Battery Day reenactors prepare for battle this Saturday
This Saturday is Battery Day, a military pageant that honors the memory of those who have served our country through the centuries. The celebration also calls into focus the historical treasures upon which Jamestown is built.
Conanicut Battery was a defensive military position built in 1776 to bombard and thereby dissuade British warships from entering Narragansett Bay and the West Passage during the Revolutionary War.
Strategically located to offer sweeping views, Conanicut Battery was built by the Rhode Island Colonial Legislature in 1776, according to Rosemary Enright, secretary and former president of the Jamestown Historical Society.
The event, which will take place at Battery Park located on Battery Lane, will commence at 1 p.m.
Bill and May Munger of the Conanicut Marina have provided a shuttle from the Mackerel Cove Town Beach parking lot due to the limited parking near the battery.
Enright described the program in detail.
On May 14 more than 50 reenactors, led by Major Blogett — being played by Paul Brunelle — will join Jamestown Cub Scout Group 1, American Legion Arnold Zweir Post 22, Memorial Post 9447 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Jamestown Community Band in festivities that will celebrate the 1776 earthworks.
Enright explained that the “British, French and American flags — honoring the three nations that manned the fort at different times between 1776 and 1783 — will be raised while the Jamestown Community Band is playing each country’s national anthem.”
The British, who operated the battery longer than anyone else, actively manned the battery during the three-year British occupation of Jamestown. If the battery was ever manned by the colonials, “it was only for a very short time,” said Enright, who will be giving a brief talk on the history of the Battery at the event.
Sharing the park on the night prior to the event, Cub Scout Group 1 and Captain Tew’s 1st Company of the 2nd Rhode Island Regiment will bivouac overnight. “[Tew’s Company] will be joined in the morning by the Artillery Company of Newport, whose cannon salute across the West Passage will mark the beginning of the ceremonies,” Enright said.
A new addition to the activities will include members of His Majesty’s 54th Foot, skirmishing with Captain Tew’s Company. The 54th Foot battled with the Continentals during the Revolution and the skirmish will replicate how a battle was fought during the time period.
Rhode Island’s 14th Heavy Artillery, the black regiment that took shape during the Civil War, will fire the salutes during the flag raising. Enright explained that, “While the 14th wasn’t around when the Conanicut Battery was active, these soldiers built the batteries on nearby Dutch Island, and on this 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War it is appropriate to include them in our Battery Day.”
Conanicut Battery is one of the few batteries, including Butts Hill Fort and Fort Barton that are still around from that era. According to Enright, Conanicut Battery is “one of the smaller ones; the original battery probably hosted no more than six or eight cannons.” Through the centuries the battery fell in and out of disrepair. It was used as farmland in the 1800s.
The Daughters of the American Revolution oversaw the clearing out of the battery early in the 20th century and several decades later Conanicut Battery once again served as a military installation. The observation posts that offered expansive views of the bay are now obstructed by trees.
The main interest in the Conanicut Battery is to maintain its original iteration. That was the motivation for the 2002 renovation of the Conanicut Battery led by Ed Connelly of the Friends of the Conanicut Battery. Sadly, Connelly, the founder of Friends of Conanicut, passed away before the dedication of the renovation in 2002.
The renovations resulted in an award from the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Historic Commission in 2003. The award was presented to co-chair and former JHS President John Howard.
As printed in the 2003 spring edition of the JHS Newsletter, the award reads, “This vital link in the defenses of Narragansett Bay had been largely overgrown and ignored since the end of the American Revolution. From 1998 to 2002, the Friends of Conanicut Battery reclaimed both Revolutionary and [World War I] installations in exemplary collaboration between professional designers and volunteer workers.”
The Jamestown Historical Society continues to oversee the maintenance of the park further celebrating the good work done by the Friends of the Conanicut Battery.