Playing the ‘bad guys’ in Portsmouth

54th Regiment of Foot, which drilled at Fort Butts on Sunday, portrays a British Revolutionary War unit

By Jim McGaw
Posted 6/10/21

PORTSMOUTH — Seth Chiaro said he’s always been intrigued by the Battle of Rhode Island, in which Portsmouth played a major role. 

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Playing the ‘bad guys’ in Portsmouth

54th Regiment of Foot, which drilled at Fort Butts on Sunday, portrays a British Revolutionary War unit

Posted

PORTSMOUTH — Seth Chiaro said he’s always been intrigued by the Battle of Rhode Island, in which Portsmouth played a major role. 

“It’s been sort of an odd obsession with me,” Mr. Chiaro said during a sweltering Sunday morning at Fort Butts, a Revolutionary War earthwork where British forces perched before withdrawing late in August 1778.

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RELATED: Butts Hill Fort in Portsmouth now part of national historic trail

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It’s such an obsession the 31-year-old Navy contractor doesn’t mind playing one of the “bad guys” when reenacting some of the great skirmishes from more than 240 years ago. He’s a member of the 54th Regiment of Foot, a Connecticut-based Revolutionary War reenacting unit that’s dedicated to portraying the British regiment as it would have appeared while on garrison in Rhode Island.

The unit traveled to Fort Butts on Sunday to run through some drills, and to bring more attention to the 31-acre property, located just north of the wind turbine at Portsmouth High School. The fort was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1974 and is considered to be the largest Revolutionary War-period earthwork in Southern New England.

Mr. Chiaro is the regimental sergeant-major of the group and the only member from Portsmouth. He reports to Col. Steven Gardner, who was also present on Sunday. The others come from other parts of Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, with the newest member hailing from Long Island. There are about 25 in all.

Members were in full kit and uniform on Sunday, as temperatures hovered in the high-80s. They’re used to it. “It’s really not that bad,” Mr. Chiaro said of the heavy wool coat he was wearing. “I’m actually quite comfortable.”

His mission is twofold: To bring back large-scale Revolutionary War reenactments to Aquidneck Island and, as a Portsmouth resident, to help restore Fort Butts to its original glory by the 250th anniversary of The Battle of Rhode Island in 2028.

According to Mr. Chiaro, 2003 was the last year a big reenactment happened, and it was at Glen Park and attended by Mr. Gardner. “Although Glen Park isn’t ideal due to the many structures there, that’s probably where the next one would be,” he said.

Getting Fort Butts restored is a prime mission of the Portsmouth Historical Society, which made its intentions known during a public event there in August 2020. The Society asked for the public’s help to rejuvenate the fort, and Mr. Chiaro was one such resident who was appointed to the group’s Fort Butts Renovation Committee.

“I’m going to keep pursing it. We’re trying to prepare for the big 250th,” he said, noting he has a meeting with the Society within the next two weeks.

There’s too much overgrowth at Fort Butts to have a large battle reenactment now, he said.

“I’m kind of glad nobody’s really been up here to do anything to it,” Mr. Chiaro said of the fort’s present state. “The overgrowth has actually kept it in pretty good condition. We’re hoping by the 250th it’s cleaned up. Once that happens, we’ll have plenty of space to do a reenactment.” 

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