Another method of deseminating warnings of trouble across Rhode Island, long before radio, cell phones or civil defense alerts were Colonial Beacon Poles. These poles were simply very tall poles that had a pot at the top that would either be lit with fire by night or smoke during the day.
They we placed on hills throughout the state. In 1667 when England was at war with France and Holland, the Genreal Assembly ordered a beacon pole be erected on Tonomy Hill on Aquidneck Island.
Later, the Assembly ordered more beacons to be erected. They were at McSparren Hill in South Kingston, Mill Hill (Quaker) in Portsmouth and Prospect Hill in Providence.
The Beacons were again employed during the French and Indian Wars.
In 1740 when England went to war with Spain, the Assembly ordered more beacons to be erected. They were placed at Block Island, Point Judith, Beaver Tail on Jamestown, and two more at Newport and Portsmouth. Butts Hill may have been a logical site for the second beacon in Portsmouth.
With war looming in 1775, the beacon system was re-deployed. In June of 1775 a post was established on Tower Hill in South Kingston
Solomon Drowne, who taught at Brown, described the Providence pole to his brother in a letter dated August 12, 1775. “The Beacon Pole Mast is raised on the hill, ..nearly opposite the Church (likely First Baptist). I have heard said, is 80 feet higher than the top of the new meeting house steeple which is upward of 180 feet from the ground….”
In 1776 there was a pole erected on Beacon Pole Hill in Cumberland and on Chopmist Hill in Scituate. A fourth beacon was erected at Tomoni Hill in Newport. This beacon was test fired on June 20th, 1776 and could be seen in Providence. 1
Beacon Pole Drawing
Beacon Pole Map
1 Colonial Beacon Poles of Rhode Island