A number of years ago I was privileged to take a tour of the Glen with arborist Matt Largess. He commented that the Glen itself was one of the few areas on the island with old growth trees because the British were not able to easily cut down the trees during the occupation of the Island. That explained why in the 1850s the Glen would be an attraction because its natural beauty had been preserved.

When Maj. Frederick Mackenzie of the British forces arrived on the island in December of 1776, the winter was mild and he writes little about woodcutting in his diary. But the winter of 1778 was extremely cold. On June 15, 1778 Mackenzie wrote: “The consumption of Wood for the Garrison last winter was about 300 cords per week. It would be less expensive to send Coals from England.” A cord of wood measures 8 feet long, 4 feet high and 4 feet wide. It wasn’t only the troops that needed wood to survive a cold winter – it was also needed by those colonists who stayed on the island. Timber in Portsmouth was not always easy to cut. Mackenzie records: “Officer and 36 British went into the Country today, to be employed in cutting wood in a large Swamp on this side of Fogland Ferry, for the use of the Garrison. It is computed that there are about 400 Cords in the Swamp, but it cannot be got at but during a hard frost.” Figuring out where that swampy area was is difficult for us, but Edward West’s article “Lands of Portsmouth” notes two Swamps in the area of Mint Water Brook on either side of East Main Road.

At first the British and Hessians felled the trees closest to their camps. The Hessians had a camp above Fogland Ferry. They continued to cut further away until there were no trees to cut and burn. Mackenzie records that they then turned to cutting down orchards next on Common Fence Point and other locations. After the orchards, all other sources of wood were eyed. Vacant houses, wood carriages, and even wooden farm tools went into the wood supply. Mackenzie writes on December 6th, 1778: Every step is being taken to supply fuel: All the timber trees on the island are cutting down and the old wharves will be broken up.” Vacant houses were taken apart and the wood was used for fuel. Rail fences were taken apart and burned. On December 13th his diary entry reads: “All the carriages that can be collected on the Island are employed in bringing in the wood which is cut by the party out on the island.” “Turf” was cut on Brenton’s Neck and used for fuel. When the island was exhausted, they sent fleets out to collect wood on Conanicut, Block Island and Long Island.

When the Occupation was over, those remaining on the island had a difficult time rebuilding homes and barns. Many Portsmouth farmers turned to wood from Tiverton to begin to restore their buildings.


Diary of Frederick Mackenzie
Giving a Daily Narrative of His Military Service as an Officer of the Regiment of Royal Welch Fusiliers during the Years 1775-1781 in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York, Volume II

Edward West: ” The Lands of Portsmouth, RI” – Rhode Island Historical Society Journal, July, 1932.

Herbert E. Slayton: newspaper clipping November 12, 1937: They’d Keep Warm Enough – in collection of Portsmouth Historical Society. https://portsmouthhistorical.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Scrapbook-Part-5-p41-49-p50-Blank.pdf

Fage, Edward: Plan of Rhode Island and the Harbour. 1778. Available online: https://collections.leventhalmap.org/search/commonwealth:hx11z3134