Letter: Butts Hill ‘crown jewel’ of Revolutionary War earthworks

Posted 9/27/21

To the editor:

In recent weeks I have very much enjoyed the series of excellent and informative articles by the Butts Hill Fort Restoration (BHFR) Committee of the Portsmouth Historical Society, …

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Letter: Butts Hill ‘crown jewel’ of Revolutionary War earthworks

Posted

To the editor:

In recent weeks I have very much enjoyed the series of excellent and informative articles by the Butts Hill Fort Restoration (BHFR) Committee of the Portsmouth Historical Society, for several reasons. It is hard to believe that this long overgrown, large, and historic fort has been quietly resting, out of sight, under nature’s green blanket, for many generations of Aquidneck Islanders. 

Located immediately north of Portsmouth High School, under the whirling shadows of the town’s wind turbine blades, the fort is now being slowly “revealed” as the largest remaining Revolutionary War earthworks in southern New England! While the focus of the first articles in the series was on the Fort, later articles appear to be adding greater depth to the series by describing other important events, combatant units, and the leaders engaged in the Battle of Rhode Island, in August of 1778. 

The articles in the Portsmouth Times inspired me recently to visit the Fort, now in its earliest stages of restoration, as I suspected that photos and sketches of the site do not do it justice! Located on over five acres of town land, the enormity of the fort is evident the minute you step “aboard.”

Equally evident is the scale of its true vertical relief, towering atop Butts Hill above the high school’s tennis courts. Though now obscured by tall trees in most directions, I had to imagine that, when built, the fort had a 360-degree panoramic view, complimented by the views from defensive positions on Turkey Hill, Fort Barton in Tiverton, and Prudence Island. Together, these four installations had great visual coverage of the water approaches to the north end of our island — likely then completely bare of any trees, as I’ve read that occupying British forces had cut all of them down for winter warmth firewood for its occupying forces since their arrival in the dead of winter, in December of 1776! 

I’d like to applaud the BHFR committee for their courage and foresight in undertaking this large, but so historically important undertaking, and I would hope that Portsmouth citizens, and civic and historically interested organizations, will enthusiastically step forward to take on key roles in ensuring its success. Once complete, I imagine that Portsmouth will be very proud of its possession of an historic “crown jewel” of extant Revolutionary War earthworks in southern New England.

Robert B. Watts

51 Prospect Farm Road

Portsmouth

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