The formal statements by participants in the Gaspee Affair

There were only three American participants in the attack who gave public statements of what they observed in the Gaspee attack. One of those Americans, Aaron Briggs, a black slave, gave a confession to the British almost immediately after the attack. But his knowledge was limited by the circumstances of his being taken aboard Capt. Potter’s boat to row.

Until after the 1783 Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War, nothing was publicly stated or written by other American participants of their knowledge of the planning or execution of the raid on the Gaspee. Such evidence could have gotten them hanged if their identity was discovered by the English!

When the war ended, 10 years after the Gaspee attack, there was no great rush to publish written accounts of the attack. For those who survived the Revolutionary War, the Gaspee event was a minor matter to those who had participated in great battles or had endured the hardships of the War. However, in Rhode Island, the raiders who still lived were featured in Independence Day parades in Briston, R.I. It was only in the 1800′s that two persons, Ephrim Bowen and John Mawney, gave formal written statements intended to preserve what they know of what had happened. Statements, if any were given, by other of the American participants, are not known to present day historians.

The English participants, of course, were the Gaspee officers and crew. Lt. William Dudingston, the captain of the ship, gave several statements of what happened. The first statement was before he would have had time to fully develop this thoughts on what would be of most advantage for him to say. On the other hand, this man was an intelligent and experienced English navy officer, and he obviously, even at the time of the first statement, knew he needed to emphasize those facts or his opinions which would help him if presented in evidence in the subsequent court martial which he knew would occur. (The English Navy Regulations of the time specified that if a Royal Navy ship was destroyed, no matter what the cause, the ship captain would be subjected to a formal court marital to determine if he should be punished for insufficiencies in his command that caused the loss of the ship.)

In the formal court martial of Lt. Dudingston, in England, he and the following members of his crew testified, and their testimony was recorded.

  • Dickinson, William, Midshipman
  • Earl, Patrick, Boatswain’s Mate, and sentry on duty at the time of the raid
  • Caple, William J., crew member
  • Johnson, John, crew member
  • May, Peter
  • Cheever, Bartholomew
  • Parr, Thomas
  • Pullibeck, Edward
  • Bowman, Joseph
  • Whaler, Patrick
  • Reyumonlds, Patrick

The contents of the statements of the American and English witnesses, and analysis of those statements, can be found in our separate website devoted solely to information about the history of the Gaspee attack