1.   Historical note

2.   Scope and content

3.   Provenance

4.   Processing note

5.   Inventory

6.   Subjects

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    R.I.H.S. Library page

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 Gaspee Papers

 Naval History, Rhode Island

 Records, 1771-1837

 Size: .25 ft.

 Catalog number: MSS 434

 Processed by: Elizabeth Delmage, August 2005

©Rhode Island Historical Society

Manuscripts Division


Historical note:

            The Stamp Act was passed in 1765 by the British government and imposed upon all American colonists to pay a tax on every piece of printed paper that they used. This included all paper that was used for legal documents, diplomas, broadsides, newspapers and even playing cards. The purpose of this tax was an attempt by the British government to raise money to defray the costs of protecting the colonies from Native Americans and other foreign intruders, without approval from any of the colonial legislations. By 1772, the British began to enforce these revenue laws with force to the dismay of the colonists.

            In March 1772, King George III (1738-1820) of England sent Lieutenant William Dudingston (1740-1817), commander of the armed schooner the H.M.S. Gaspee to patrol the R.I. waters to prevent smuggling as well as enforce the Stamp Act. Dudingston and his crew were highly successful in harassing and delaying shipping, often unjustly, and this particularly bothered the R.I. colonists. The Governor of R.I., Joseph Wanton (1705-1780), sent letters of protest to the British about the Gaspee, but Admiral Montagu (1718-1792), Commander of the British fleet, wrote back ordering him not to interfere with the Gaspee in any way.

            On 9 June 1772 a situation presented itself which allowed for the colonists to get their revenge against Dudingston and the Gaspee. Captain Benjamin Lindsey had set sail on his sloop, Hannah from Newport en route to Providence and tried to avoid the Gaspee from halting his journey. A hot pursuit of Lindsey's ship by the Gaspee ensued and ended when the large schooner tried to surpass Lindsey using a short cut. Instead of stopping Lindsey, Dudingston and his crew found themselves stuck in a pocket of shallow water and were unable to move until the following morning when the high tide came in.

            In the meantime, Capt. Lindsey made it safely to Providence and news quickly spread of his escape and the Gaspee's current unfortunate and vulnerable situation. The citizens of Providence realized that this was the perfect opportunity to seek revenge against the Gaspee. Therefore, word spread for all those interested in destroying the Gaspee to meet at Sabin's Tavern in Providence and by 9:00 that evening a large crowd armed with guns, pistols, swords and clubs had gathered.

            Captain Abraham Whipple (1733-1819) commanded the siege and he led 8 longboats with approximately two hundred men to the waters where the Gaspee was stuck. The colonists approached the boat and an attack from both sides took place. The colonists were able to gain control of the Gaspee and took Dudingston and his crew of about nineteen men ashore as their prisoners. Then the attackers returned to the ship to set it on fire. The Gaspee immediately exploded, because of the amount of gun powder and other explosives onboard the ship.

            The British authorities were never able to find the names of the culprits in order to punish them, even though a sizeable reward had been offered. Since public sentiment was in agreement with the destruction of the Gaspee, no one could be bribed to name any of those involved. The Gaspee affair helped spread a spirit of unity across the thirteen original colonies against the British. It also led to the formation of the Committees of Correspondence to prevent further threats by the British on the American colonies and the Gaspee affair was one of the first armed conflicts leading to the American Revolution (1775-1783).

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Scope and content:

            This collection includes copies of official documents relating to the destruction of the H.M.S. Gaspee by Rhode Island colonists in June 1772, marking the first deliberate military attack against the British in the events leading up to the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). These documents include official court records and testimonials, minutes of a court martial, and letters regarding the British government's attempt in finding and punishing those responsible for the burning of the Gaspee.

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            This collection, which is made up of copies of official documents and records from Great Britain, was donated in four parts. The first gift was in 1883 (#1883. 15) by C. W. Parsons, which included a typed copy of the letter from Ezra Stiles to Rev. Elihu Stiles on the proceedings of the Royal Commission in the affairs of the Gaspee. Also in 1883 (#1883. 19), John Russell Bartlett donated a volume of handwritten transcriptions of British records relating to the Gaspee incident. Walter A. Edwards donated a document box with transcriptions of British records regarding the Gaspee in 1924 (#1924. 22. 1-). Lastly in 1966 (#1966. 33), S. W. Bryant donated photocopies of the minutes of a court martial on board the H.M.S. Centaur in Portsmouth Harbor.

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Processing note:

            The contents of this collection were rehoused into archival boxes and folders in August 2005. Papers that had been gathered together in a document box with the inscription, "Papers Relating to the Gaspee. Presented by Walter A. Edwards" on the inside of the cover were not in a specified order and were removed from the box and placed in separate folders in chronological order. These copies of official documents and records relating to the Gaspee affair were divided among seven folders. All were given the title 'Papers Relating to the Gaspee' in the inventory with further explanation of its contents if applicable.

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Box 1, Folder 1.          Papers Relating to the Gaspee                         27 Jul 1771 - 27 Aug 1772

                                    Part 1 of 7

Box 1, Folder 2.          Papers Relating to the Gaspee                         Jan 1772 - Jun 1773

                                    Part 2 of 7: Admiral Montagu's Journal

Box 1, Folder 3.          Papers Relating to the Gaspee                         Apr 1772 - Jun 1772

                                    Part 3 of 7: Log of the Sloop Beaver

Box 1, Folder 4.          Copy of the Official Documents                     Jun 1772 - Jun 1773

                                    Relating to the Destruction of the Gaspee

Box 1, Folder 5.          Transcriptions by John Concannon of             Jun 1772

                                    Misc. letters regarding the Gaspee 

Box 1, Folder 6.          Papers Relating to the Gaspee                         2 Sep 1772 - 5 Nov 1772

                                    Part 4 of 7

Box 1, Folder 7.          Minutes of a Court Martial assembled            14 Oct 1772

                                    on Board His Majesty's Ship Centaur in

                                    Portsmouth Harbour

Box 1, Folder 8.          Transcription of Rev. Isaac Skillman's           3 Dec 1772

                                    sermon, "An Oration upon the Beauties of

                                    Liberty, or the Essential Rights of Americans"

Box 1, Folder 9.          Papers Relating to the Gaspee                         Dec 1772 - Apr 1773

                                    Part 5 of 7: Court Records for the case of

                                    the Greens versus William Dudingston

Box 1, Folder 10.        Papers Relating to the Gaspee                         4 Jan 1773 - 15 Apr 1774

                                    Part 6 of 7                                                      

Box 1, Folder 11.        Papers Relating to the Gaspee                         1772-1773

                                    Part 7 of 7: Miscellaneous Letters

Box 1, Folder 12.        Copy of letter from Ezra Stiles to                    16 Feb 1773

                                    Rev. Elihu Spencer

Box 1, Folder 13.        Extracts from a letter by Moses Brown           12 Jan 1836

                                    to Tristam Burgess

Box 1, Folder 14.        Transcribed article from the Mourning           31 Jan 1837

                                    Courier, "Historical, - the Gaspee - John Brown"

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Brown, John, 1736-1803.

Brown, Moses, 1738-1836.

Dudingston, William.

Gaspee (Schooner)

George III, King of Great Britain, 1738-1820.

Lindsey, Benjamin.

Sandwich, John Montagu, 4th Earl of, 1718-1792.

Skillman, Isaac, 1740-1799.

Spencer, Elihu, 1721-1784.

Stiles, Ezra, 1727-1795.

United States -History - Colonial period, 1660-1775.

United States - History - Revolution, 1775-1783.

Wanton, Joseph, 1705-1780.

Whipple, Abraham, 1733-1819.

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