Newport celebrates the French troops coming to the island, but the French were at Butts Hill Fort in Portsmouth as well. American troops, including members of the Black Regiment, lived at “Camp Butts Hill” and worked together on reconstructing the Butts Hill Fort in 1780-1781. Ultimately the French and Americans joined forces and headed south towards ultimate victory at Yorktown.

As background it is good to remember that the French arrived on Aquidneck Island on July 11, 1780. There were American troops assigned to the fort to support the work of the French troops in restoring the fortifications at Butts Hill. We get a glimpse of their work through the Orderly Book of Ebenezer Thayer, Jr. The orderly book is a record of the day to day activities of the Massachusetts militia commanded by Thayer and assigned to support the Expedition Pariculiere, the French Expeditionary Army under the command of Rochambeau. They were on Aquidneck Island and stationed at “Camp Butts Hill” from August 16th to November 28, 1780.

From the Orderly Book:

October 12, 1780: “It is requested by General Rochambeau and Commander Jacobs that every officer not on duty will attend upon the works for the purpose of encouraging the soldiers and completing the fort.”

October 16, 1780: “There are four men to be detached from the brigade to attend constantly on the French Masons until the stone pillows of the Fort are completed and two masons detached to assist the French Masons until the works are finished and for their service they shall receive half a pint of rum a day when in the store.” Their provisions are ready for them so that they can complete the Fort works in a timely manner.

There are other connections between the French and American forces.

In April, the Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee was notified that the National Parks Service has made Butts Hill Fort a location on the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail. The Washington-Rochambeau National Historic Trail (WARO) identifies the land and water routes that General Washington and the Continental Army, and General Rochambeau and French forces, followed in 1781 during their 14-week march from Newport, Rhode Island to the Siege of Yorktown, Virginia.

On March 6, 1781, three months before the French army departed from Newport, General Washington visited Count de Rochambeau to consult with him concerning the operation of the troops under his command. Washington was hoping to encourage Rochambeau to send out his fleet. During the visit, Washington informed Samuel Huntington, the President of the Congress, that “In consequence of previous arrangements between the Count de Rochambeau and myself I found between eleven and twelve hundred of the French Grenadiers and Infantry already embarked and the Fleet nearly ready to sail. They however did not put to sea until the evening of the 8th.” On March 13, 1781, Washington left Newport and journeyed overland to Providence. On his departure he was saluted by the French with thirteen guns and again the troops were drawn up in line in his honor. Count de Rochambeau escorted Washington for some distance out of town, and Count Dumas with several other officers of the French army accompanied him to Providence. We know that General George Washington travelled by Butts Hill Fort on the old West Main Road on his way to the Bristol Ferry because the West Road was the customary route from Newport to the ferry. Washington’s aide, Tench Tilghman, recorded the fee for the Bristol Ferry on the expense book.

Just like the American and French forces were working on repairing and improving the fort, the Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee is working on rehabilitating the area as a park where visitors can learn about the battles and the brave patriots who fought there. Hopefully by 2026 Butts Hill Fort will be a center for celebrations of the 250th Anniversary of the War for Independence.


Bulletin of the Newport Historical Society, February 1913. Visit of General Washington to Newport in 1781, Mrs. French E. Chadwick. Memoranda of Col. Tench Tilghman, one of Washington’s Aides.

Rochambeau map collection: Library of Congress

Quahog. org: Washington’s Third Visit to Rhode Island

Orderly Book of Ebenezer Thayer: Huntington Library