Defiant act from 1772 lives on today thanks to Gaspee Days
Thursday afternoon John Currier was indicted on charges of crime against the King. Dressed in his red and white militia attire, Currier defended himself to the onlookers, never admitting guilt to the expectant faces or camera lenses before him.
Of course, the scene was an anachronistic one: those from the Gaspee Days Committee and Pawtuxet Rangers dressed in colonial garb alongside state and city leaders in suits, bright lights and Capital TV cameras. The re-enactment of a colonial indictment was part of the annual Gaspee Days State Proclamation Ceremony, which serves as a kickoff to the yearly Gaspee Days events in Pawtuxet Village.
The Gaspee Days commemorate the burning of the HMS Gaspee, a British trade-enforcement ship that ran aground on the sandbar off what is now Gaspee Point on June 9, 1772. After taking the crew of the Gaspee hostage, Rhode Islanders burned the ship, an act that some say truly began the Revolutionary War.
“All of this happened 16 months before a vandalism incident in Boston involving a warm beverage,” said Rep. Joseph McNamara, who acted as a master of ceremonies at Thursday’s event. “We were truly the first blow for freedom, and as we say in Pawtuxet, the original WaterFire.”
Today, the event is celebrated with re-enactments, colonial encampments, fireworks, parade and, of course, the “burning of Gaspee.”
The Gaspee Days Committee organizes the events, and on Thursday, several of the members dressed in colonial attire and took part in the re-enactment. Janice Rooney, Daniel Rooney and Tina Bingham played the role of onlookers in the scene, holding signs that read, “The King [George III] is a fink!” and “The Gaspee deserved it!”
John Currier, a lieutenant colonel in the Pawtuxet Rangers, played the leading role, Dr. John Concannon and the Rangers’ Sergeant Major Jonathon Ryder rounded out the cast.
The ceremony Thursday afternoon was filmed for Capital and public access television, but some, like Senator Joshua Miller, wished that it was being broadcast to a wider audience.
“My ultimate wish is that it be sent to Boston and they be corrected about where the first shot heard around the world really was,” he said.
The Gaspee Days Committee was praised by the various leaders in attendance, and received citations from Governor Chafee, Mayors Scott Avedisian and Allan Fung, Representative James Langevin, Senators Reed and Whitehouse, Treasurer Gina Raimondo and Attorney General Peter Kilmartin.
“This emphasizes everything in Rhode Island,” Chafee said of the historic Gaspee event. He spoke about how Rhode Island was the first state to declare independence, and how the acts exemplified the spirit of Rhode Islanders.
“Like typical Rhode Islanders, they went to the Sabin Tavern to talk things over,” he added with a smile.
Avedisian said the Gaspee Days events each year are a testament to the strong partnership between Cranston and Warwick.
“[We] work incredibly well together,” he said.
McNamara told the story of a female in Cranston who helped the Gaspee’s Lieutenant William Dudingston recover from a groin injury.
“She was a sort of specialist in the area,” he laughed.
“As we can see, nothing changes – Cranston is always cleaning up what happened in Warwick,” said Mayor Fung with a smile.
State Senators and Representatives, as well as council members from both cities, joined the mayors and Chafee. Everyone took the time to thank the Gaspee Days volunteers for making the event happen each year.
“Without the volunteers, there would be no Gaspee Days celebration,” Avedisian said.
Warwick City Councilmen Steven Colantuono, Joseph Solomon and Steve Merolla also offered their gratitude.
“It’s done in such a contemporary way, it makes sense for everybody,” said Colantuano of Gaspee Days.
Solomon applauded the inclusion of children in the re-enactments like the Pawtuxet Village tour later this month.
On May 20, students from Wyman Elementary will give tours of Historic Pawtuxet Village, re-enacting colonial times and spouting facts about the area from 1 to 4 p.m. Gaspee Days will continue May 26 through 28 with the Arts and Crafts Festival, and the colonial encampment on June 8. The 47th Annual Gaspee Days Parade will begin at 10 a.m. on June 9, and the festivities will draw to a close on June 10, with the burning of the Gaspee at 4 p.m.
“I thought it was fantastic,” said Gaspee Days Committee President Carol Deming about Thursday’s opening ceremonies. “It was an honor to be here at the State House. There is a lot of history here.”
For more information on the Gaspee Days Committee and their upcoming events, visit www.gaspee.com. Visit WarwickOnline.com for video footage of the event.