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.

May 31st, 2024

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Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee Chairman Paul Murphy addresses PHS Students at the Portsmouth Historical Society.
Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee Chairman Paul Murphy addresses PHS Students at the Portsmouth Historical Society.
BoRIA member Richard Schmidt explains how the earthworks at Butts Hill Fort were constructed.
BoRIA member Richard Schmidt explains how the earthworks at Butts Hill Fort were constructed.
PHS Students walk towards the Southern Battery at Butts Hill Fort.
PHS Students walk towards the Southern Battery at Butts Hill Fort.

On May 21st, BoRIA and the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati sponsored a field trip for 40 students from Portsmouth High School’s Advanced Placement American history classes. PHS teacher Cindy Perry and BoRIA Education Advisor Gloria Schmidt organized the class which began with a lesson on using primary sources and an overview of the events of the Battle. Buses took the students to the important sites including the Portsmouth Historical Society grounds, Heritage Park on Turkey Hill, Patriot’s Park (Black Regiment Memorial), Quaker Hill, and Butts Hill Fort. Students listened to brief lectures on the Battle from BoRIA/BHFRC Members Richard and Gloria Schmidt, Paul Murphy, and Portsmouth Town Historian Jim Garman at the sites involved with the battle . Seth Chiaro was dressed as a member of the 54th Regiment of Foot and gave a demonstration on musketry. After their last stop at Butts Hill Fort, the group retired back to the school to enjoy pizza courtesy of the BoRIA.

RI Commerce recently announced their grant recipients of federal funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA). BoRIA is pleased to announce that it was awarded $150,000 to support a state-wide, multimedia, “digital map” learning experience on highlighting Rhode Island’s significant role in the American Revolution. BoRIA will be working closely with North Kingstown-based technology company, Fresh, LLC, to create a “FreshMaps” educational experience for everyone.

Last year, FreshMaps worked with BoRIA’s web partner at Smith’s Castle in North Kingstown to develop an educational trivia map on their historic property. Click here to visit Smith’s Castle FreshMaps site. BoRIA is excited to first bring this same innovative technology to Aquidneck Island to highlight different locations and experiences of the Battle of Rhode Island, which took place on August 29th, 1778. This project also expands our reach to bring awareness to other historic society partners around the state, enabling the stories of many Revolutionary Rhode Islanders.

BoRIA Director Joe Studlick remarked “Documenting and sharing RI’s Revolutionary War history is our primary objective and this new smart-phone enabled learning will appeal to kids, especially middle school and high school aged students.” FreshMaps develops experiences using a GPS-driven mobile app to direct the participant to various locations on a map, and prompts photos and videos to teach a lesson, then provides puzzles, trivia questions and other fun challenges, allowing points to be earned, making learning fun and engaging for all ages. Events will be planned monthly, as each FreshMap experience is launched, with Newport, Portsmouth and Middletown happening first over the summer, then others planned for the fall and winter, including East Greenwich, Kingston, Providence, Warwick, and Coventry.

Michelle Girasole, founder of Fresh, LLC,, who championed our cause and helped us get the grant, stated, “It is an honor to be working with the BoRIA on this exciting project. Many people around the state know of events like the burning of the Gaspee, but when American Revolution history is taught, the main focus is about events that happened out of state – Boston, Philadelphia, and the South. So much happened right here in Rhode Island and we are excited to use this technology to make these stories come alive. Participants will be standing in the place where a skirmish happened, or where a General lived, and learning about why that matters. It is important to us to mix traditional stories of the military action from well-known historical figures like Major General Nathanael Greene and the Marquis de Lafayette, with lesser known stories of courage and contributions from women and people of color. We will be working closely with historical consultants throughout the state to accurately document and tell these stories.” 

Grant from Aquidneck Land Trust Funds
Cleanup at Butts Hill Fort

Volunteers work to clear the Northern Battery at Butts Hill Fort.
Volunteers work to clear the Northern Battery at Butts Hill Fort.

The Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee (BHFRC) hosted our 2nd Spring Cleanup on RI’s Independence Day, Saturday May 4th. BHFRC Chair Paul Murphy stated “The Aquidneck Land Trust (ALT) made possible our Volunteer Clearing. We are incredibly thankful for the ALT support that allowed us to obtain a 30-cubic yard dumpster, fuel and equipment to facilitate our volunteer efforts.  We were able to clear out invasives and thorns and improve the entire Northeast path and the earthwork slope from the Fort’s main gate all the way to the Portsmouth High School’s parking lot entrance”.  More clearings will be held later in 2024. The grant was through the Merritt Neighborhood Fund. For more information on the Aquidneck Land Trust and the work that they do visit https://ailt.org/

BoRIA Receives RI Legislative Grant

Senator Linda Ujifusa delivered a check from the RI Legislature and presented to BoRIA/BHFRC's Gloria Schmidt and Jim Garman
Senator Linda Ujifusa delivered a check from the RI Legislature and presented to BoRIA/BHFRC's Gloria Schmidt and Jim Garman

Recently RI Senator Linda Ujifusa presented a $500 check to BoRIA from the RI Legislature . The Grant is from the Community Service Grant Program. Portsmouth Town Historian and BHFRC Member Jim Garman remarked “We are very grateful for the support of our efforts by Senator Ujifusa, whose continued help, aids us in educating people about the Revolutionary War and the Battle of Rhode Island in 1778”. This grant supported a recent public talk by Dr. Robert Selig on “Rochambeau’s Engineers at Butts Hill Fort” held in Portsmouth.

The Varnum Armory Museum and National Museum of the US Army join forces to conserve and display Rhode Island’s historic Revolutionary War battle flags.

 

By Patrick Donovan

President, Varnum Continentals Inc.

Likely 1st RI Regiment (The Black Regiment) flag.
Likely 1st RI Regiment (The Black Regiment) flag.
“RIsland Regiment” flag carried at Battle of Yorktown.
“RIsland Regiment” flag carried at Battle of Yorktown.

A few years ago, I learned about the State Battle Flag collection that had once hung on flag poles in the Rhode Island State House rotunda for many decades. Unfortunately, they were displayed without climate or lighting controls. There are 83 flags including all the silk State Regimental flags of the Civil War and even two Revolutionary War banners that were carried at Yorktown by the RI Regiment of 1781 under Colonel Jeremiah Olney. Shortly after the War, Olney presented the two flags to the State Legislature for safe keeping. Incidentally (and amazingly), one of those two flags is believed to be the original regimental flag of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment of 1778, better known as the famed “Black Regiment” comprised of formerly enslaved people, free Blacks, and Native Americans. Just prior to the Yorktown Campaign, the remnants of the Black Regiment and the 2nd RI Regiment were combined into one segregated unit, known then as “The RI Regiment”. They would go on to serve with distinction in that final and successful campaign of our War for Independence.

The two flags are described in the excellent reference book, “Standards and Colors of the American Revolution.” By the time I came to know of this collection, these now badly deteriorating flags had been taken down, stabilized, packed by a textile conservator, and put into long-term storage at a facility in Massachusetts…. with no plans or funding to conserve and publicly display them ever again.

As the Executive Director of the Varnum Armory Museum and Textile Conservation Lab, I made it my mission to conserve and safely display these historic flags once again for the public. Since we have the proper skills, expertise, experience, and facilities to safely conserve and display these historic textiles, I decided to focus first on the two most rare and historically significant flags: the RI Regiment flags of 1781. At this time, we had been developing a partnership with the National Museum of the US Army (NMUSA) located at Ft. Belvoir, Virginia, just outside of Washington DC. The Varnum Armory Museum will be supporting the US Army’s 250th Anniversary in 2025 by loaning a few Rhode Island items to them for their 5,500 square foot exhibit on the birth of the Army during the Revolutionary War. This positive experience led me to asking if they would be willing to partner with us to conserve and display the two flags. They enthusiastically agreed.

Our joint proposal to the State was for NMUSA to conserve and display the 1st RI flag at their expense in their museum for a period of 2 years. The RI Regiment flag would be conserved and displayed by the Varnum Armory Museum at our expense, all pending a review of a detailed conservation statement of work and loan agreement. This would be a huge win-win for the State and museums in that we would be working together to save precious American history and to then share that with the public at NO EXPENSE to the RI taxpayer.

We began conversations with the RI Department of Administration (DOA) and its Department of Capital Asset Maintenance and Management (DCAMM) who have day-to-day management and responsibility for the Battle Flag collection. They were very accommodating and they supported our plan.

But, alas, I was a bit naïve about what it takes to get things done in state government. RI law does NOT allow us to borrow and display the flags. Before we could commit to spending a lot of the money to conserve the flags, we needed assurances that we would be able to have the flags loaned to us for display. So, we had to change the law. The DOA took up the responsibility of drafting the legislation. But how were we going to push it through? I spent a lot of time sending emails all over the place, trying to map out who all the key stakeholders were, building the sales pitch, and developing relationships with who I thought were the key decision makers. I learned quickly that I couldn’t do it all alone.

Thankfully, we received letters of support from the Battle of Rhode Island Association and many others that were sent to key legislators. State Representative Mike Chippendale and his Chief of Staff, Sue Stenhouse, played a huge role in socializing the legislation with key members of the legislature, the Governor’s office, and in working with Senator Walter Felag to get the legislation through that side of State House. Also, a Varnum Trustee, Jason Roomes whose ancestor had fought in the Black Regiment as a formerly enslaved person, did a lot of lobbying in support of our cause. Thanks to this fantastic team effort, I’m excited to announce the legislation passed the House and Senate unanimously and Governor Dan McKee signed the legislation into law last week! A review of loan agreements, statements of work, and insurance coverage is next.

BoRIA Cited in State of Rhode Island Proclamation

February 15, 2024 was designated as “The First Rhode Island Regiment/ Black Regiment Recognition Day” noting the educational efforts of Newport County NAACP, Newport and Bristol Middle Passage Marker Projects, Rhode Island Slave History Medallions Project, the Battle of Rhode Island Association, and Portsmouth Historical Society in leading the education efforts to recognize their important contribution during the American Revolution.

Click here to read the proclamation!

BoRIA and Van Beuren Foundation Sponsors
Archaeology Field School

Students from Salve Regina University, Stonehill College, and the University of Kentucky will be heading to Butts Hill Fort for a five-week Archaeological Field School beginning on May 28th. The non-invasive survey will teach students methodologies useful for skill building in archaeology but also engineering, architecture, and cultural resource management. The students will also gain valuable experience in the labs and archives at Stonehill College. They will benefit from key speakers and lectures on revolutionary history and visit RI sites and museums that feature both indigenous culture and historic slave medallions, gaining perspective and working on projects in museum studies. The research that is conducted alongside the field school using non-invasive magnetometry and ground penetrating radar is made possible through a Van Beuren Foundation Grant and will give valuable insights into the construction, use, and evolution of the Fort (1775-1783). Students will also be working on projects utilizing digital archaeology and visual anthropology to help create educational displays and resources for future visitors to the fort.

Dr. Alexandra Uhl (Stonehill College) and Jay Waller (The Public Archaeology Laboratory, Inc.) are the principal investigators. Although there has been some archaeological work done at or near the Fort (www.battleofrhodeisland.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Butts-Hill-Fort-Draft-Archaeological-Assessment-29-AUG-2022.pdf) it is very limited in scope. This effort will attempt to locate barracks, privies, magazines, and other features no longer visible. We expect a report will be available in the fall.

The Van Beuren Foundation also funded a diversity in science stipend to support one of the students of an underrepresented background.

Ground penetrating radar (GPR).
Ground penetrating radar (GPR).

BoRIA Lecture Series

Battle of Rhode Island Association Lecture Series sponsored by the Massachusetts and Rhode Island Societies of the Cincinnati continued with Alan Hoffman speaking at the Varnum Armory Museum for Varnum Members on May 13th, 2024. The lecture, draws from his book “Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: Journal of a Voyage to the United States”, a translation of the Marquis de Lafayette’s private secretary (Auguste Levasseur) diary written during Lafayette’s tours of America in 1776-1783 and 1824-1825.

North Kingstown and the Revolutionary War by Christian McBurney, Historian and Author – brought to you by the 350th Anniversary Steering Committee with support from The Battle of Rhode Island 1778 Association and HistWick. Historian Christian McBurney offers insightful and educational history of American Revolutionary War heroes from or near Wickford, focusing on Major Samuel Phillips, Captain George Babcock, Captain Thomas Cole, and Private Jack Fones.

McBurney has written four books on Rhode Island and the American Revolutionary War; he is the publisher and editor of a leading Rhode Island history blog The Online Review of Rhode Island at https://smallstatebighistory.com/

U.S. Military Academy at West Point
Creates Animation of the Battle of Brooklyn (1776)

Research was conducted over three weeks at West Point and onsite in Brooklyn before spending another three months working with Boilerplate Studios to make the battle animation. The project was under the direction of Colonel Seanegan Sculley, Professor of History, and funded by Americana Corner.

Please visit the project link on the Digital History Center website at The Hudson Valley in the American Revolution | United States Military Academy West Point and then click on the “1776 New York Campaign” link. Once on the ArcGIS Story Map site, go to Chapter 2 – 1776 The Battle of Brooklyn: The British Landing. There you can scroll through all of the work that was accomplished. The video is at the end of the page.

Additionally, they built an interactive, 3D-model of the American fortifications on Brooklyn Heights. You will find it in Chapter 6 – 1776 Brooklyn Recreation.

Saturday June 8th: Gaspee Parade, Narragansett Parkway, Warwick. 10 AM

Saturday June 8th: Talk on the Lawn, Robert Geake, Nathanael Greene Homestead, Coventry 2 PM

Saturday June 15th: RISHM Juneteenth Festivities, Washington Square, Newport, 11 AM

Saturday June 15th: Juneteenth Concert w/ Jimmy Winters, Liberty Square, Newport, 1 PM

Saturday June 15th: SAR Patriot Grave Marking Ceremony, Manchester Cemetery, Coventry 11 AM

Monday June 17th: Col. Burton C. Quist Memorial Lecture, John Robertson, “The French Fort at Butts Hill”, Friends Meeting House, 11 Middle Lane, Portsmouth, 6:30 PM

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

Upcoming Partner Events

Shared Articles

General Washington, Commander of the Continental Army, a 1776 portrait by Charles Willson Peale.

What was George Washington’s view of the Battle of Rhode Island? Washington wrote many letters in the days after the Battle.  Letters he wrote to Lafayette and French commander D’Estaing were to smooth over hard feelings about the French withdrawal from Newport.

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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?

Did you know? Rhode Island was first!

Rhode Island played a significant role in the American Revolutionary War. One lesser-known fact is that Rhode Island was the first colony to formally declare independence from British rule. On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island’s General Assembly passed a resolution renouncing allegiance to the British crown, more than a month before the Continental Congress declared independence on July 4, 1776.

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