PORTSMOUTH — The Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee reports that it was a very good year for the fort.
The Restoration Committee that was formed in February 2021 has made significant progress in educating the public about the Revolutionary War earthwork fort that has been overgrown with vegetation, inaccessible to the public, and unknown to, or forgotten by, much of Rhode Island, let alone the rest of the country.
The fort is the largest remaining Revolutionary War earthwork in southern New England, and it anchored the defense of the Continental and militia force in the Battle of Rhode Island. The Battle of Rhode Island is largely unknown to all but local historians, but the Battle was the first time American and French forces operated together, and it also saw the Rhode Island Regiment (the Black Regiment) win acclaim for its performance at the critical point in the battle. Rhode Island native General Nathanael Greene as well as other important historical figures participated.
With this history in mind, the committee established a series of goals -- increase public awareness, begin clearing of vegetation, and raise $10,000. Both the Portsmouth Town Council and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission approved the committee’s initial plan and these goals.
By April, the committee had received from the National Park Service notification that the request to put Butts Hill Fort on the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route had been approved. Butts Hill Fort is one of only two Rhode Island locations on the route. This designation opened to the committee assistance from both the Park Service and the Washington-Rochambeau Route Association.
Over the course of the rest of the year, the public outreach efforts allowed the committee to exceed its goal of $10,000 in donations. These funds covered initial mechanical clearing of vegetation which was augmented by two days of hand clearing by volunteers. There is still much to be done in the way of clearing, but much more of the Fort is now visible and accessible.
October's Living History Event is an example of the historical and educational events the Restoration Committee wants to see held at Butts Hill Fort.
In October, the 54th Regiment of Foot held a living history event for the public within the Fort. It was well received by the public and the re-enactors. This is an example of the historical, educational, and recreational events the committee foresees for the future.
To advance the public awareness goal, nine articles covering the history of the Fort and the Battle of Rhode Island, were published in the Portsmouth Times, and 10 press releases were published in the local media. The committee also received public recognition from the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association, The American Society of Le Souvenir Français, and the American Friends of Lafayette.
At the year’s end, the committee received good news from two sources. The Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the Cincinnati (descendants of officers of the Continental Army) had made a generous donation to be used to develop a Battle of Rhode Island website. Secondly, the Whalley Foundation provided a sizeable grant to be used for development of a master plan.
The website, master plan, and education are our major goals for 2022 with the clearing of the fort to continue in coordination with the town of Portsmouth and the Rhode Island Historical Preservation and Heritage Commission.
This article originally appeared on Newport Daily News: Portsmouth's Butts Hill Fort restoration project off to a good start