Letters written by American forces during the 1780-81 time that Americans and French were working on Butts Hill Fort give us some details that enable us to visualize the fort to some extent.

There is a remarkable new book by John Robertson (Revolutionary War Defenses in Rhode Island) that provides more clues to what the fort might have looked like in 1781. Robertson relates information from letters from Major General William Heath and Col Jacobs.

“On 30 August MG Heath requests the Deputy Quarter Master to supply 3,600 palisades ten feet long and from five to eight inches in diameter for use at the fort.” (Robertson p. 75)

With the scarcity of wood for heat and cooking after the brutal British Occupation, I doubt that 3,600 palisades were put up at the fort.

Robertson also gives us information from a letter from Col. Jacobs to Heath on September 5th.

  1. The circumference of the ditch in rods is 111 (about 1,830 feet)
  2. 81 of which are solid stone
  3. 4 rods have been dug to 6 ft, 26 to 5.5 ft. 27 to 5 feet, 38 to 3ft, and 16 to 1.5 ft.
  4. The depth from surface to stone was 18 inches.

It is difficult for me to even imagine this and I hope that someone can take these measurements and draw what it might look like.

What kind of ordnance did they have at Butts Hill Fort?

Robertson found a return of Ordnance document (in and near the fort) on September 26, 1780

Listed are:

  1. 6 iron 18 pounders. (Five are on garrison carriages.)
  2. 2 four pounder brass cannon on field carriages.
  3. The magazine had 643 dozen musket cartridges.
  4. Four spiked cannons,
  5. Four dismounted cannons.

When the French left Aquidneck Island in June of 1781 the fort was complete but the French guns had been removed. The fort was occupied until July of 1782. There was no longer fear of a British attack on Rhode Island (Aquidneck Island). On September 19th, 1782, a Rhode Island resolution passed that authorized Col. Archibald Crary to call on the commanding officer at Newport for help in removing the cannon and stores from Butts Hill and move them to Providence.

In June of 1783, a Rhode Island resolution passed to authorize William Anthony, Jr. “to sell at public venue the gates, timber, etc on Butts’s Hill in Portsmouth” (Bartlett, Records IX, p. 709). There were reports that the wooden barracks building was taken by the Town of Portsmouth to use for a poor house, but it was in rough shape and was quickly broken up. From the French maps we know there was a barracks there, but I don’t have a confirmation of what happened to the building. Perhaps Portsmouth town records may shed some light on that question.

Butts Hill Fort was no longer fortified.

What do the letters and documents tell us about what Butts Hill Fort might have looked like?

  1. It had a gate
  2. It had a barracks
  3. There was timber at the fort – but we have no confirmation palisades were installed
  4. There was a magazine for ammunition
  5. 6 (18 lb) cannons – five on garrison carriages
  6. 2 (4 lb) brass cannons
  7. There was about1830 feet of ditches around the fort (some ditches deeper than others).

Archaeological study-Babit