Historical rewrite - Defining Gaspee’s revolutionary acclaim


This week in Rhode Island history is a time of celebration where citizens come together to mark the state’s most notable event as one of the original 13 colonies. As we are quick to point out to anyone who will listen, the fate of the HMS Gaspee was a defining moment on the road to American Revolution.

On June 10, 1772 the HMS Gaspee, a British customs vessel captained by Lt. William Dudingston and tasked with the imposition of royal tyranny in Rhode Island’s coastal waters, had its mission forever thwarted by a group of 60 or more Rhode Islanders.

The tale of Gaspee is one of adventure, high treason and revolution, however little known. It does not have the acclaim of “the shot heard around the world” nor does it compete in historical circles at the level of the Boston Tea Party.

Rhode Island Captain Benjamin Lindsey, who initiated Gaspee’s downfall, outwitted the crew of the British schooner, denying them access to his sloop, the Hannah, and after being fired upon, drew them to the shallow waters of Pawtuxet Cove at Namquid Point.

Surely the captain deserves notoriety for his efforts.

What of John Brown and the group of 60 Rhode Island Patriots who surrounded the ship, captured the crew and wounded the captain in a firefight?

After all, as Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse pointed out at the State House earlier this month, “Right there, in the waters off Warwick, Rhode Island, the very first blood, in the conflict that was to become the American Revolution, was drawn.”

The time has come for the burning of the Gaspee to take its place in history. The time has come for Rhode Island to receive credit for its most integral defiance against the Crown.

Certainly, the heroic acts of the men who stood steadfast against British taxation and reign deserve their rightful page in history.

Decidedly, the men who set the British schooner ablaze in the waters off Warwick are entitled to the ballyhoo bestowed upon the Tea Party participants. Local residents recognized the significance of that action taken in 1772 and started the Gaspee Days celebration 48 years ago. All that goes with the celebration from the arts and crafts festival, parade and symbolic burning of the Gaspee have elevated the importance of this historic event.

Most definitely, the Gaspee, its timbers spewing forth in the waters off Namquid Point, its powder stores thundering the call of freedom, is worthy of just historical acclamation on a bigger stage than Little Rhody.


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