The cannons have been silent for 237 years.
They stood, ready to be fired, on what are now well-manicured rolling hills, a redoubt of earth piled high during the Revolutionary War, shovelful by shovelful, with dirt from trenches below, a backbreaking exercise to reshape the earth itself by Colonists and their French allies.
This cluster of hills–dubbed Redoubt St. Onge in 1780–was formed to set artillery fired to drive the British and their Hessian mercenaries out of Newport, should they ever return. They lay serenely, a kind of tranquil park at the end of a dead-end street, forgotten by the generations of Americans who, in part, owe their freedom to them.
On July 4, the Sons of the Revolution [R.I. Chapter] will celebrate American independence as they have since their ancestors – soldiers in that founding war – dragged cannons to fortify and defend Redoubt St. Onge.
They will meet at the Common Burying Ground where some of those revolutionaries lie, first to honor the grave of William Ellery, one of Rhode Island’s two signers of the Declaration of Independence. Then they will march to the Old Colony House to listen solemnly as one of their own reads the Declaration aloud and, appropriately, fires a 21-gun salute.
The Sons of the Revolution (SR) was founded in 1876 by members of the Society of the Cincinnati wishing to broaden participation in preserving the American Heritage on the eve of this country’s centennial. Its mission is to promote knowledge and appreciation of the achievement of American independence and to foster fellowship among its members.
A non-profit educational organization, it is devoted to the principles and ideals of its founders.
“One of our members, Roy Lauth of Newport, will be reading the Declaration of Independence on the steps of the Old Colony House, something that has been done in this country since 1776,” said SR President and Historian Bruce Mac- Gunnigle. “Walter Whitley had read it for 20 to 25 years, but he’s in his 80s, and stepped aside. Roy, who is an Artillery commander, does a fine job.”
SR has been hosting the annual Fourth of July celebration here as long as anyone can remember, added MacGunnigle. “All of the members of the Sons were descendants of the men who fought in the American Revolution,” he said. “We are keeping the patriotic tradition of the Fourth of July alive. We’re just happy to promote what our ancestors and our patriots and soldiers achieved in order to ensure the freedoms we have today.”
From a conservative house at the end of Vernon Avenue in Middletown, retired architect Bruce Westgate, SR treasurer, walks the sinuous mound of earth and the grassy open area with a steep slope to the east, that marks the forgotten site of Redoubt St. Onge. It is one of seven properties owned by the Newport Historical Society (NHS), which has marked it as Green End Fort, a British-built redoubt. Historian Kenneth Walsh, of the Middletown Historical Society, says that the marker is not correct.
In fact, Walsh wrote an article in Newport History, No. 161, published in the winter of 1976 and again in 1984 by the Newport Historical Society, revealing the area was mismarked in 1924 as a British Fort (Card’s Redoubt) which is actually about 825 feet to the North. He has the original maps, drawn for Rochambeau himself, to prove it.
“All of the research we have done shows that this is one of the new forts that the French built with the help of the Rhode Island militia for the St. Onge Regiment,” said Walsh. “And, additional research we just did for the Department of the Interior carefully marks the battle on Valley Road between the British and Colonials [prior to its construction].”
No matter who built it, you can almost hear the shots echo in the valley below.
Westgate stands atop the ridge where the cannons were primed to roar, pointing to the intersection of what is now Green End Avenue and Valley Road seen through a grove of trees–the spot 100 feet below and 500 meters east of where the British and their Hessian hordes fought the R.I. militia in the battle of which Walsh’s 300 pages of documented research, just published this month, speaks.
“I call this a berm,” said Westgate. “There were seven built as a kind of necklace around Newport. The British occupied Newport from 1777 to 1779. The Tories stayed and the Patriots left. My ancestor was one of them. This berm is the only one intact. ‘Redoubt’ is a war term–a defensive position. The most famous redoubt is the one in Yorktown, Virginia at the final battle of the Revolutionary War.”
Some historians dispute how many redoubts were built and by whom, but Walsh’s maps, in French, clearly show where many of the originals were constructed for defense by both sides.
Today, NHS retains ownership and stewardship of Green End Fort. Their website says the fort “is the site of a battle by the 1st Regiment [an African-American unit],” but such research has not come to light in this discovery.
During the 19th century, the area was farmed. It was deeded for preservation in 1894, and later the title was turned over to NHS. It is now maintained by the Sons of the Revolution.
The Sons pay to have the lower end of the redoubt mowed. Yet, he maintains the sloping hill and has cleared the trees, ripped out the choking vines and the poison ivy which almost removed it from any modern glimpse.
SR promotes events throughout the area.
MacGunnigle said the group supports many charities–the Newport and Rhode Island historical societies, the Artillery Company of Newport, the Children of the American Revolution [under age 18] and the Nathaniel Greene and the Varnum Continentals Museums.
“Both Greene and Varnum were generals in the Battle of Rhode Island. We help defray expenses of their homesteads, which are now museums,” said MacGunnigle.
They have a new charity this season. “This year, one of the students of Robert Russell at Salve Regina University is working on the restoration of gravestones at the Common Burying Ground,” added MacGunnigle. “There are a number of patriot soldiers in that cemetery and we want to make sure their gravestones are restored as well.”
In addition to maintaining Ellery’s gravesite and the Green End Fort, the Sons of the Revolution have placed numerous bronze plaques on markers at various sites throughout Newport to commemorate the events and people of the Revolutionary War. Over the past eight decades, the Sons have hallowed important locations as follows:
- In 1932 – placed a marker to honor Stephen Bleecker Luce, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, Corner of Kay Street and Rhode Island Avenue.
- In 1949 – marked the uprising regarding the H.MS. Liberty, Equality Park
- In 1950 – erected a bronze plaque on a stone shaft at Battery Park .In 1966 – denoted, on a boulder: The Tree of Liberty, William Ellery Park
- In 2002 – secured a granite marker at the grave of Governor John Collins of the Continental Congress, 22 Castle Hill Ave.
By: James Merolla, 30 June 2016, Newport This Week, http://www.newportthisweek.com/news/2016-06-30/Around_Town/Sons_Preserve_History_of_Founding_Fathers.html