Jamestown Historical Society

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Conanicut Battery

Hours, Directions & Details

Battery Lane | Jamestown, RI 02836

The park is open to the public from sunup to sundown every day. Signage in the park provides a detailed history of this site.

History of the Conanicut Battery

In 1776, after the Revolutionary War broke out, the Rhode Island General Assembly ordered Major Gen. Joshua Babcock to build the Conanicut Battery. The original fort was probably a simple, crescent-shaped earthwork designed to house and protect six to eight heavy cannon and their men. The British captured the fort in December 1776 and occupied it until October 1779. They rebuilt the battery in the shape seen today. A ditch surrounds the earthen barricades on all sides. The fort could house heavy cannon to defend the West Passage, and the bastions on the north and south protected it from land attack.

In July 1780, after the British left the island, the Marquis de Lafayette relayed orders to Colonel Christopher Greene, commander of the 1st Rhode Island (Black) Regiment, to load four boats with bundles of fascine sticks using 24 of his African American soldiers and “bring over those fascines to Conanicut Island, as fast as it is in your power” to reinforce the battery. At least six men in the 1st Regiment were former Jamestown slaves. French forces coming to the aid of the new United States manned the Conanicut Battery later in 1780 and 1781. 

During the 19th century, the area reverted to farmland.

In 1916, the military re-acquired the land and built six underground observation posts atop Prospect Hill, just east of the 1776 battery. From there, military observers had an unobstructed view of the approaches to Narragansett Bay and of the minefields laid in the East and West Passages during World War I and World War II. In 2023, the JHS initiated repairs to the observation posts to make them secure. 

In 1963, the federal government gave the 22-acre property to the Town of Jamestown, and in 1972 Conanicut Battery earned recognition by the National Register of Historic Places. Since the restoration of the park in 2002, the JHS has worked with the town to maintain the historic elements within the Conanicut Battery National Historic Park. 

Battery Day

The JHS celebrates Battery Day at the Conanicut Battery every few years to celebrate the construction of the Revolutionary War fort.  On Battery Day, the sound of cannons reverberates across the West Passage. Costumed re-enactors recreate a Revolutionary War skirmish and musicians play patriotic music. Participants raise the flags of the three nations that occupied the fort — United States, England, and France — above the earthwork battlements. Free. Click here for date/hours.

General Assembly Orders That A Fort Be Built
The General Assembly votes to “erect a fort at Beaver Tail, upon Conanicut, to contain six or eight heavy cannon.” By December, when the British fleet of 70 ships sails up West Passage, the cannon have been withdrawn to Aquidneck Island. After securing Newport, the British quickly occupy the Conanicut Battery.
Battery Returns to Farmland
The British evacuate Jamestown in 1779. America’s French allies briefly man the fort before it is abandoned. Sheep and cows graze around the earthworks for the next 135 years.
Observation Bunkers built Above the Battery
As World War I begins, six observation posts are built on Prospect Hill, east of the colonial battery. Observers in the underground posts use sighting instruments to take bearings on targets and telephone the data to the gun batteries around the bay.
Conanicut Battery Becomes a Jamestown Park
The United States Army deeds the land to the town of Jamestown, noting that reconfiguration of the land as a historic park would preserve a fragile remnant of the Revolution.
National Recognition
In 1972, Conanicut Battery earned recognition by the National Register of Historic Places.
Friends of Conanicut Battery Clear the Earthworks
The Battery has become overgrown. Ed Connelly leads the restoration of the earthworks and the installation of didactic signage. The Jamestown Historical Society forms a Battery Committee and in 2008 takes over the maintenance of the historic elements in the town park.

Become a JHS Member

Help preserve & share the history of Jamestown, RI. Maintain the Museum, the Windmill, the Meetinghouse and the Conanicut Battery. Preserve the Society’s collection of documents, photographs and artifacts.