abbey – must get permission to visit. These are the graves of Hessian soldiers who died during the Revolutionary War.”

Do the ghosts of the Hessian soldiers make an appearance now and then? A Daily News account in May of 1960 included a comment that the Hessian soldiers march on foggy nights around the Hessian’s Hole.

“Bloody Brook” is a nickname for Barker’s Brook because it was said to run red with the blood of the soldiers that died in that skirmish. Route 24 has interfered with the natural course of the brook, but you might still see portions of it.


Rhode Island Historical Tracts #6. Copyright by Sidney Rider 1878