Gateway to the Classics: American History Stories, Volume II by Mara L. Pratt
American History Stories, Volume II by  Mara L. Pratt

A Petty Tyrant

In the early days of the Revolution, there was a British officer, General Prescott, stationed at Newport. Although his name was the same, he was a very different man from the one we heard of at Bunker Hill. He was a mean sort of a man, and seemed to think that frightening children, and threatening women, were quite brave things to do.

He demanded that every man who met him should take off his hat to him as he passed. As the people of Newport were entirely at his mercy, many of them obeyed him.

One day, a good old Quaker came along. "Take off that hat," shouted Prescott.

"I take off my hat to no man," said the Quaker.

"Knock off that old fool's hat," said Prescott to one of his companions. And threatening and swearing, Prescott passed on, resolved to get his revenge in some way on the Quaker.

He could think of nothing that would grieve the old man more than to take away from him a pair of horses of which he was very fond. Beautiful black horses they were, as gentle and loving with the old Quaker as kittens.

The very next morning Prescott sent a detachment of soldiers to take these horses. Of course there was nothing to do but to give them up. Whatever the cruel General did with them was never known, but that afternoon the good old Quaker found one lying by the roadside, dying. The old man knelt down beside him, took his head into his lap, sobbing like a child over his four-footed friend. The poor horse tried to lift his head to look into his old master's face, and, with one great shudder, dropped back dead.

At another time, this Prescott wanted a sidewalk in front of his house; and so, instead of going to work to collect the stones honestly and build his sidewalk, he ordered his men to take up the doorsteps of the houses in the neighborhood and build one for him.

The people of Newport declared they would endure him no longer; and so one night, Colonel Barton, one of the patriots of Newport, planned to surprise the General and take him prisoner. Prescott was then staying at the house of a Quaker a little outside of the town.

Quietly they crept up to the house and entered. "Where is Prescott's room?" said Barton to the Quaker. The Quaker pointed directly overhead, and up the stairs they dashed, a little negro boy Jack, who hated the General well, leading the way. Bang went the tough little woolley head of Jack against the door of the chamber and open it flew.

Prescott sprang up in bed as they entered; but there was no chance for escape. His aid in another room, hearing the noise, jumped out of the window to give the alarm, but was instantly captured by the men below. Barton ordered the General to rise, and go with them. He begged for time to dress. But delay was dangerous. Throwing a cloak about him, they took him in his shirt, telling him that on the other side of the bay he would have time to dress at his leisure. The rest of the party who had remained on guard outside, formed around the prisoners; and as stealthily as they came they made their way back to the boats. Once again with muffled oars they passed by the frigates, the men chuckling to themselves as they heard the sentry's cry of 'All's well!' and thinking how angry they would be when, a little later, they learned that all was ill."

He was carried to Washington's camp and made a prisoner. It is said that while on the way to Washington, he was so rude to the wife of a Connecticut innkeeper that her husband gave him a sound horse-whipping.

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