Gaspée, Burning of the

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GASPÉE, BURNING OF THE. The many waterways and islands in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, provided a haven for smugglers throughout the mid-1700s. Many colonial merchantmen resented imperial taxation policies; when the British government began sending revenue cutters to suppress these irregularities, anti-British sentiment grew more acute. In March 1772, HMS Gaspée arrived in Narragansett Bay and proceeded to stop even small market boats and to send seized property to Boston. On 9 June 1772 the Gaspée, while chasing the Hannah, a packet sloop on its way to Providence, ran ashore on Namquit (now Gaspée)Point in Warwick, Rhode Island. A group met at Sabin's Tavern in Providence and plotted to burn the ship. John Brown, a leading Providence merchant, supplied eight boats; the men armed themselves with guns, staves, and paving stones at about 10 p.m. and with muffled oars proceeded down the river. When they neared the Gaspée, they were hailed by the lookout and also by the captain. Captain Abraham Whipple (later a commodore in the U.S. Navy)replied, with some profanity, that he had a warrant to arrest the captain, whom Joseph Bucklin then shot. The men from the boats boarded the Gaspée without resistance and drove the crew below decks. The captured sailors were bound and put on shore. The Gaspée was set on fire and burned to the water's edge. A proclamation was issued to apprehend the participants in the raid, and although they were widely known in Providence, no substantial evidence was obtained by the commission of inquiry, and no one was brought to trial.


Bartlett, John R. A History of the Destruction of His Britannic Majesty's Schooner Gaspee.… Providence, Rhode Island: A. Crawford Greene, 1861.

DeVaro, Lawrence J. "The Impact of the Gaspée Affair on the Coming of the Revolution, 1772–1773." Ph.D. diss., Case Western Reserve University, 1973.

York, Neil L. "The Uses of Law and the Gaspée Affair," Rhode Island History 50, no. 1 (1992): 2–21.

Howard M.Chapin/a. r.

See alsoNavigation Acts ; Townshend Acts .