What we celebrate in the Gaspee event
To the Editor:
In response to the article on Aaron Briggs and the Gaspee Affair, a few points need to be mentioned.
1. To my knowledge, the principals of this video never contacted me or the Gaspee Days Committee while producing this video. We had no hand in its production. As the opening lines of this YouTube video goes: An unreliable documentary is still a documentary. Just as there are inaccurate and misleading news stories, there are inaccurate and misleading documentaries.
2. YouTube is a double-edged sword. The good news is that anyone can post on YouTube; the bad news is that anyone can post on YouTube. One must employ their critical thinking skills here, as in all walks of life.
3. The video capitalizes on several inaccurate statements about Aaron Briggs and the Gaspee. Aaron Briggs and his role in the Gaspee Affair is hardly new research as claimed. It was prominent in the first accounts of the affair as documented by the Judge Staples 1845 compilation, “The Documentary History of the Destruction of the Gaspee.” (http://gaspee.org/StaplesGaspee.htm#Briggs)
Briggs own testimony is available online in his biography we present at http://gaspee.org/AaronBriggs.htm.
4. Aaron Briggs was not recruited to join in the attack by John Brown, but rather was pressed into service by Simeon Potter in a boat from Bristol joining up with the attacking boats from Providence. Aaron Briggs did not have a hand in shooting Lieutenant Dudingston, the Commander of the Gaspee. That was Joseph Bucklin V. (http://gaspee.org/JosephBucklin.htm.)
5. Briggs did not return to the burning Gaspee; he was dropped off back at his quarters on Prudence Island. Days later he did row out to the HMS Beaver, went aboard, held, and threatened by the captain with being whipped unless he told all he knew about the attack on the Gaspee. This coerced testimony was thrown out as invalid even by the Royally-Appointed Commission of Inquiry into the Burning of the Gaspee.
6. There were several people named Aaron Briggs in the Colonial time, one must be careful in attributing all things referenced to the name to the Aaron Briggs ofour concern in the Burning of the Gaspee.
7. The subject of slavery has not been covered-up. The video spends a lot of confused time on the abolitionist views of Moses Brown versus the pro-slavery views of his brother John Brown, but that debate has little to do with the Burning of the Gaspee, which was not done to protect slave trading per se, but to protect free trade and the continued smuggling of molasses used by many Rhode Island citizens in distilling rum. (http://gaspee.org/Deliberateness.htm.)
8. The references made to slavery in the background of the Gaspee are well known and prominently displayed on our website, with particular apologies for the views held by John Brown. (http://gaspee.org/JohnBrown.htm.)
9. Ultimately, it’s important to know that what we celebrate is not the actual Burning of the Gaspee, but rather the results of the British threatening to send persons suspected to have burned the Gaspee to England for trial. The American colonists dismay at these threats to the right of a local trial by a jury of peers, directly caused the unifying effort that created the Committees of Correspondence. While the prized liberty of trial in vicinage is not to be taken for granted, it is a much more boring point of history that is less likely to be taken up by political groups as a cause. See http://gaspee.org/WhatstheImportance.html for a more in depth discussion on this topic.
Dr. John Concannon
Gaspee Days Committee at www.gaspee.coGaspee Virtual Archives at www.gaspee.org
Pawtuxet Village at www.Pawtuxet.com