German Families at Home on Butts Hill

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I knew that families came with the British and German soldiers who occupied Aquidneck Island. What I didn’t realize was that there would be families living at the Butts Hill fortifications. Walter Schroder’s book “The Hessian Occupation of Newport and Rhode Island 1776-1779” provides an interesting glimpse of this family life. Most of the German troops were Protestants and they brought their chaplains with the army. Schroder cites records of the Rev. G.C. Coster who was chaplain of two Hessian regiments. Coster lists several births, baptisms and infant deaths recorded at the Windmill Hill encampment (Butts Hill). That is proof that the families of the soldiers came and stayed with them even on their field assignments to North Portsmouth.

Schiffer, J. C. Plan von Rhode Island, und deren dem comando des Herrn General Majors Presgott inf dies-malig befundlichen campements. [1777] Map. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/item/75690704/.

Schroder, Walter. The Hessian Occupation of Newport and Rhode Island 1776-1779. Westminster, Maryland, Heritage Books, 2005.

Coster, G.C. Hessian Soldiers in the American Revolution: Records of their marriages and baptisms of their children in American, performed by the Rev. G.C. Coster, 1776-1783, Chaplain of two Hessian Regiments. Edited and translated by Marie Dicktore. Cincinnati: C.J. Krehbiel Co. 1959.

Battle of Rhode Island Myths and Legends: The Hessian’s Hole and Bloody Brook


It seems appropriate during Halloween week to write about a graveyard and a brook that runs red with blood. Portsmouth has many legendary places and Hessian’s Hole and Bloody Brook are among them..

Hessian’s Hole is among the historical graveyards listed in Portsmouth, Rhode Island. This gravesite has its origin in the Battle of Rhode Island. Among the English troops that occupied Aquidneck Island were German soldiers, Hessians, who came primarily from the Hesse-Cassel region. During the Battle, Hessian and British troops chased the Americans who were trying to retreat from the island after the French fleet abandoned the campaign for Newport to repair their ships. Around Turkey Hill on the West Main Road, the Hessians rushed the hill to take an American redoubt.

From Captain Malsburg’s journals: “Here they experienced a more obstinate resistance than they expected. They found large bodies of troops behind the work and at its sides, chiefly wild looking men in their shirt sleeves, and among them many negroes.”

The Hessians had encountered the Rhode Island First Regiment – known as the Black Regiment. The Hessians were repulsed at least three times and according to General Sullivan’s account, 60 Hessians were left dead.

“Hessian’s Hole” was the name commonly used for the burial ground of these German soldiers. You can find it on modern online maps, but there are debates about just where it is located. One possible location is on the grounds of Portsmouth Abbey. Other sources claim it is by the top of Lehigh Hill on route 114 where there is a look-out. According to the state database of historical cemeteries, “This cemetery is just south of one of the holes on the golf course on the edge of the woods. It is on land of Portsmouth Abbey – must get permission to visit. These are the graves of Hessian soldiers who died during the Revolutionary War.”

Do the ghosts of the Hessian soldiers make an appearance now and then? A Daily News account in May of 1960 included a comment that the Hessian soldiers march on foggy nights around the Hessian’s Hole.

“Bloody Brook” is a nickname for Barker’s Brook because it was said to run red with the blood of the soldiers that died in that skirmish. Route 24 has interfered with the natural course of the brook, but you might still see portions of it.


Rhode Island Historical Tracts #6. Copyright by Sidney Rider 1878