Hutchinson’s Island, Georgia, 2 – 4 March 1776
After the British seized Cockspur Island they sent ships upriver towards Savannah, but the town batteries that had been erected on the bluff fired on them. The next day Major James Grant landed at Hutchinson’s Island with 300 British troops to try to retake some British merchant ships loaded with rice. The British were able to board the ships at 4:00 in the morning and capture the crew. Some of the sailors were able to get off the rice ships and warn, Colonel Lachlan McIntosh, the commander of the Georgia troops, that the British had come on board.
McIntosh had come to Georgia in 1736 with General Oglethorpe’s 42nd Regiment of Foot and in 1775 he was considered the “handsomest man in Georgia.” He had been sent to Yamacraw with 300 men and three 4-pounders to build a breastwork.
As the British ships sailed closer to the captured rice merchants, two companies of riflemen fired upon the Armed Schooner Hinchenbrook, wounding several sailors. The Hinchenbrook fired cannon at the riflemen but only wounded one in the thigh, then withdrew to Cockspur Island. The two British transports, Whitby and East Florida Symmetry were able to get to the rice ships and began to unload the rice into their hulls. In Savannah angry Whigs burned three merchant ships full of rice so that the British would not capture them.
Two Georgia officers, Lieutenant Daniel Rogers of the St. John’s Rangers, and Raymond Demeré, were allowed to go on board the captured merchant ships and demand their surrender, but the two men were taken prisoner. Colonel McIntosh fired his 4-pounders on the ship holding the prisoners, until the captain of the man of war Scarborough agreed to negotiate.
When Captain James Screven and Captain John Baker rowed their riflemen under the stern of the Scarborough they demanded the return of the officers. Captain Barclay of the Scarborough replied by firing on the boat full of riflemen with swivel guns and muskets. Amazingly only one man was slightly injured. The boatload of riflemen quickly moved out of range, firing their rifles as they went. McIntosh supported the retreat of the riflemen with his shore batteries.
The Americans continued to fire on the British ships for four hours and several of the British troops were seen to fall. When the Georgia Council of Safety ordered the rice boats to be burnt McIntosh set the merchant ship Inverness on fire, and cut it loose to sail down to the rice boats. When the British marines saw the fireship heading towards them they abandoned their prizes and swam to shore, under constant rifle and swivel gunfire. Four of the rice boats caught on fire and were destroyed. The soldiers on the British troopships panicked and jumped overboard, working their way through a marsh to the marines. Twelve of the rice boats were able to run through gunfire from the Savannah side of the river and out to sea, only to be captured and have the rice confiscated by the Royal Navy to provision British troops in Boston.