By Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee

The first step on the road to celebrating the restoration of Butts Hill Fort was taken today.  Carl Viveiros of CJ Viveiros Landscaping spent the day on his ground shark brush cutter clearing vegetation within the Fort.  “I’m proud to be working on this project,” Carl said, referring to the efforts of Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee to restore the historic fort in time for the 250th anniversaries of the Declaration of Independence in 2026 and of the Battle of Rhode Island in 2028.  The Fort played a large part in Rhode Island’s participation the War for Independence, the British occupation of Aquidneck Island, and the Battle of Rhode Island.

The Portsmouth Historical Society formed the Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee to restore and maintain the Fort so that the public may enjoy this piece of history and use it for education and recreation.  Joe Studlick, Co-Chair of the Committee, said: “Thanks to the Aquidneck Island Land Trust and the Rhode Island Foundation whose grants allowed us to get the project underway today.  With sufficient public support, we will have the Butts Hill Fort ready for Aquidneck Islanders to enjoy for those anniversary celebrations in 2026 and 2028.

Butts Hill Fort prior to start of clearing
Butts Hill Fort after initial clearing

Local Rhode Islanders began the construction of the Fort in 1776.  Later that year when the British occupied the Island, they enlarged the Fort, using conscripted labor of Portsmouth citizens.  When the French sent a fleet and an Army to Newport to aid the patriot cause, they occupied the Fort to guard against a British return.

The Fort is most noted for its role in the Battle of Rhode Island.  General George Washington’s plan for the Rhode Island Campaign of 1778 was to use the French Navy in conjunction with New England militia and Continental Line forces to evict British occupying forces from the three Island towns — Portsmouth, Middletown, and Newport.  Not only had the inhabitants of the towns suffered severely under British occupation but defeat of the British land and naval forces would allow Continental Navy ships and Rhode Island privateers in Providence free access to the ocean.

Unfortunately, just as the battle was to be joined, a hurricane hit, severely damaging the French fleet and sending them to Boston for repairs.  This left the Continental forces to fight the British alone. The patriot forces, particularly the 1st Rhode Island Regiment (The Black Regiment), fought a well-organized, well-executed withdrawal with Butts Hill Fort anchoring the defensive line.  Eventually the patriot army made it to Tiverton in good order. The battle was significant because it was the first attempt to coordinate actions with the French, paving the way for the defeat of the British Army at Yorktown.  

Butts Hill Fort is an important, unique and historic site, but to restore and preserve it, public financial support is critical. Your tax-free donations can be made through the Portsmouth Historical Society’s website, https://portsmouthhistorical.org/membership/membership. See “Just Donate” at the bottom, and, in the box to designate where the donation goes, type “BHFR.”

The Committee is also seeking volunteers to clear the site. If you wish to volunteer or would like further information on the project, please email Seth Chiaro at sethchiaro@gmail.com.

BUTTS HILL FORT RESTORATION is a committee of the Portsmouth (Rhode Island) Historical Society. The mission of the Committee is to restore and maintain the Fort in order to provide a safe and accessible educational and recreational site that raises public interest in this National Historic Landmark and its role in the Battle of
Rhode Island.

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