By DANIEL KITTREDGE On Sunday afternoon, Angela Innes stood under the gazebo in Pawtuxet Park - a long way from her home in the north of Scotland. As her husband, Roddy, looked on, she was charged with the crimes of a distant ancestor, Lt. William
On Sunday afternoon, Angela Innes stood under the gazebo in Pawtuxet Park – a long way from her home in the north of Scotland.
As her husband, Roddy, looked on, she was charged with the crimes of a distant ancestor, Lt. William Dudingston. Students of Rhode Island history know him well as the commander of the HMS Gaspee at the time of its burning in 1772.
Neal Kirk of the Connecticut-based privateer reenactment group Free Men Of the Sea read the indictment against Innes and outlined the “outrageous crimes” of her seafaring relative, who “destroyed property, disrupted maritime commerce and much annoyed the local populace” during his time patrolling the waters of Narragansett Bay.
Innes, when asked, offered no words in her defense. Did her husband wish to speak?
“Absolutely not. Carry on,” he said, drawing laughter from onlookers.
As for the punishment? Upon a finding of guilt, Kirk said, Innes would be “hanged, drawn and quartered.”
Of course, no such grisly justice was doled out. Instead, there were handshakes, warm embraces and smiles on a beautiful late-spring afternoon.
But as this year’s Gaspee Days festivities drew to a close with the Sunday in the Park event and the ceremonial burning of the Gaspee, Innes’ visit provided a chance for organizers to put a fresh spin on the celebration of Rhode Island’s role in spurring the American Revolution.
After all, those behind the raid on and burning of the Gaspee – who British authorities failed to apprehend, despite offering sizable rewards – would have been taken across the ocean to England to be tried had they been caught. Now, centuries later, the script had been flipped.
“It’s the world turned upside down,” Gaspee Days Committee historian John Concannon said.
For Innes, the revelation of ancestral her ties to such a seminal moment in American history came while conducting genealogical research.
She found that her “great, great, great, great granny,” a woman named Janet Oliphant, had a brother, Spence Oliphant, who became a reverend in the Church of Scotland. Spence Oliphant married a woman named Fotheringham Dudingston.
Taken with Fotheringham’s unique name – and aided by existing research on the Dudingston family – Innes continued to explore. She found that Fotheringham was a sister of Lt. William Dudingston – and then discovered his role in the Gaspee Affair.
“I discovered who William Dudingston was … I just kept clicking the links, and eventually I got through to the Gaspee Days website,” Innes said. “I saw there was a whole event … and I thought, ‘Jeez, look at all of this, I can’t believe this’ – all because of William Dudingston and what he got up to, and the ramifications, you know, historical and political, of William Dudingston being here [in Rhode Island] as part of the British Navy.”
It was not the first time Innes’ interest in genealogy led her to uncover far-flung connections. She and her husband travel often, and last year they visited Australia to meet cousins of hers who had been out of contact with their British relatives for decades.
Based on the Dudingston connection, the couple decided to add a new destination to their itinerary.
“So I just said jokingly to my husband, Roddy, ‘Should we maybe go to [Gaspee Days]? This could be good fun,’” she said with a laugh. “We thought about it for quite a while, and the idea grew in our heads.”
The couple booked a flight to Boston, and Innes reached out to Concannon and his wife, Patti. The Inneses stayed in the Boston area for a couple of days after their arrival – taking in a Boston Red Sox game with Patti’s daughter, Alison Hutson – before traveling to Rhode Island on Friday to stay with the Concannons. Innes said the Concannons’ hospitality had been “quite overwhelming.”
“They’re fun people,” Patti Concannon said. “We enjoyed having them.”
On Saturday, Innes and her husband took part in the 54th Gaspee Days Parade, riding along the route in a Bentley convertible.
“We had a fantastic time at the parade … Everybody has been so friendly,” Innes said.
She added, with a laugh: “I think we were only booed once in the parade.”
During their Gaspee visit, Innes said she and her husband spoke with a number of people with connections to Scotland – and more who say they hope to visit.
She spoke of the attractions near their home in Elgin, including the North Coast 500 – a scenic stretch of road that has been featured on “Top Gear” and dubbed “Scotland’s Route 66” – and the Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival, which celebrates the many distilleries and proud tradition of Scotland’s largest whisky-producing region.
“It’s beautiful,” she said of the Elgin area. “It’s relatively unspoiled.”
Innes works as an English teacher, helping workers from other parts of Europe – including Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Portugal – to learn the local language as they help fill a need created by labor shortages in the area. Her husband works for the Scottish government, advising businesses on employee recruitment and training. The two have been together for 38 years.
Will they make a return trip to Gaspee Days? Innes noted that the upcoming 250th anniversary celebration has been raised as a possibility.
“People have already been suggesting maybe we should come back for that,” she said.