Although a British Colony,
Rhode Island was, for the most part free
to sail the seas in search of trade.
Thus, many a merchant's wealth was made
importing from the Orient
goods for which the settlers spent. But England yearned for more
treasures from this shore,
so renewed their Sugar Act
hence greater duties to extract.
To these waters they sent one
Lieutenant William Dudingston. The schooner Gaspee, his command,
to hunt and seize all contraband.
He assumed this role with zeal
'til persecuted we did feel.
He didn't stick to ships of trade
but picked on all that he waylaid. In Providence there was a merchant
sharp and wily as a serpent—
"the smartest boy in Providence-town"
grown to manhood was rich John Brown.
His yearly profits were something neat
from sailing ships in his large fleet. Captain Lindsay with news to thrill,
called at Brown's home on the hill.
Ben Lindsay ran a packet boat
but he'd sail anything afloat.
Regarding Narragansett's coast
this mariner was heard to boast. He knew each sandbar, every shoal;
to lure the Gaspee was his goal.
Having done so that very day,
a daring scheme was underway.
By sundown the roll of the drum
and town-crier urged that volunteers come. The Gaspee was trapped, high and dry;
the time to scuttle her was nigh.
By twilight more than sixty men
were assembled at Sabin's Inn,
melting lead at the open fire
to make the bullets they'd require. From Fenner's Wharf across the street
they shoved off—an eight boat fleet.
Captain Whipple assumed command
of this diverse raiding band.
Not all their names have been recorded—
anonymity was afforded. They had to guard their privacy
lest they be hanged for piracy.
Years later when the word leaked out
some of these names were bandied about:
Bucklin, Bowen, Hopkins, Dunn...
daring patriots—every one. But that June night in stealth they rode;
no sound was heard; no light they showed.
They passed Fox Point and Field's Point too
at Captain Cook's where they were due
they got more guns and stones and sticks—
a hard-up Yankee weapons-mix.
Though ill-equipped, these men were wise
their greatest asset was surprise. Bart Cheever stood the watch that night
over the Gaspee in her plight.
He strained his eyes and cupped his ear
What was that stirring he could hear? The sound of muffled oars grew near—
someone was coming; that was clear.
The seaman called "Who comes there?
The answer exploded in the salt air
"The Sheriff of the County of Kent!
For your ship's Captain I've been sent." "Summon him; I'm coming aboard!"
Ferociously Abe Whipple roared.
Captain Dudingston appeared on deck-
hastily dressed, no tie at his neck.
"You can't come aboard," Dudingston said.
But Whipple would have him—alive or dead. "Men, spring to your oars!" Whipple yelled.
His eager men were not repelled.
First to board was Dr. Mawney,
a scholar of philosophy,
more at home with Greek and Latin
then adventures of this pattern. Dudingston sounded the ship's alarm
to rouse his crew and so to arm.
"Hand me your gun; I can kill that man,"
Bucklin said to his friend Ephraim.
He fired a shot at Dudingston
who doubled up and moaned "I'm done." The bosun took his captain below
for first aid from their former foe—
Mawney used his surgical skill
saving the man Bucklin shot to kill.
Leaderless, Gaspee fought no more.
Crew and captain were rowed ashore. The empty ship was set afire,
exploding, as the flames grew higher.
Thus ended the Gaspee Affair.
It showed there's hope for those who dare
to take a stand against oppression
and meet each insult with aggression.
A lifelong reader and writer, who often contributed to these pages, Rosetta Mary Louise Desrosiers died May 15. She was 97 years old. This poem that she wrote some years ago, was made available at her wake and it only seems appropriate that it be published at this time.