J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Commemorating the Gaspee Sestercentennial This Week

On the evening of 9 June 1772, 250 years ago this week, a small flotilla of longboats set off from points near Providence, Rhode Island.

They headed for H.M.S. Gaspee, a Royal Navy schooner that had run aground off the coast while chasing a ship suspected of smuggling.

By morning, the commander of that ship, Lt. William Dudingston, was bleeding from two wounds and under the care of a local medical trainee. His crew had been bundled ashore. And the king’s schooner was on fire.

On Thursday, 9 June, Steven Park of Wheaton College will speak about “The Burning of His Majesty’s Schooner Gaspee: An Attack on Crown Rule Before the American Revolution” at the American Revolution Institute in Washington, D.C., and online. The event description says:
On June 9, 1772, a group of prominent Rhode Islanders rowed out to the British schooner Gaspee, which had run aground six miles south of Providence while on an anti-smuggling patrol. After threatening and shooting its commanding officer, the raiders looted the vessel and burned it to the waterline.

Despite colony-wide sympathy for the raid, neither the government in Providence nor authorities in London could let this pass without a response. As a result, a Royal Commission of Inquiry headed by Rhode Island governor Joseph Wanton zealously investigated the incident. Historian Steven Park reveals that what started out as a customs battle over the seizure of a prominent citizen’s rum was soon transformed into one of the sparks that ignited patriot fervor in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.
The bio attached to that event description comes from the jacket of Park’s book about the Gaspee attack, so it discusses his career and other publications without making clear that book exists. So I’m showing it above with a link to his (our) publisher.

Park is scheduled to speak at 6:30 P.M. Go to this page to sign up for the online feed.

The town of Warwick, Rhode Island, is celebrating the Sestercentennial of the Gaspee attack this weekend, 11–12 June. Here’s the full schedule of 2022 events, which includes:
  • Gaspee Days parade on Saturday morning starting at 10:00 A.M.
  • Colonial encampment Saturday and Sunday
  • ceremonial burning of a ship effigy, Sunday at 4:00 P.M.
This is as much a celebration of local pride in the community today as a commemoration of what happened 250 years ago.

For a thorough round-up of sources and interpretations on the Gaspee affair, check out the Gaspee Virtual Archives. The coding shows how it was created years before this Sestercentennial, but the information is still fresh.

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