The BoRIA Annual Report 2023

The official newsletter of the Battle of Rhode Island Association featuring news, events and Rhode Island history. Learn more at www.battleofrhodeisland.org.

January 31st, 2024

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Association Growth in 2023

THANK YOU!

We have had a busy and productive year in documenting and sharing RI’s role in the Revolutionary War. With no paid staff, the Battle of Rhode Island Association (BoRIA) relied on the work of many volunteers – too many to cite here.

We welcome ideas for talks, events, articles, and more. Please send suggestions to info@battleofrhodeisland.org

Board and Governance – Click Here for Staff

We have 12 Directors and 8 Advisors on the Board that meets 4 times per year in person and do much work and voting by emails.

The Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee has 14 members and many volunteers focused on restoring this Revolutionary War earthworks in Portsmouth.

Our Editorial Board has 16 members, a number that are noted RI historians.

Partners – Click here to view our list of Partners.

We have grown to 47 partners including many of the RI historical and military societies. These partnerships allow sharing of events as well as “stories.”

Website and Social Media – Jim Stearns

BoRIA made some great strides in 2023 in the development of our website www.battleofrhodeisland.org. We added a video hub where you can find the recordings of our lecture series. We expanded our Resource Center for educators. We’ve also streamlined our Web store. Click here to visit our store.

We have a team at Boone.Design that works closely with us on our website development as well as with our social media presence on Facebook and Instagram, sharing interesting facts pertaining to Rhode Island’s role in the Revolutionary War. We also began to utilize Constant Contact to help us in the formation and distribution of our Newsletter and Press Releases.

Website

10,923 User Sessions

21,392 Pageviews

We now have 17 original articles and 39 articles reposted from other publications.

Social Media

Since we began a focus on and tracking our efforts in August, we have seen a lot of success across the board.

Facebook – Click Here to Visit.

65,798 Accounts reached (14,249 organic)

5,865 Content interactions

7,711 Profile Visits

478 follows (24K% increase over previous year)

734 link clicks

Instagram – Click Here to Visit.

10,649 Accounts reached (2,937 organic)

1,826 Content interactions

608 Profile Visits

305 Follows (384 total)

334 Link Clicks

YouTube – Click Here to Visit.

10 Videos and 24 Subscribers

Newsletter

Our newsletter now goes out to 633 people and our audience continues to grow.

Financials – Dick Swanson

BoRIA Net Assets

01/01/23 $47,335.17

12/31/23 $104,929.55

Increase of $57,594.38

Grants - Dr. Murray Norcross

We have had good success in obtaining grants from patriotic and historical organizations, the State of Rhode Island, the Town of Portsmouth, and charitable foundations. Grants and donations other than from individuals totaled $132,000.

Most of these grants are unrestricted but restricted grants are documented to ensure the funds are used as requested. Grants were requested to support our programs to include but not limited to: 

• Improvements to our website and social media campaign

• Honorariums for original research 

• Honorariums for talks

• Stabilization and maintenance work at Butts Hill Fort 

• Roderick Terry Centennial event.  

We did not receive any Federal Grants in 2023, but training was received to improve our chances of success with such grants in 2024. BoRIA registered and received its SAM (System for Award Management) identity so that when awarded a federal grant, BoRIA can receive the funds.  

The following gave grants or donations in 2023:

• Americana Corner

• Aquidneck Land Trust

• Bank Newport

• National Trust for Historic Preservation

• Sachem Foundation

• Society of the Cincinnati (Rhode Island and Massachusetts)

• Society of Colonial Wars

• Sons of the Revolution

• State of Rhode Island

• Town of Portsmouth, RI

• Van Buren Charitable Trust

• Whalley Family Foundation.

2023 Lecture Series - Joe Studlick & Jim Stearns

We are pleased to have sponsored 18 talks around the state that drew almost 1,000 attendees. Note that some of these talks are available on our YouTube channel.

Redwood Library and Athenaeum

Robert A. Geake – The Black Regiment

Federal Reserve Retired Employees Association

Dr. Murray Norcross – The Battle of RI and Butts Hill Fort

*Little Compton Historical Society

Christian McBurney – George Washington’s Spies in RI

*Bristol Historical and Preservation Society

Dr. John Robertson – Revolutionary War Defenses in RI

Jamestown Historical Society

Dr. John Robertson – Revolutionary War Defenses in RI

RI Historical Society

Dr. John Robertson – Revolutionary War Defenses in RI

*Portsmouth Historical Society (in honor of Founding Director, Col. Burt Quist)

Wade Catts – Mass Graves at Red Bank, NJ

Prudence Historical Society

Dr. Murray Norcross – Battle of RI and Prudence in the Revolutionary War

*Portsmouth Historical Society (at Butts Hill Fort event)

Michael Simpson – Reverend Roderick Terry and Early Conservation Efforts (including Butts Hill Fort and Fort Barton)

*Middletown Historical Society

Maria Vasquez – The Byfield Flag: America’s Oldest Flag

Histwick

Tim Cranston – Walking tour: Wickford’s Connections to the Revolutionary War

Daughters of the American Revolution – Bristol Chapter

Paul Murphy – History and Restoration of Butts Hill Fort

*General Nathanael Greene Homestead

Janet Uhlar – Nathanael Greene – Patriot

Sons of the American Revolution

Colonial Genealogy

*Portsmouth Historical Society

Jay Waller – Conflict Archaeology and the Battle of RI

Q Club

Jay Waller – Conflict Archaeology and the Battle of RI

*Varnum Armory

Dr. Frederike Baer – Germans in Revolutionary RI

RI Historical Society

Dr. Frederike Baer – Germans in Revolutionary RI

*Available on our YouTube page and Website.

BoRIA-Funded Research

Michael Simpson – Reverend Roderick Terry who saved Butts Hill Fort and Fort Barton. Presentation at BHF event and article posted on our website.

Dr. Robert Selig – Translation of Rochambeau’s Orderly Reports related to Butts Hill Fort. Draft under review and article will be posted on the website soon.

Robert A. Geake – Timeline of the Black Regiment. Draft under review and article will be posted on our website and Mr. Geake will present a talk in Newport during Black History Month.

Butts Hill Fort - Paul Murphy-Chair,
Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee. (BHFRC)

The Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee was hard at work at the fort from March through November. The committee welcomed volunteers on eight separate occasions, including Portsmouth Scout Troop 82, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR), Portsmouth Town Councilors, State legislators, and U.S. Marines from the Naval War College. Progress exceeded expectations with addition of dedicated weekly work throughout the year performed in concert with Portsmouth DPW’s maintenance of the main parade field. Notably, the Green (just south of the fort entrance) was completely freed of heavy tangled overgrowth, and then professionally weeded & seeded. The opening of the “Southern Battery Green” was made possible by a donation-in-kind clearing work. Paths were established on the East and West sides of the fort, with clearing of invasives work completed from the pathways to the foot of the historic earthworks themselves, all around its Southern perimeter.

Clearings culminated in October with the opening of the prominent Southern DAR corner closest and most visible to Portsmouth High School. Further enhancements included installation of sturdy but non-penetrating self-guided tour signs, designed by Gloria Schmidt, installed at six locations. The committee also added wooden signage at the entrance and Green to augment the existing 1920s cement slab that still guards the fort entrance. The result is a far more visible, historically understandable, and publicly usable green space, appreciated by the surrounding neighborhood and visitors. Finally, the BHFRC team hosted tour groups including the Naval War College Museum’s national Wargaming convention, RI Society of the Cincinnati, RI Secretary of State Gregg Amore, the Roderick Terry Centennial Event, and BoRIA-sponsored archaeologists, historians and authors for in-depth looks at the fort. 

Aquidneck Island Archaeology

Archaeological work was conducted on several sites on Aquidneck Island as we attempt to learn more about the skirmishes that happened throughout the day on August 29th, 1778 (the Battle of RI). With the help of Public Archaeology Laboratory’s (PAL) Senior Archaeologist and Principal Investigator, Jay Waller, we have had several volunteer metal detecting sessions with landowner’s permission on a few sites. One landowner donated the artifacts to the Portsmouth Historical Society. Jay Waller spoke about some of these findings in October (Click here to see his lecture). We have scheduled more detecting sessions and will discuss these in the fall of 2024. 

Commemorative Coin Program

In keeping with our mission to raise awareness of Rhode Island’s role in the Revolutionary War, a proposal was approved by the Board in March 2023 to begin a five-year Commemorative Coin Program with the goal to issue four coins a year culminating in a total of 20 coins by 2028.   

The Signature Coin Company of Winter Park, Florida was selected. Our volunteer graphic designer, Maureen Daniels, designs both the obverse and reverse of each coin. The obverse will keep the BoRIA 1778 Assn. logo. The reverse of the coin will change with each topic.  

The 2023 set memorialized the following in sequential order:  

• Butts Hill Fort

• 250th Anniversary of the Battle of Rhode Island

• Reverend Roderick Taylor, Preservationist & Historian

• Brigadier General James Mitchell Varnum, founder of the “Black Regiment”.   

At the end of 2024, the Board will assess whether to continue this program considering raising awareness and return on investment. Anecdotally, the coin program is a success with positive comments coming from those who have purchased and/or were given coins.   

The topics for 2024:  

• Black Regiment (issue in February to coincide with Black History Month)

• Marquis d’ Lafayette (April)

• Defense of Prudence Island (June)

• TBA

Portsmouth Historical Sign Program - Dr. Ed Rizy

Daughters of American Revolution (DAR) Marker Signs

We answered the Pomeroy Foundation’s first specification with a proposal for five signs in Portsmouth: Friends Meeting House, Portsmouth Historical Society (one of the early skirmishes of the BoRI), Black Regiment/Bloody Brook, Turkey Hill, and Butts Hill Fort. The Foundation and the National DAR significantly increased the requirements for their Revolutionary War sign program, requiring detailed historical justification for each sign’s contents tracing back to original sources. 

We have met these requirements for the Friends Meeting House and await local DAR approval (Bristol Chapter) before submission to the National organization. This circa 1700 structure was occupied by British troops during the Revolutionary War.

Interpretive Signs

Working with the Portsmouth Historical Society (PHS), I surveyed all signs of historical relevance, documenting them with photos and submitted the report to the PHS sign committee. A common design, gold lettering on a black field, was proposed as consistent with other Portsmouth town and commercial signs. Installation of 10+ interpretive signs is expected during 2024-2025. BoRIA is focused on Revolutionary War sites.

Historical Research and School Outreach - Gloria Schmidt

One of our goals is to “enhance history education by broadening recognition of Rhode Island’s unique Revolutionary War experiences, particularly those pertaining to the Rhode Island Campaign, the British Occupation, and the arrival of the French and their departure.” The history we share is unique and interesting, but it is not well known. During 2023 we have made educating the public our priority. Our history is full of stories with interesting characters.  

In our outreach to residents, we have had thirteen articles published in the Portsmouth Times. These included original research on the Black Regiment, the Butts family, Lafayette in Portsmouth, Samuel Cory at Barton’s raid, and Christmas in occupied Portsmouth.

Researching one topic often opens the door to investigating a different topic. In researching the Daughters of the American Revolution’s monument at the Portsmouth Historical Society, I came across a quote from Lafayette used in a speech given at the dedication in 1910. That led to an account of Lafayette’s visit to Rhode Island during his 1824 tour. Another goal is to collaborate with other groups interested in the Rhode Island Campaign, so I contacted the American Friends of Lafayette for advice on my research. “Hopes and Disappointments: Lafayette Recalls the Rhode Island Campaign” has been published in the Bulletin of the American Friends of Lafayette and is reposted on our website.

Many of the biographies of Lafayette barely mention the Rhode Island Campaign, but my research has led me to appreciate his roles in the Rhode Island Campaign, the Siege of Newport, the American retreat, and even Silas Talbot’s capture of the British ship HMS Pigot. I am working on a timeline of Lafayette’s movement during the Rhode Island Campaign. I have finished a map-based activity for middle and high school students that illustrates what went on during the Campaign and Lafayette’s role. 

The lesson plan on “Lafayette in Rhode Island” will be posted on our website under the “Resources” heading. We worked on the goal of creating “a website to serve as an exchange of historical information and documentation, educational resources, and events related to Rhode Island’s role in the War for Independence.” Posted in the “Resources” section are links to historical maps, tour guides, lesson plans, and documents.

In the “Visit” section of the website I posted an interactive map of Revolutionary War sites in RI. I have prepared tour guides for Butts Hill Fort and am now preparing tours of Revolutionary War sites for Portsmouth High School and other students. Hosting tours is one of our most effective teaching tools for students and adults.  

Revolutionary Rhode Island offers many interesting topics to explore. I am researching Silas Talbot, the beginnings of the U.S. Navy, and looking for stories about the men and women who endured the Occupation or fought in the Battle of Rhode Island. We researched fort construction by making models of “gabions and fascines,” but there is more to learn about how Butts Hill Fort was built.

Rhode Island Slave History Medallions
- (RISHM) Installations

We have been working with Charles Roberts, Executive Director of RISHM, on installation of 2 Medallions in Portsmouth – one at Turkey Hill, honoring the Black Regiment and the second at Butts Hill Fort honoring the Back Regiment and the enslaved that help build the Fort. Both have been approved by RISHM but historical research, design, approvals, and installs may take much of 2024.

One of the installs is funded by a Legislative Grant by RI Senator Linda Ujifusa.

Transfer of Artifacts from HMS Cerberus and HMS Orpheus
Facilitated by BoRIA

We assisted in the transfer of artifacts recovered from the wreck sites of the British frigates HMS Cerberus and HMS Orpheus during diving activities conducted under the auspices of the University of Rhode Island in the 1970s. The frigates were sunk in Narraganset Bay on August 5, 1778, to prevent their capture by the Colonist’s French allies during the Battle of Rhode Island.  

The “URI Underwater Bicentennial Expedition” project ended in 1974, and the project director, Al Davis, gathered documentation and artifacts not on exhibit and moved them to the Bay Campus. In 1981, Al moved to Houston and at that time there was no URI department to take ownership of artifacts or documentation. To ensure project documentation would not be lost or destroyed, Al shipped those records, along with several artifacts contained to Houston. In the following years the artifacts stored at URI were transferred to the RIHPHC. During a presentation at URI in 2019, Al became aware that the RIHPHC would like to obtain any documentation, etc., for inclusion in their records. Correspondence with Ms. Charlotte Taylor, Director of Archaeology at RIHPHC began and with assistance of Jay Waller at PAL culminated with the transfer of artifacts at the Naval War College Museum, Newport.

On September 19, 2023, a meeting coordinated by Dr. Murray Norcross, a BoRIA Director, was held at the Naval War College Museum to transfer artifacts that had been in Al’s custody. Attendees were Mr. Ryan Meyer – Museum Director, Mr. Rob Doane – Curator, Ms. Maria Vasquez – Collections Manager, Ms. Charlotte Taylor – Director of Archaeology at RIHPHC, Dr. Murray Norcross, Dr. Joel Cohen – URI Professor Emeritus, Mr. Bill Fennell – Associate of A. Davis, and Al Davis.

During the meeting the artifacts delivered to the Museum for inclusion in their existing display were reviewed.

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