The Gaspee affair



An act of violence committed by the colonists of Rhode Island, though less memorable in respect of its intrinsic importance than the insurrection of the Regulators in North Carolina, excited more general attention from its significance as an indication of the height to which the general current of American sentiment was rising. The commander of the Gaspee, an armed British schooner stationed at Providence, had exerted much activity in supporting the trade laws and punishing the increasing contraband traffic of the Americans, and had provoked additional resentment by firing at the Providence packets in order to compel them to salute his flag by lowering theirs as they passed his vessel, and by chasing them even into the docks in case of refusal. The master of a packet conveying passengers to Providence (June 9, 1772), which was fired at and chased by the Gaspee for neglecting to pay the requisite tribute of respect, took advantage of the state of the tide (it being almost high water) to stand in so closely to the shore that the Gaspee in the pursuit might be exposed to run aground. The artifice succeeded; the Gaspee presently stuck fast, and the packet proceeded in triumph to Providence, where a strong sensation was excited by the tidings of the occurrence, and a project was hastily formed to improve the blow and destroy the obnoxious vessel. Brown, an eminent merchant, and Whipple, a ship-master, took the lead in this bold adventure, and easily collected a sufficient band of armed and resolute men, with whom they embarked in whale-boats to attack the British ship of war. At two o'clock the next morning they boarded the Gaspee so suddenly and in such numbers that her crew were instantly overpowered, without hurt to any one except her commanding officer, who was wounded. The captors, having despatched a part of their number to convey him, together with his private effects and his crew, ashore, set fire to the Gaspee and destroyed her, with all her stores The issue of this daring act of war against the naval force of the king was as remarkable as the enterprise itself. [A large reward was offered for information, and commissioners appointed to try the offenders.] But no trial took place. Nobody came forward to claim the proffered reward;. . and in the commencement of the following year the commissioners reported to the British ministry their inability, notwithstanding the most diligent inquisition, to procure evidence or information against a single individual.





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