Siege of Newport Sign, Witherbee School. Photo: Middletown Historical Society

The Middletown Historical Society recently unveiled a new historical signboard focused on the Siege of Newport, which was an attempt to oust the British forces occupying Aquidneck Island in 1778. Located on the lawn of the Witherbee School, at the corner of Green End Ave. and Valley Road, the sign was funded by generous donations from the Rhode Island Society Sons of the Revolution. It is dedicated to the memory of the late Kenneth Walsh, Ph.D.

The source material for the sign was the work of the late Dr. Walsh, who was the driving force and lead investigator on the 2015 report to the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program, Siege of British Forces in Newport County by Colonial and French in August 1778. This report was produced by the Middletown Historical Society Research Team, which also included staff, students, and alumni from Salve Regina University, and other contributors. The report’s editor, Christina Alvernas, used this work to produce the sign.  

The Siege took place in Middletown and included 10,000 Americans, including some of Washington’s top officers and aides, and the Toulon Fleet lent by His Majesty King Louis the XVI of France. In the summer of 1778, with the help of America’s new ally, France, a plan was made for the first joint military campaign of the American Revolution. The hope was that a victory with this powerful ally could win the war, right here in Rhode Island. When a severe storm tore through the area, the badly damaged French fleet had to abandon the operation. Faced with going it alone, American forces under the command of Major General John Sullivan continued on, in hopes the French would return in time to finish the job. The American’s built trench works and batteries on Middletown’s Honeyman Hill and bombarded the British outer line of defense on Bliss Hill, overlooking Easton’s Pond. The British, with two established lines of batteries and redoubts fortifying Newport, returned fire. Cannonballs flew over Easton’s Pond and Bailey’s Brook for more than a week. The Siege ended when Sullivan received news of impending British reinforcements and chose to abandon the position rather than be trapped on the island. The American’s withdrawal up the island ultimately led to the famed Battle of Rhode Island in Portsmouth in August 1778.  

The Witherbee School is a historic one-room schoolhouse operated by the Middletown Historical Society. It is open to the public on select weekends and features new displays on the American Revolution, including cannonballs fired during the Siege and discovered in Middletown over the years. The Siege of Newport sign is located on the grounds and is free for the public to view, anytime. Visitors can read the full story of the Siege while standing in the valley between the American and British positions.

The Middletown Historical Society is an all-volunteer, non-profit educational organization, founded in 1976. Their mission is to preserve the history of the town, investigate aspects of past records and new findings pertaining to its history, promote education, and preserve historical landmarks while providing the ability for others to view. For more info – visit MiddletownHistoricalSociety.org.

The BATTLE OF RHODE ISLAND ASSOCIATION is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to raising awareness of Rhode Island’s role in the War for Independence and to the support of the BUTTS HILL FORT RESTORATION COMMITTEE whose mission is to restore and maintain the Revolutionary War 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.  Donations may be made payable to “BoRIA” at PO Box 626, Portsmouth, RI 02871.

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