2018-06-28 / Front Page

City Fort Re-labeled, Town Charter Displayed

By James Merolla

This 1780 French map, “Plan de la position de l'armée Françoise autour de Newport,” shows forts built by the British (red) with new forts build by the French (blue). Based on the map's legend, #6 is the Redoute de Saintonge and #28 is the real Card’s Redoubt. This 1780 French map, “Plan de la position de l'armée Françoise autour de Newport,” shows forts built by the British (red) with new forts build by the French (blue). Based on the map's legend, #6 is the Redoute de Saintonge and #28 is the real Card’s Redoubt. A landmark Revolutionary War fortification that was misidentified for a century will be re-marked, thanks to the efforts of Kenneth Walsh and Christina Alvernas of the Middletown Historical Society Research Team.

New signage is being produced to change what has long been mislabeled as the British-built Card’s Redoubt/Green End Fort to the French-built Redoute de Saintonge, named for the Saintonge regiment that accompanied Rochambeau to Newport in 1780.

For many decades, the theory has been deeply established that the redoubt, or earthen fortification, on Vernon Avenue, was thought to be Card’s Redoubt and built on Bliss Hill for the defense of Newport during the British Occupation. In 1976, Middletown engineer Kenneth Walsh discovered an inconsistency when he was perusing the diary of a British officer, Lt. Frederick Mackenzie, who had been stationed at Newport during the British Occupation.

The British Occupation of Aquidneck Island lasted from December 1776 to October 1779. During that time, the area west of Easton’s Pond was heavily fortified with trenches and earthen fortifications. In August 1778, American forces stationed on Honeyman Hill in Middletown (east of Easton’s Pond) laid siege to the British in Newport in an attempt to oust them from the island.

Mackenzie was a meticulous record keeper. His descriptions of place and time are considered to be historical Gospel. According to an addendum that Walsh and Alvernas recently completed, Walsh went to the redoubt on Vernon Avenue (thought to be Card’s Redoubt), looked out at the view of the valley to the east, and opened the page to a drawing Mackenzie had done of the same view. But it did not line up.

In Mackenzie’s sketch, if one stood on Bliss Hill and looked east toward Honeyman Hill, Green End Avenue should have been to the right of Card’s Redoubt, but from where Walsh stood, it was to the left.

Walsh decided to look further into the matter.

Through the analysis of seven historic maps and Mackenzie’s diary, Walsh made a compelling argument that the fort on Vernon Avenue was, in fact, not British-built or held, but French-built several years later.

Walsh wrote, “The location of Card’s Redoubt in relation to Green End Avenue, the absence of any fortifications in the Vernon Avenue area on all maps created prior to or during the British occupation, a fortification’s presence in this area on both French maps made in the 1780s, and its listing as a newly built French fort called the Redoute de Saintonge, all point to one answer.”

The site, which is maintained by the Rhode Island Chapter of the Sons of the Revolution, is owned by the Newport Historical Society. Thanks to the addendum, new signage detailing the story of the Redoute de Saintonge is underway.

The new sign, developed by the Newport Historical Society and the Society of the Sons of the Revolution, will highlight the construction and the role of the redoubt after the French forces arrived in 1780.

“The Newport Historical Society accepted Kenneth Walsh’s scholarship on the locations of Card’s Redoubt and Redoubt St. Onge when we published his article in Newport History, Winter 1976,” said Bert Lippincott of the Newport Historical Society and the Society of the Sons of the Revolution. “We also accepted and published his later findings in Newport History, Fall 1981.”

Although Walsh first formulated his theory about Saintonge in the 1970s, at the time he was working full time as an engineer on the Navy base, with little time or resources to prove his findings.

In the meantime, he helped found the Middletown Historical Society. After retiring, he earned a Ph.D. and read everything he could on colonial fortifications and cannons.

In 2015, he was awarded a grant from the National Park Service American Battlefield Protection Program to study the Siege of Newport. He put together a team that included Alvernas, faculty and students from Salve Regina University and technical advisors from the University of Rhode Island and Roger Williams University.

They produced a 364-page report on the Siege of Newport in roughly one year. The project delved into the technical, often forgotten aspects of the Siege, pairing the historical record with scientific analysis of the artillery, fortifications and geography.

The story of Saintonge is in the larger report, but with so much else to cover, it didn’t fully do it justice. It really needed a chapter of its own, so Walsh and Alvernas wrote the addendum in late 2017.

Now with the major report and its addendum complete, Walsh and Alvernas are looking to future research projects.

“The story of Middletown’s founding is something we want to look at more closely,” Walsh said.

Founded in 1743, this year marks Middletown’s 275th anniversary.

“Ken has just begun looking into this, but we do have a great opportunity coming up that the public will enjoy,” Alvernas said.

The Middletown Historical Society will host its annual Founders’ Day event on Saturday, Aug. 18, which typically includes the running of Boyd’s Windmill, reenactors, food and other activities. But this year the original 1743 Middletown charter will be coming down, under police escort, from the Rhode Island State Archives, and will be displayed for one hour at MHS headquarters, the Paradise School.

“It’s really a great chance for the public to see this document in person and get excited about their history,” Alvernas said.

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