Jamestown Forts: Rhode Island's First Line of Defense

For most of our country's history, Jamestown has played a major role in protecting out shorelines with military installations on Conanicut, Dutch, and Gould Island.

The location of Conanicut and the surrounding islands has always been strategic for the coastal defenses of Narragansett Bay. The first dated fortification was the Conanicut Battery, built in 1776 during the Revolutionary War. During the Civil War, there was Camp Bailey and Camp Meade. Fort Dumpling was built in the late 19th century.

During the world wars, including pre- and post-war defense, Jamestown hosted Fort Greble, Fort Getty, Fort Wetherill, Fort Burnside, Gould Island, the Harbor Entrance Command Post, and various batteries. The installations, located on different parts of Conanicut and neighboring islands, significantly impacted what was essentially a rural and picturesque place to live.

During the course of conflicts, Jamestown residents gave up homes and property; land was confiscated and built upon and historic homes were demolished for defense purposes. These sacrifices permanently disrupted traditions and lifestyles.

However, there have been several positive developments. Today, Ft. Getty is open to the public as a local park. Ft. Burnside became Beavertail State Park. Visitors to both enjoy the parks' scenic beauty and historic remnants of past identities. Yet, little remains of Ft. Greble and Camp Bailey on Dutch Island, or the Torpedo Station on Gould Island. Although both areas are currently closed, the islands are under consideration as bird and conservation sanctuaries.

This tour explores how Jamestown changed and adapted to over 150 years of defending Rhode Island and Narragansett Bay.

Camp Bailey on Dutch Island

On August 28, 1863, the 1st battalion of the 14th R.I. Heavy Artillery (Colored) under Colonel Nelson Viall paraded through Providence on their way to an island in Narragansett Bay. Jamestowners felt the effects of the Civil War, even though…

Ft. Greble on Dutch Island

Dutch Island, in the West Passage of Narragansett Bay, is an uninhabited, irresistible place that for decades has lured local kids across the water to camp or climb around the remains of what was once an impressive, self-sufficient, military…

Ft. Getty's Prisoners of War (POWs)

Few Rhode Islanders remember the German Prisoner of War (POW) camps in RI. Fewer people realize that as they drive into Fort Getty, the stone gate posts were built by the German POWs encamped there in 1945. Ellen Brownell, a local Jamestown resident…

Fishing at Beavertail and Fort Burnside

Through the centuries, Jamestown's approximately 26 miles of rocky coastline have been a lure for fishermen. From the late 19th century until World War II, the southern part of the Beavertail Peninsula was primarily a private playground for…

Summer Cottages and Torpedoes

Off Conanicut Island's eastern shore lies Gould Island, the third of the major islands that comprise the town of Jamestown. It was named for Thomas Gould, who purchased the island in 1657 to use as farmland. In 1858, the Maitland family bought…