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Without Roderick Terry, Butts Hill Fort would have been a housing development

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There would be no Butts Hill Fort to preserve and restore if the Reverend Roderick Terry hadn’t bought the site and the lands around it in the early 1920’s. Insurance maps were printed showing the 200-lothousing development and the Newport Mercury ads touted the site as “the most desirable place for a country home in the north end of the island.

Who was Roderick Terry and how did he come to buy the Butts Hill Fort land? Terry was born in Brooklyn in 1849. His father was a wealthy businessman active in the railroad and telegraph industries. He graduated from Yale in 1870 and then he went on to study for the ministry earning a doctor of divinity from Princeton in 1881. He served as a minister in New York City for 24 years before retiring to Newport in 1905. Terry and his wife settled in a home owned by his wife’s family on Rhode Island Avenue. He had an active retirement. He volunteered his services (and his money) to organizations such as the Red Cross, Redwood Library and the Newport Historical Society. In 1918 Roderick Terry became the president of the Newport Historical Society and he was a dominant force in a renewal of that organization. His generosity rescued Butts Hill Fort, Fort Barton and the Sherman Windmill. Bu

Terry donated Butts Hill Fort to the Newport Historical Society, but he did so with strings attached.

1. The Newport Historical Society and its successors were to forever “preserve, keep and maintain” the property as a monument to those who fought in the Revolutionary War.

2. That the property will always keep the name “Butts Hill Fort.”

3. That the property should never be used for monetary gain.

Terry went on to stipulate that if the Newport Historical Society did not maintain the property, the State of Rhode Island had the right to step in and take it over. Terry turned over tracts of the Butts Hill land in 1923, but by 1968 the State of Rhode Island took over the land and placed it in the hands of the Town of Portsmouth. The town is still required to “preserve, keep and maintain” the property, to call it “Butts Hill Fort,” and to not use it for monetary gain.

The Butts Hill Fort Restoration Committee of the Portsmouth Historical Society is making an effort to follow through with Terry’s desires. Hopefully Portsmouth residents can see the value of restoring and maintaining our historic sites and landscapes. We may not have the resources that the Reverend Terry had, but we can contribute to the work and the funds to make Terry’s dream for Butts Hill Fort a reality – a place where families can come and remember the sacrifices others made for us to have a free country. It can be a place where families can enjoy walking the trails around the earthenwork fort and appreciate that in Portsmouth we still have history we can see.

Are you interested in applying your time and talents to the effort to preserve and restore Butts Hill Fort?

Volunteering/further info can be addressed to Seth Chiaro

seth.chiaro@gmail.com

Sources:

Newport History Magazine, 1934.

Briggs Hill, Windmill Hill, Butts Hill: Part 1 of A Land History

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As we look to preserving the earthworks Butts Hill Fort, I wondered about the land history. Who owned this piece of land we are trying to preserve? How has this tract of land been used throughout Portsmouth history. Finding the answers to those questions is not so easy. Although Portsmouth has kept excellent land records, my skills in tracking back ownership are somewhat lacking. Let me share what I have gleaned through maps, historical records and secondary sources. I have tried to confirm as much as I could through Portsmouth land records and genealogical records. This is a work in progress, so maybe those knowledgeable in family genealogies can help me to find confirmations or missing links.

Part 1 – From Land Grant to War for Independence

Land grant: I usually start research by looking at West’s Land Grant maps to identify the original owners. Looking at these maps led me to believe that the land was town owned for many years. I do have a confirmation of the Durfee family on that land because town records show that in February of 1729 Thomas Durfee left “a parcel called the Wind Mill Hill land” to son Gideon Durfee.

Land Grant to Durfee

1638 to after 1708: The Town of Portsmouth retained the property we know as Butt’s Hill. The Town, however, permitted a windmill to be erected so that the windmill was owned by other familiar Portsmouth families. The handing down of the Windmill and the land around it was recorded in the town records.

1657: William Cory and William Earl applied to the town council to trade a piece of land for land on Briggs Hill to build a windmill.

1665: The hill land (or pieces of it) was owned by Caleb Briggs.

1668: A windmill is erected by William Earle and William Cory. Cory is known as a carpenter and miller. Cory and Earle are brothers-in-law.

1682 (Feb 24, 1682). William Cory (carpenter and miller) in his will gave the windmill to his wife Mary.
Mary traded land back to the town.

1721: Caleb Bennett inherits the windmill from father Robert Bennett. Robert had married Anne Cory. Perhaps the windmill and land came from her family.

Will – To Caleb Bennett from father Robert: Transcription of Land Evidence Record in Rhode Island Genealogical Biographies

1725 January 15, John Butts bought of Caleb Bennett the windmill and about one rood of land (about a quarter of an acre) on Windmill Hill. This I was able to confirm through Portsmouth land evidence.

Sale – Bennett to Butts – Land Evidence Records of the Town of Portsmouth

At this point the area was known as Windmill Hill or Butts Hill. The Fage Maps called it “Windmill Hill.” In the family genealogies I don’t find evidence that John Butts or his son John Butts, Jr. were millers or farmers. There was a Butts family homestead that was torn down in the 1870s. Before the War for Independence some members of the Butts family, including John Butts, Jr., were ship owners.

According to a Butt’s family genealogy: “The name of the fort was given in honor of John Butts and his family for their loyalty, and aid given patriot Army during the struggle for independence. John Butts occupied the homestead of the Butts family, and was en­gaged in the shipping interests of the Island. The *War of the Revolu­tion” was a great disaster to him; the British warships captured or des­troyed his little fleet of vessels and the army swept everything from his land. He was greatly respected by the people among whom he lived, and the soldiers of the Patriot Army. To his honor and patriotism the fort which they struggled to defend was named, and from that time has been known as “Fort Butts.” It is also said that the industry of the Island is largely due to his energy and influence. He married Susanna, daughter of William and Susanna Cornell, of Portsmouth, August 17, 1767.” **

Looking at their genealogies, the family didn’t seem to come back to the land at the end of the War. Family members were active in rope making not milling or farming and moved to other parts of the state.

** (Source: Francis Butts, 1891 The Butts Family of Rhode Island, a genealogy and biography. http://rs5.loc.gov/service/gdc/scd0001/2007/20070619024bu/20070619024bu.pdf )