The BoRIA Post

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

July 1st, 2024

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BoRIA At Gaspee Days Parade

The Artillery Company of Newport and the cannons made by Paul Revere.  Photo: Paul Murphy
The Artillery Company of Newport and the cannons made by Paul Revere.  Photo: Paul Murphy
(L to R) Nick Morris, Paul Murphy, Steve Shinkel, Tom Atwood and Steve Gardner. Photo: James McDermott
(L to R) Nick Morris, Paul Murphy, Steve Shinkel, Tom Atwood and Steve Gardner. Photo: James McDermott

BoRIA Director Paul Murphy and Butts Hill Fort Restoration member Steve Shinkel join BoRIA Director and 54th Regt. of Foot Commander Steve Gardner at this year’s Gaspee Days parade, June 8th in Warwick, RI.  Murphy and Shinkel, both retired U.S. Air Force Colonels, marched as members of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.

BoRIA is proud to support our Web Partner Rhode Island Slave History Medallions (RISHM) at their Juneteenth celebration. Photos: Joe Studlick

RISHM Executive Director Charles Roberts addresses the crowd while the 2nd RI Regiment reenactor Carl Becker looks on.
RISHM Executive Director Charles Roberts addresses the crowd while the 2nd RI Regiment reenactor Carl Becker looks on.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed discusses the Black Regiment. He and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse have sponsored a Congressional Gold Medal for the Black Regiment and it is under consideration by other U.S. Senators.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed discusses the Black Regiment. He and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse have sponsored a Congressional Gold Medal for the Black Regiment and it is under consideration by other U.S. Senators.
1st RI Black Regiment reenactors hold the Thomas Nichols letter from the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum and the BoRIA's Black Regiment coin.
1st RI Black Regiment reenactors hold the Thomas Nichols letter from the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum and the BoRIA's Black Regiment coin.
Patrick Donovan, President of the Varnum Continentals Inc., displays the Thomas Nichols letter that is on long-term display at the Varnum Armory Museum in East Greenwich. This letter is only one of two known authored by a black soldier who served during the Revolutionary War. 1st RI Black Regiment reenactor and Varnum Continentals Trustee, Jason Roomes looks on. Jason's ancestor had gained his freedom from slavery and served in the Regiment throughout the War.
Patrick Donovan, President of the Varnum Continentals Inc., displays the Thomas Nichols letter that is on long-term display at the Varnum Armory Museum in East Greenwich. This letter is only one of two known authored by a black soldier who served during the Revolutionary War. 1st RI Black Regiment reenactor and Varnum Continentals Trustee, Jason Roomes looks on. Jason's ancestor had gained his freedom from slavery and served in the Regiment throughout the War.

To learn more about the Thomas Nichols Letter click here.

Dr. Robert A. Selig’s Research for the
Battle of Rhode Island Association

Using the Comte de Rochambeau’s Livre d’Ordre of 1780 – 1781 as its starting point, this report investigates the presence and the work carried out by French soldiers under the supervision of their engineers at Butts Hill Fort in Portsmouth, RI, between December 1780 and June 1781. The presence of, and the work carried out by, French soldiers at Butts Hill Fort is beyond doubt. Within a week of their arrival in Newport, French engineers, most notably Major de Palys, were supervising repairs at the fort that had been built by Americans and then the British. Work continued at the Fort until June 1781, when Rochambeau’s forces deployed to New York and later to Yorktown. This was one of the major engineering efforts that the French accomplished in addition to their work at the Siege of Yorktown.

BoRIA Lecture Series

The Battle of Rhode Island Association Lecture Series sponsored by the Whalley Family Foundation and the Portsmouth Historical Society continued with the Col. Burton C. Quist Lecture Series featuring Dr. John Robertson and his presentation: “The French Fort at Butts Hill.” on Monday June 17th, Portsmouth Friends Church, Portsmouth, RI.

This talk is the second annual under the banner of “The Col. Burton C. Quist Lecture Series”, in memory of our late founding Director, friend, and mentor who passed away in January, 2023.

This lecture focused on additional research, some done in concert with Dr. Robert A. Selig, a noted historian on Rochambeau whose engineers built the last phase of Butts Hill Fort.

John K. Robertson, Ph.D., is a Colonel (Ret.), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, with 23 years of service and served on the faculty at West Point. He is the co-owner/editor of the RevWar75.com website. He published “Revolutionary War Defenses in Rhode Island” in 2023. The book was a 10-year research effort and contains almost 300 maps and plans showing defensive fortifications along most of the coast of Narragansett Bay and southern Rhode Island. Many of the maps are of fortifications on Aquidneck Island, which was occupied during the Revolutionary War at various times by the Americans, British, and French. Dr. Robertson presented 3 lectures in RI for BoRIA last May.

Portsmouth Town Historian Jim Garman gave a brief history of the Friends Meeting House before the lecture. 

The Portsmouth Friends Church has history dating back to the 17th century. A brief history from their website states: “During the Revolutionary War the British drove out the Quakers and used the building as a barracks and its basement as a magazine for storing ammunition. After the Battle of Rhode Island, the victorious Americans took possession of the meetinghouse for similar purposes. During this time, the Friends were meeting in private homes. Later, in cleaning out the cellar, workmen found several cannonballs. Two of these are still in the building today.”

BoRIA Partner Rhode Island Slave
History Medallions New Website

Our web partners at Rhode Island Slave History Medallions have unveiled their brand new website. Click here to visit! Their new site was developed and maintained by Mike Boone and his team at Boone Design who also developed the Battle of Rhode Island Association website.

BoRIA and Van Beuren Foundation
Sponsors Archaeology Field School at Butts Hill Fort

This 5-week archaeology survey and 4-credit college course ended on June 28. This was sponsored by the BoRIA and funded by the Van Beuren Foundation.

Dr. Alexandra Uhl was the lead investigator and had a research team from the University of Kentucky of two graduate and two undergraduate students. Ten undergraduate students from Salve Regina University and Stonehill College interested in history, anthropology, science, and art participated. Dr. John Robertson, an expert in Revolutionary War forts, spent several days in the field helping the students.

The objective was to conduct non-penetrative ground penetrating radar (GPR) on the fort proper and surrounding areas in search for information on the various phases of and evolution of the fort to the shape we know today – outlines of the barracks as well as signs of the magazine, privies, trash pits, and any burials or other constructions that are not visible to us today. These are crucial to our understanding and interpretation of the fort’s use through time and its ongoing preservation and restoration today with focus on public outreach and education. The research team utilized GPR, drones and LIght Detection And Ranging (LIDAR). This research was approved by Charlotte Taylor of the RI Historical Preservation & Heritage Commission that oversees this National Historic Landmark.

The team was able to use GPR to scan most of the interior of the entire fort proper and southern fields. Prior to scanning each area, they cleared brush and mowed grasses, measured the outlines of the grids and laid the transect collection pattern (how the scanner should be pushed to eliminate gaps in the strips of GPR scans) to best fit according to the shape of the fort. They also did 3D scans of artifacts associated with BoRI private property sites to create perfect models of the items that can be used by researchers anywhere in the world and create an item that will not age nor is subject to damage or loss in the future.

They had a busy schedule with this intense data gathering but managed to include public outreach events by displaying artifacts and exhibit the 3D scanning process/digital archaeology at the Newport Historic Spring Park opening and Juneteenth in Newport. They collaborated with artist Ciara Mendes who brought interpretations of artifacts (including musket balls recovered on private property) to life with her art for the Juneteenth event.

The team learned in the lab how to prepare these displays and how to catalogue, weigh, measure, clean, and follow best archaeological practices for preservation and storage of collections or assemblages. They visited the Portsmouth Historic Society and practiced metal detection on private property (found a burn barrel and musket ball!). A visit by the 54th Regiment of Foot history reenactors (organized by Seth Chiaro) was amazing to see history come alive and the artifacts they had seen (such as gun flints, shoe buckles, and musket balls) moving on live people. Visits to the PAL Laboratory in Pawtucket, organized by Jay Waller, Fort Barton in Tiverton with Ed Rezy, the Naval War College Museum in Newport organized by Paul Murphy, and the Varnum Memorial Armory Museum in East Greenwich with Patrick Donovan greatly enriched the students’ experiences. The last week included a visit to the Tomaquag Museum and Fort Adams.

An oyster shell was found on the surface of the northern side following some rain. The shape was very flat, indicative of wild harvest (as opposed to the farmed oysters of today that have a rounder shape), and we know from earlier archaeological efforts that food waste was recovered at the fort.

Dr. Uhl and some of the researchers will be working through the immense amount of data over the next several months. 3D scanning will be ongoing and they hope to get a preliminary 3D model of the fort developed soon. Data analysis is planned to be completed by late fall with talks or presentations possible thereafter. A report is to be published by next spring.

Dr. Uhl: “The team worked extremely hard in the field and lab this season and we gathered enormous amounts of data that we are excited to analyze. It is a privilege to look through the past: to explore the depths for people’s personal lives, their triumphs, suffering, relationships, and challenges. The fort has been used through time by Native American tribal nations as well as British, Germans, French, and Americans, including the enslaved and African diaspora and indigenous soldiers, and it is important to interpret any data we recover with these complex interactions in mind. We have greatly enjoyed working on a site so rich in history and with the BORIA and BHFRC who are so passionate about recovering and sharing history with the public. We look forward to the next field season working on the exterior of the fort if funding is available.”

There is much more that can be done. The outer trenches of the fort need to be cleared and measured for scanning. They plan to plot multiple grids to collect GPR data on the exterior of the fort within the trenches. They also plan to return with the magnetometer to scan the entire fort proper and southern fields. Unfortunately, the magnetometer broke in week one so they will have to collect this data next summer. Based on the data collected this year, they can create content rich displays and interactive virtual or augmented reality to bring history to life for visitors to the fort. And there are more RI Revolutionary War sites that have had little archeology done such as Fort Barton and the Siege at Middletown.

Students from the Archaeological Field School run the Ground Penetrating Radar near Butts Hill Fort.
Students from the Archaeological Field School run the Ground Penetrating Radar near Butts Hill Fort.
The PAL's Jay Waller instructs students on battlefield metal detecting methodologies and practices.
The PAL's Jay Waller instructs students on battlefield metal detecting methodologies and practices.
Naval War College Museum Curator Rob Doane describes the Revolutionary War artifacts held at the Museum in Newport, RI.
Naval War College Museum Curator Rob Doane describes the Revolutionary War artifacts held at the Museum in Newport, RI.

Butts Hill Fort Receives RI Legislative Grant
and Civic Engagement Grant from Town of Portsmouth

Members of BoRIA Archaeology Field School and BHFRC members with R.I. Rep. Terri Cortvriend and R.I.Rep. Michelle McGaw.
Members of BoRIA Archaeology Field School and BHFRC members with R.I. Rep. Terri Cortvriend and R.I.Rep. Michelle McGaw.

Representatives Teri Cortvriend and Michelle McGaw stopped by Butts Hill Fort in Portsmouth and presented a check for $2000. BoRIA Director Paul Murphy stated: “It was great having Representatives McGaw and Cortvriend at the fort to see the work of our Archaeological Field School team and Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee truly appreciates their support to our continued restoration efforts. This grant will be put to use immediately this Summer to facilitate our efforts on the southern sections of the fort closest to Portsmouth High School and overlooking the 1778 battlefield to the south.”

The BoRIA was also awarded a civic engagement grant of $2,040 from the town of Portsmouth. Town Administrator Rich Rainer said “I am proud to support the Battle of Rhode Island Association in their efforts to preserve the historic Butts Hill Fort. Our civic support grant underscores our commitment to honoring our revolutionary past and ensuring future generations can appreciate the significance of this pivotal site in American history.”

Thursday July 4th: Sons of the Revolution July 4th Events, Washington Sq., Newport 10 AM

Thursday July 4th: 4th of July Parade, Bristol. 10:30 AM

Saturday July 13th: French in Newport

Sunday July 14th: French in Newport

Partner Events

Vive la France à Newport

From the Newport Historical Society website “Transport yourself to 1780 Newport, R.I. on July 13-14, 2024, for the 4th annual French in Newport experience. Celebrate Bastille Day with historic reenactors and explore the role of French soldiers and sailors who fought for America’s independence. Enjoy Revolution-era fashion, fare, and tunes, plus free family fun like a kids’ scavenger hunt, fife and drum corps, tea tasting, silhouette art, and more!

Free programming provided by the Newport Historical Society with generous support from the National Park Service/Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail.”

Shared Articles

Eight Clues: Recovering a Life in Fragments,
Arthur Bowler in Slavery and Freedom
By Jane Lancaster

Detail from the Book of Negroes showing Arthur Bowler and his family, 1783. (Nova Scotia Archives)
Detail from the Book of Negroes showing Arthur Bowler and his family, 1783. (Nova Scotia Archives)

In January 1792 forty-three-year-old Arthur Bowler left Halifax, Nova Scotia, on his second Transatlantic journey. Captured in Africa almost thirty years earlier, enslaved in Newport, Rhode Island, for nearly twenty years, a free man for ten, he was returning to Africa.

Read an Article and Win some Gear!

How do I enter?

Anyone can enter our monthly raffle by reading any of our articles and filling out the form at the bottom of the article page. Entering the contest will also add you to our mailing list, which you can opt out of at anytime. Winners will be chosen at the beginning of each month and notified via the email they used to register. Limit one entry per person per month. Enter every month to increase your odds of winning!

Congratulations to our May contest winner Bobby D. from Bedford, MA!

We also held a raffle at the Juneteenth Celebrations in Newport. Congratulations to Renee K from Middletown who also won a hat and t-shirt!

We recently added an archive of our past newsletters. If you may have missed one, you can go back and read them. Click here for the BoRIA Post Archive.

Did You Know?

“Although Howe could never have imagined the repercussions of his actions, his decision to transform the transports into floating prisons set the precedent for a system of confinement that Edward Burrows estimates accounted for roughly half of all American fatalities during the eight year conflict. A single hulk, the decommissioned ship of the line Jersey, may have claimed the lives of as many as 11,000 men…”

After the surrender of 5,895 British and German troops at Saratoga: “When Burgoyne’s proud troops filed out of their entrenchments to pile their arms, no one on either side could have known that they would spend the next five and a half years in captivity – longer than any other contingent of British prisoners. By the time their ordeal was over, the soldiers and their civilian followers had marched over 1,100 miles, enduring confinement in overcrowded and rotting barracks, jails, and prison ships in eight different states and losing roughly 85 percent of their number to disease, desertion, starvation, and fatigue.”

T. Cole Jones, 2020, Captives of Liberty – Prisoners of War and the Politics of Vengeance in the American Revolution, pages 106 and 140.

The rules of “civilized war” that had been in effect for centuries in Europe completely broke down during the American Revolution. Previously prisoners of war (POWs) were treated well and quickly exchanged. However, as the British termed captured Americans as “traitors” and “rebels” and not POWs (and possibly subject to execution) and Washington and Congress could not adequately fund housing for captured British and German soldiers nor engaged in many exchanges, prison life for both sides was brutal and often fatal.

Joe Studlick

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