The Research Puzzle:

I’m a retired librarian who has come to love researching local history.  

Researching local history since 1990 when I began researching the Glen with my students at Elmhurst

I write a blog called “portsmouthhistorynotes” where I share what I have been researching.

This year I am researching for the Butts Hill Fort Restoration ? Battle of Rhode Island Association.

I am a “Portsmouth history detective”.

I will share with you some ways I go about the research process.
I think of Portsmouth history as a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.  

To frame the picture I start with good secondary sources.
Secondary sources – others have done the research and are presenting their findings to you.

Examples: Battle of Rhode Island: Christian McBurney
Scholarly sources: Journal Articles – Journal of the American Revolution

Secondary sources give us a frame to the puzzle so that we can place our own puzzle pieces of information into the broader picture of the history of Portsmouth.

Get into the footnotes of the secondary sources to collect your primary source material.

Primary sources are the heart of original research. You are drawing your own conclusions from the first hand material and not just rehashing what others who have seen the primary sources have concluded.

Primary sources are the heart of original research. Eyewitness. From the time.

Diaries, – Diary of Samuel Ward for the Battle
Letters – Militia men wrote home to describe conditions at Camp Butts Hill
Maps, – Maps before occupation, during occupation, during French occupation
Blueprints – Clinton collection of British fortifications
Documents – Orderly Books – official records of regiments
Newspaper accounts – General Sullivan defended his withdrawal – Providence Gazette
Photographs.- celebrations in 1920s
Works of Art – painting of General
Field Trips – Exploring Butts Hill Fort

Many of these primary sources can be found online.

Provide clues you can put together into the puzzle frame to get a clearer picture.

As you research:

Make sure you are using resources you can trust. Anyone can put up websites.

Questions to keep in mind:

  1. Why was this source written: casual description, influence others, keeping a record

2. Who was the intended audience? What biases do they have.

A description of the Battle of Rhode Island by an English general is going to be different than the description by an American General. The diary of a Tory sympathizer is going to be different from a patriot sympathizer.

3. What questions does the source raise? I found a source that mentioned the French masons at Butts Hill Fort. Can I confirm by other sources that they were there. One historian has challenged an article I wrote because his research didn’t find that. I have to find corroborating sources.

4. Does this source change the assumptions I made? Don’t be hesitant to change your theories. I’ve had to change my thoughts on what happened to Butts Hill Fort after the British left. I had one source state that the Americans started the fortifications at Butts Hill in 1776, but maps showed the militias started the fortifications in 1775.

Finding primary sources:

Academic Journal databases.
Library of Congress terrific resource for primary sources .
newspapers.com or newspaper archives.
Ancestry if you are researching a person in history.


Almy Hill is one of the boundaries of the Historic District.

Battle of Rhode Island Battleground District
From Israel Angel Diary
%d bloggers like this: