Portsmouth: More than 120 turn out to ‘Walk the Battlefield’

Visitors tour Heritage Park, a site of fierce combat during The Battle of Rhode Island

By Jim McGaw
Posted 9/26/22

With Heritage Park serving as a virtual map of Portsmouth during the Revolutionary War, more than 120 visitors came out Saturday to get a sense of the complex set of events that shaped the Battle of …

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Portsmouth: More than 120 turn out to ‘Walk the Battlefield’

Visitors tour Heritage Park, a site of fierce combat during The Battle of Rhode Island

Posted

With Heritage Park serving as a virtual map of Portsmouth during the Revolutionary War, more than 120 visitors came out Saturday to get a sense of the complex set of events that shaped the Battle of Rhode Island on Aug. 29, 1778.

The event, called “Walking the Battlefield,” was hosted by The Battle of Rhode Island Association (BoRIA), partnering with the Portsmouth Conservation Commission. The concept, design, and execution of the event was the mindset of Gloria and Richard Schmidt, members of the Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee under BoRIA. 

Vehicles crowded High Point Avenue off Hedly Street, where the spot also known as Turkey Hill is located. Visitors came from all over the island, as well as Tiverton, Wickford, and Cranston. One organizer said the large turnout of people was unexpected, but multiple guides and two different tour times accommodated them with no issues.

“This is hollowed ground,” said Gloria Schmidt, who also served as one of the guides. “This is where people lived and died, right on this spot, and I think it’s very important for us to recognize that, to know that in Portsmouth we have some places preserved — historical landscapes where you can really get a sense of the past. This place, Turkey Hill, is one of those places.”

The upper half-acre of the park was turned into a scaled-down version of the battle that occurred over 3,500 acres – from Union Street to Butts Hill Fort (at Portsmouth High School) and between East and West Main roads. Stations were set up in various locations, with guides explaining the location and significance of each part of the battle.

Members of the Henry Knox Color Guard from the Massachusetts Society of Sons of the American presented a musket firing exhibit. Members are direct descendants of veterans of the American Revolution. 

J. Whitney Halloran of the Knox Color was there to honor his fifth great-grandfather, Samuel Stearns, who fought in the battle under Capt. Nathaniel Wade. Also on hand were members of the British 54th Regiment of Foot that saw action on East Main Road during the battle. 

“We had a beautiful day and an enthusiastic audience,” Schmidt said after the event. “Most of all, we had the opportunity to tell the story of the battle in the sacred space of Turkey Hill, where part of the story took place.”

Committee is nonprofit

The mission of the Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee, part of The Battle of Rhode Island Association, 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. 

The Association is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to raising awareness of Rhode Island’s role in the War for Independence. Donations may be made payable to “BoRIA” at P.O. Box 626, Portsmouth, RI 02871.

For more information, visit www.battleofrhodeisland.org.

2022 by East Bay Media Group

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.