I am a member of the “Sons of the American Revolution (SAR).” SAR is a lineage society. Its members must have an ancestor who provided services during the Revolutionary War. In my case, my third and fourth great-grandfathers, Silas and Gideon Hoyt, fought during the Revolutionary War.
Part of the SAR’s mission is to educate the general public about the people and events which led to our independence. In the Winter 2021-2022 issue of the SAR Magazine, Davis Lee Wright, the President General of the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution (NSSAR) stated that beyond July 4, 1776 there are many dates associated with our independence. The NSSAR will focus their celebration efforts on the period from April 19, 1775 (Battles of Lexington and Concord) to November 25, 1783 (Evacuation Day—the day the British Army sailed away from New York).
Mr. Wright also mentioned several dates which occurred before this period. The “Boston Massacre” occurred on March 5, 1770 and its 250th Anniversary has already passed. The next event was the “Gaspee Affair” and its 250th anniversary was marked in June 2022.
Beginning in 1650, Parliament enacted the “Navigation Acts” in 1651, 1660, 1663, 1670, 1673, and its enforcement law in 1696. These acts required that trade with the colonies was to be conducted only on English and colonial ships. Two significant results of these laws was to stifle the development of colonial manufacturing and promote the development of smuggling rings. “Founding Father” Sam Adams operated a smuggling ring.
In early 1772, His Majesty’s Ship (HMS) Gaspee, under the command of Lieutenant William Duddington, was ordered to patrol Narragansett Bay off Rhode Island and charged with enforcing the “Navigation Acts.” Lieutenant Duddington was very zealous in his enforcement efforts. HMS Gaspee stopped, boarded, and detained vessels. Cargoes were confiscated without charges and there was no recourse for the merchants to regain their impounded goods. Local members of the Sons of Liberty believed that Lieutenant Duddington’s efforts were directed at them.
The Sons of Liberty originally formed as a very organized group to oppose the Stamp Act of 1765 and disbanded after the Act was repealed. It formed to protect the rights of colonists and to fight the “taxation without representation” imposed by the British government. After the repeal of the “Stamp Act,” the Sons of Liberty became loosely organized groups throughout the colonies that opposed British taxation.
Lieutenant Duddington angered Rhode Island Governor Joseph Wanton by seizing the sloop “Fortune,” confiscating its cargo, and sailing the ship to Boston. When Governor Wanton requested a copy of the written authority under which Duddington sailed the ship to Boston, Duddington refused the Governor’s request and was backed by his commanding officer, Admiral Montagu.
On June 9, 1772, the packet ship Hannah’s Captain Lindsey baited the HMS Gaspee into shallow waters near Warwick. The Gaspee ran aground off what is now known as Gaspee Point. Upon arriving in Providence, Captain Lindsey informed John Brown—one of the most prominent and respected merchants in Rhode Island—of the grounding of the Gaspee. Brown sent a town crier to invite interested parties to meet at Sabin’s Tavern with the intent to plan the destruction of the HMS Gaspee.
While these plans were being made, Lieutenant Duddington and his crew were unsuccessfully trying to free the Gaspee. Failing, they decided to wait for the next high tide.
On June 10, 1772, under the direction of John Brown and Abraham Whipple, a group of about 55 men boarded eight longboats. They muffled the oars and rowed to the stranded ship. These “Sons of Liberty” took the crew prisoners with the only injury being to Lieutenant Duddington who was wounded, having been shot by Joseph Bucklin. The crew was evacuated from the ship and taken to Pawtuxet Village. The seized cargoes were taken off and the ship was torched. The ship burned to the waterline and then the powder magazine exploded.
The members of the “Sons of Liberty” who boarded HMS Gaspee did not make any effort to hide their identities. Lieutenant Duddington and his crew were able to identify most of the participants. However, the local courts did not prosecute the attackers. The only arrest was of Lieutenant Duddington for seizing goods. Admiral Montagu paid his fines and sent him back to England to face a court martial.
The Gaspee Affair was one of the first acts of violent uprising against the British crown’s authority in America. It preceded the “Boston Tea Party” by more than a year. It started the movement of the colonies toward the war of independence.
June 9 and 10, 2022 marked the 250th anniversary of the Gaspee Affair.
Copies of the Almont Historical Society’s various books can be purchased by contacting Jim Wade at 810-796-3355 or firstname.lastname@example.org or stopping by the museum on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m.