Flags of the 1st and 2nd Rhode Island Regiments

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As I was attending the Annual Commemoration Service of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment, I noticed the insignia on buttons some of the guests were wearing. That insignia is also carved in stone on one of the early monuments at Patriots Park. I am gathering materials for a lesson plan on the Black Regiment, and I would like to have students work with the correct flag. I often see two similar flag designs depicted with images of the Black Regiment. It is certainly possible that they would have fought under different flags. In February of 1781 the 1st and 2nd Regiments were combined into the Rhode Island Regiment. The insignia at Patriots Park resembles one of the flags and it is logical that the monument designers would want to reflect the flag used by the 1st Rhode Island Regiment while they were a separate unit.

Emblem at Patriot’s Park

An online search was confusing, but I remembered a 1930 book on Rhode Island flags and symbols by Howard Chapin. There was a depiction of the regimental flag of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment that is kept at the State House. It is described as:

“The field was white, charged with a blue scroll being the inscription “R. Island Regt.” In the upper corner there is a blue canton charged with thirteen white stars.”

The Regimental flag of the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment is pictured as well. This flag is also listed as being at the State House. The description reads:

“The Second Rhode Island Regiment carried a somewhat similar flag, having a white field, charged with a blue foul anchor and the motto, “HOPE,” and having in the corner a blue canton charged with thirteen gold stars…After the passage of the regulation of February 23, 1780, the flag bearing the blue anchor doubtless qualified in a sense partially as a State flag.”

The anchor design is an ancient emblem in Rhode Island. Rhode Island was a seafaring colony. The seal of the colony drawn by William Dyer in 1647 has an anchor. The “foul anchor” described is the robes entwined in the anchor. One description notes that the white is the color of their uniforms and a symbol of the commonwealth. The 13 stars reflect the colonies and may be a reflection of the seals of Portsmouth and Providence.

In May of 1664, the General Assembly “Ordered, That the Seal, with the mottoe Rhod Iland and providence plantations, with the work Hope over the head of the Anker, is the present Seale of the Colony.”


Chapin, Howard. Illustrations of the Seals, Arms and Flags of Rhode Island. Providence, RI, Rhode Island Historical Society, 1930.

The View from Butts Hill: Jim Garman’s 1978 images

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There has been so much growth in vegetation that it is difficult to imagine the view that General Sullivan would have had from his command post at Butts Hill Fort. Jim Garman has loaned me his notebooks from the 1978 re-enactments of the Battle of Rhode Island. His images clarify things.

Revolutionary Rhode Island: Bristol Ferry Town Common

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Bristol Ferry Town Commons and Mount Hope Park (old ferry landing)
End of Bristol Ferry Road at Bayview

This is the site of a town common dating back to 1714. Ferry service started here in 1640. This 1.5 acre space was originally used by farmers and others to keep their livestock and other goods while waiting for the ferry to Bristol. The Bristol Ferry area had a British fort during the occupation. This area was the transportation hub for Aquidneck Island (Rhode Island) and there are records of George Washington passing through here after visiting with General Rochambeau in 1781. The French and Americans would make the start of their long journey to victory at Yorktown through Bristol Ferry.

Revolutionary Rhode Island: Miantonomi (Tonomy)

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Miantonomi Park on Hillside Avenue in Newport has a rich history. This hill was the seat of power for Narragansett Sachem Miantonomi. Colonial settlers used this hill for a lookout, for public executions and for a beacon light. By 1667 a beacon was constructed there which when lit signaled beacon lights in the rest of the Bay Area. In 1776 another beacon was erected “to give the country an alarm in case of invasion” and Col. Israel Putnam built fortifications here. When the British occupied Rhode Island (Aquidneck) they strengthened the fortifications with a powder magazine and other defensive works (1776-1779). When the French came (1780-1781) they manned fortifications here as part of their defensive lines for Newport.

Revolutionary Rhode Island: Fort Barton in Tiverton

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In the 1920s when Dr. Roderick Terry purchased the land to preserve Butts Hill Fort, he also preserved the remains of Fort Barton in Tiverton. You can visit the remains of the Fort at 343 Highland Avenue across from the Tiverton Town Hall. The remains of Fort Barton are located on a rise over 100 feet above sea level so there are commanding views Portsmouth locations like Island Park. Fort overlooked a strategic narrow point of water between the Sakonnet River and Mount Hope Bay. It is the shortest distance between Aquidneck Island and the mainland. This is traditionally known as the Howland Ferry area.

Revolutionary Defences In Rhode Island
Edward Field

After the British occupied Newport and Aquidneck Island in 1776, Tiverton was a gathering point for Americans. The governments of Rhode Island and Massachusetts worked together on the construction of the fort. On June 11, 1777, British officer Frederick Mackenzie described these efforts in his journal: “The Rebels have been busily employed in making a work on the hill above Howland’s ferry where their guns have been placed all the Winter. It appears to be very extensive, and must cost them a great deal of labour, as there is little or no soil on the hill.” On June 28, 1777, the Americans erected a flagstaff at the fort and raised their colors. The following day, Mackenzie described the fort as “irregular in its figure, but very extensive. From the situation, it must be strong.”

A short while later, Lieutenant Colonel William Barton led a daring raid to capture British General Richard Prescott on Aquidneck Island and the fort has been named in Barton’s honor.

In July of 1778, thousands of Colonial troops—including Paul Revere and John Hancock assembled in Tiverton for an invasion of Aquidneck Island. General Sullivan and 11,000 Continental troops and militia ferried across the narrows to participate in the Siege of Newport. When a storm crippled the French fleet that was off of Newport to support the Siege, American troops had to find their way back to Tiverton and Fort Barton. This military action was known as the Battle of Rhode Island and it was a successful retreat on August 30-31, 1778. After this battle, most of the soldiers scattered, leaving only a handful of men to man the fort.

View of Portsmouth from Fort Barton.

Resources: D. K. Abbass, Ph.D., “Fort Barton, Tiverton,” Rhode Tour, accessed August 17, 2022, https://rhodetour.org/items/show/52.

Revolutionary Rhode Island: Rochambeau Statue Newport Harbor

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King’s Park on Newport Harbor is the present location of a statute to General Rochambeau. The statue remains a symbol of the assistance that France rendered to the American colonies during the War for Independence. The statue’s original location in 1934 was Vanderbilt Circle (Equality Park). The statute is the third replica of the Rochambeau Statue. The first statue was created by sculptor Fernand Hamar and was erected in 1900 at Vendome, France – the home town of Rochambeau. (It has been replaced in 1974 with a 4th replica because the Germans melted down the original statue when they occupied the area in World War II. This statue was a gift of the American members of the Society of Cincinnati.) Paris and Washington D.C. also have replicas of the same statue.

Description: Rochambeau is dressed in the uniform of a Marshal of France. He wears the traditional French tricorn hat and cockade (a knot of ribbons) and the medal of the Order of the Saint Esprit on his overcoat. He stands atop in a pose where he holds a battle map of Yorktown in his left hand. Rochambeau’s sword rests at his left hip. The cannons behind him may refer to captured British cannons that the U.S. Congress gave to Rochambeau at the end of the Revolutionary War. A spring of laurel lies at Rochambeau’s feet.

One of the reasons the Newport statue was moved to Newport Harbor in 1940 was that it was the general opinion at the time that the French landed nearby. One of the French maps shows a landing area a few tenths of a mile away. Other maps show other possible landing areas, so the question of exact location is still up for debate.

the Plan de la ville, port, et rade de Newport, avec une partie de Rhode-Island occupée par l’armée française aux ordres de Mr. Le comte de Rochambeau, et de l’escadre française commandée par Mr. le Chr. Destouches [probably done in 1781] (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress Geography and Map Division, Rochambeau collection, 39, at http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/g3774n.ar101800)

Near the statue is a cairn or monument of rocks. In 1928, Dr. Roderick Terry of the Newport Historical Society had the cairn designed and built. The cairn’s location is the spot where the Admiral de Ternay Society dedicated a stone in honor of the admiral who commanded the French fleet into Newport Harbor. Restoration work was financed by the Alliance Francaise of Newport in 2019. The stone blocks making up the pyramid shape at the site were crumbling and the entire pyramid was dismantled and rebuilt block by block. The bronze statue of General Rochambeau had also suffered the effects of time and weather and needed restoration.

Revolutionary Rhode Island: Green End Fort

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A stone marker at Green End Fort at the eastern end of Vernon Street in Middletown, RI, reads: “Green End Fort, built 1777 by the English for the Defense of Newport.” This was the popular opinion when the land was put into trust of the Newport Historical Society in 1923. Engineer Kenneth Walsh began to doubt the English origins as he read the diary of British officer Frederick Mackenzie. As he used historical maps as reference points, it became clear that the “Green End Fort” was a French fort, the Saintonge Fort. The British had destroyed their fortifications as they left Aquidneck Island in October of 1779. When Rochambeau arrived in 1780 the French worked on restoration of British fortifications and the creation of new defensive positions. American militiamen under Lafayette aided the French engineers and masons in this work. Six brand new French forts were added in the Bliss Hill area – “new constructions built by the French.” The French maps show an earthenware “Redoute St. Orige” or “Redoute St. Orige” at the location of what we call Green End Fort. The battery served as a way to defend Newport and Middletown against a possible return of the British. The earthenworks was located on a critical spot: on a ridge overlooking the Green End Valley, Easton’s Pond and with views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Sakonnet River. The battery served the French Army until June of 1781 when they departed to prepare for the long march to Yorktown. American militia soldiers took over responsibility for the Aquidneck Island fortifications.

In 1894 three men, William Sherman, Harold Brown and Nicholas Brown purchased the site to preserve it. In 1923 the land was transferred to the Newport Historical Society. The Society of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of Rhode Island and the Newport Historical Society continues to maintain the site today.

# 6 is Green End Fort: Plan de la position de l’armée françoise autour de Newport et du mouillage de l’escadre dans la rade de cette ville.

Revolutionary Rhode Island: The Conanicut Battery

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The Conanicut Battery is Revolutionary Rhode Island that we can see and experience. It helps us to understand some of the evolution of Butts Hill Fort. The Rhode Island General Assembly ordered the building of this battery in 1776. A battery was built at Butts Hill by the American militia either in 1776 or before that in 1775 as part of Rhode Island’s preparations for war. The battery was built by hand using shovels and picks. The earth dug from a ditch was used to build up the parapet and its steep walls, the glacis which would have protected soldiers in the battery from attack by infantry. The parapet on the west side would protect against cannon fire from ships in the Bay.

What is a military battery? In the case of Conanicut Battery, it is a parapet or fortification equipped with artillery. So what is a parapet? It is a protective wall or earth defense along the top of a trench or other place of concealment for troops. This definition helps us to understand Conanicut Battery and even Butts Hill Fort.

The original Conanicut Battery was probably a simple, crescent shaped earthwork to protect six to eight cannon and those that operated them. In December of 1776 the British occupied the battery and they held the position until October of 1779. In his diary entry for December 7, 1776, British soldier Frederick Mackenzie writes: “…at 12 made the Light House on the S. point of Connonicut Island at the entrance of Rhode Island harbour….and about 1 o’clock that ship (The Experiment with Capt. Wallace) took the lead, and stood up the Western Channel between Connonicut, and the Main(land)… About 2 miles from the Light House, Rebels had a Battery or Redoubt with 4 Embrazures towards the Channel, But it appeared to be abandoned.”

What you see at the battery today is a shape the British formed. Ditches surround the earthen barricades on all sides and there is a ditch around all sides. When French forces came in July of 1780, they manned the battery until 1781.

Conanicut Battery can be found in Jamestown (Conanicut Island) at the end of Battery Lane which is off of Beavertail Road.

Plan de Rhode-Island Newport en ast la Capitale, 1778. Rhode Island Historical Society Collections RHiX34292

This French map mislabels Conanicut as Connecticut, but it does seem to show the location of the battery.

Walking the Battlefield: An Event at Heritage Park

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On Saturday September 24th ,2022, the Battle of Rhode Island Association is proud to partner with the Portsmouth Conservation Commission as we present “Walking the Battlefield.” The event will be held at Heritage Park, located at Hedley St and Highpoint Ave. Visitors will be guided through the action of The Battle of Rhode Island that took place August 29th, 1778.

Called Turkey Hill in 1778 and occupied by both Patriot and British forces, the Park will be laid out with stations representing key skirmishes of the Battle, the largest action in Rhode Island during the War for Independence. Guides and Speakers will take visitors through the events of the day to provide a clear understanding of a complex series of individual fights.
The event is free to the public. First tour starts at 11 am, 2nd tour at 11:45. For more information visit: https://portsmouthhistorynotes.com/

Since 1956 the Portsmouth Conservation Commission has worked to protect and preserve the town’s natural resources as well as protecting the natural aesthetic areas within the town. The BUTTS HILL FORT RESTORATION COMMITTEE is a committee of the BATTLE OF RHODE ISLAND ASSOCIATION. The mission of the Committee is to restore and maintain the Revolutionary War fort in order to provide a safe and accessible educational and recreational site that raises public interest in this National Historic Landmark and its role in the Battle of Rhode Island. The Association is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit committed to raising awareness of Rhode Island’s role in the War for Independence. Donations may be made payable to “BoRIA” at PO Box 626, Portsmouth, RI 02871.a

The French Leave

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The French arrived in Newport in July of 1780. Most of the forces wintered in Newport except the Lauzun Legion which camped in Connecticut. Rochambeau was very skillful in handling his troops and the Americans began to appreciate their presence. Where the British had demolished defenses, the French engineers worked on rebuilding them. Major General William Heath’s diary for September of 1780 notes that “The batteries were strengthened, a very strong one erected on Rose-Island, and redoubts on Coaster’s-Island: the strong works on Butt’s-Hill (were) pushed..” A few days later he would remark: “The French army continued very busy in fortifying Rhode-Island: some of their works were exceedingly strong, and mounted with heavy metal.” We know from orderly books (daily records) that the American militiamen were aiding the French masons as they enlarged and fortified Butts Hill Fort.

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 to attack New York City. In an address to the people of Newport, Washington expressed gratitude for the help of the French:

“The conduct of the French Army and fleet, of which the inhabitants testify so grateful and affectionate a sense, at the same time that it evinces the wisdom of the commanders and the discipline of the troops, is a new proof of the magnanimity of the nations. It is a further demonstration of that general zeal and concern for the happiness of America which brought them to our assistance; a happy presage of future harmony…appeasing evidence that an intercourse between the two nations will more and more cement the union by the solid and lasting times of mutual affection.” (Quote taken from New Materials for the History of the American Revolution by J. Durant. Henry Holt, New York, 1889.)

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.

In May of 1781 Washington and Rochambeau met again, this time in Weathersfield, Connecticut. This meeting confirmed the joining of the forces and the march South.

The French left Newport in stages:

  • Regiment Bourbonnois under the vicomte de Rochambeau, left on June 18.
  • Regiment Royal Deux-Ponts under the baron de Vioménil, left on June 19.
  • Regiment Soissonnois under the comte de Vioménil, left on June 20.
  • Regiment Saintonge under the comte de Custine, left on June 21.

Brigadier General de Choisy was left behind in Newport with some French troops. He sailed with Barras’ fleet to the Chesapeake area in August. In the summer of 1781, General Rochambeau’s French Army joined forces with General Washington’s Continental Army, With the French Navy in support, the allied armies moved hundreds of miles toward victory in Yorktown Virginia in September of 1781.



By Robert Selig, PhD. for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Resource Study & Environmental Assessment, 2006.
https://digitalcommons.providence.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=ri_history. Visit of George Washington to Newport in 1781 – French E. Chadwick. 1913
Loughrey, Mary Ellen. France and Rhode Island, 1686-1800. New York, King’s Crown Press, 1944.